Empires had existed for millennia, but their virtue was having been driven by a vigorous cultural energy until the energetic impulse finally fades to a rustle amongst the leaves
We have all lived by a mental model that has served well for anticipating much of the post-war era: Geo-political tensions spike between America and some recalcitrant state. Its’ leadership is demonised. A coalition of US proxies faithfully echoes the hate-speech. Sanctions are imposed, and preparations for regime change begin with the selection of some ‘cool dude’ to be the new leader.
It all feels as if war is inevitable — and then the tension inexplicitly hisses out. The balloon deflates (leaving another state heading ‘back to the stone age’). But the world is back to ‘business as usual’.
Might it be different this time? The preconditions for this cycle of geo-politics seem wildly different from those any of us will have experienced in our lives. Should we then scrap the model in which we are so heavily invested?
Perhaps rather, we should attend to upcoming trends that behave differently to that which our old model predicts — the more persistent the surprises, the more likely we need a new model.
One key difference is that a number of cycles – both long and short – are coming to an end, synchronistically.
The ‘big cycle’ today sloping down to ‘net zero’ is the one triggered in Europe with the radical identity politics of the French Revolution. It started with the killing of the old élite, then went on to devour its own authors — before finally installing an Emperor (Napoleon). The French had deposed one élite, but ended with a new managerial one — dull, self-satisfied, and bureaucratic.
Of course, Empires had existed for millennia, but their virtue was having been driven by a vigorous cultural energy until the energetic impulse finally fades to a rustle amongst the leaves. Some legacy from the French Revolution did indeed filter on in the West, but more in the negative mode of ennui at life being somehow meaningful. Life rather, became, existential, nihilistic, amoral and predatory — the new ‘Imperial’, in a word.
This cycle is ending precisely because the rest of the world sees it as ‘naked’ — a naked Emperor — a grasping primacy, justified through self-attributed superiority, that once may have held some validity, but which today has descended into narcissism and sociopathy — woke anti-culture and weaponised dysfunctionality — used as coercive tools by which to ‘rule’.
No wonder the rest of the World is mounting a resistance. They have had enough of the western binary ‘with us or against us’ meme. In the words of Sinatra: “I did it my way”. They are their ‘own side’. Just last week, the Saudi Energy Minister, Prince Abdulaziz, declared to loud applause: “I keep listening, are you with us or against us? Is there any room for, ‘We are for Saudi Arabia and for the people of Saudi Arabia?’”.
President Putin’s manifesto at Valdai articulated these sentiments succinctly: Sovereign states pursuing their own civilisational way of being.
But today’s other preconditions are indeed wildly different from our default mental model: America is not making an example of ‘a Libya’ this time. It is taking on both Russia and China — and at the same time!
At the end of WW2, the US was the world’s manufacturing workshop. The West ‘owned’ energy and resources (taken from around the world). Now it is the other way around: The West owns a mountain of paper ‘assets’, but the rest of the world owns commodities.
So, the complementary cycles of energy dominance, dollar dominance, sanctions dominance are all on the down swing. Compounding this concatenation, western economies are skirting at the cusp of (as yet unknown) systemic failure in the highly-leveraged financial sphere. Put simply, this ‘is it’ for the US Democrats. Should there be a grave financial breakage, they are ‘toast’.
President Putin, in his Valdai address, put it starkly:
“The unipolar world is coming to an end. The world stands at a historical milestone ahead of the most dangerous and important decade since World War II … the situation is, to a certain extent, revolutionary … as the upper classes cannot, and the lower classes do not want to live like this anymore”.
Everything is in play. And Washington knows it. They do not intend Biden to be Louis XVI, or they to be metaphorically herded onto a caravan of tumbrils.
This is why President Putin warns of the danger — and offers the West a way-out: The recognition of other civilisational polarities.
The world is exiting from US-led globalism into separate, self-contained trading spheres. It is also turning away from centralist structures — turning away from inter-governmentalism. Even in the West this is becoming evident as those ancient European rivalries and animosities roil the surface of an European post-War project designed precisely to wash away national sentiments under a blanket of ‘prosperity for all’ and bland ‘liberal’ values. Europe quietly is going multi-polar!
In Europe, the recognition of national polarities, and a return to its free trading origins may prove to be its off-ramp from Europe-wide deepening fractures.
However, Biden’s Washington apparently is not disposed to hear. It seems determined to show that ‘it rules’ — even if that means to rule over ruins (i.e. Europe), as Biden stumbles towards his ‘principled’ Armageddon to save the “liberal order”.