Welcome to the disunited nations, presided over by an inept superpower, inhabited by corrupt client states and endured by an ever-suffering mass of humankind.
We live, writes the eminent British historian Hobsbawm (Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life, 2003, etc.) in this slender volume of lectures, “in what we can now recognize as a deeply unstable form of global disorder both internationally and within states.” This is far from the postwar Western dream of free-market nation-states coexisting peacefully. Many nations are dictatorships, many oligarchies, most subject to an economic globalization that spares no one—not even the residents of the developed world, for whom relentless corporate downsizing, cost-cutting and labor-shifting means that the “early twenty-first century offers a troubling, not to say sinister, prospect.” Against this economic force, the old world of empires won by military force is dead; what will replace them remains to be seen, though there are plenty of forces around the world now battling out the question, inflicting damages mostly upon civilian populations everywhere. By Hobsbawm’s account, it does not help matters that the world’s chief power is now the United States, which does not seem to recognize that no state or empire has ever succeeded in ruling the world before, at least not for long. (In this regard, Hobsbawm quotes Napoleon: “You can do anything with bayonets except sit on them.”) The author is mystified that 9/11 allowed “a group of political crazies” to attempt to convince the world otherwise, the net effect of which has been negative: The United States is not taken seriously by other nations and is internally divided both politically and culturally. The best solution for the rest of the world, Hobsbawm urges, is to refuse, “firmly but politely, to join further initiatives proposed by Washington which might lead to military action, particularly in the Middle East and Eastern Asia.”
Good grounds for heated discussion about America’s role in the world.