July 2018

Which World Are We Living In?

A half dozen choices of grand narrative for an increasingly turbulent era. Take your pick.
Table of Contents

Bismarck once said that the statesman’s task was to hear God’s footsteps marching through history and try to catch his coattails as he went past. It’s a great concept, but how do you spot him?

With the time clearly out of joint, we dispatched six scouts to look for tracks, and this issue’s lead package presents their findings. Realist world. Liberal world. Tribal world. Marxist world. Tech world. Warming world. A half dozen choices of grand narrative for an increasingly turbulent era.

Stephen Kotkin argues that greatpower rivalry is the motor of history, now as always. The story of the age is the rise of China and its geopolitical consequences, and the future will depend on how Beijing and Washington manage their relationship.

Not so fast, say Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry. Despite what critics allege, the main story today is the resilience of liberal democracies and the international order they created. Today’s challenges will be surmounted just as earlier ones were, because in the end, liberalism works, Amy Chua sees tribalism as the dominant fact of human life, and its turbocharged expression—from nationalism to identity politics—as the theme of the current day. A calmer future depends on building inclusive communities.

Robin Varghese makes the case for class struggle as the key to understanding what is happening. It turns out that Marx was less wrong than early: the rich are getting richer, the masses are getting screwed, and the system is finally going into crisis. What did you expect from capitalism?

Science and technology are actually what matter most, claims Kevin Drum. Just as the Industrial Revolution transformed everything a couple of centuries ago, so the digital revolution is doing it again now. Strap yourself in; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

How silly all these debates will seem to future generations trying to keep their heads above water, notes Joshua Busby. Grappling with climate change is the defining challenge of the era. Life today seems like a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying something. Take your pick as to what.

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