Emmanuel Todd
After the Empire

In the fall of 2002 I had the feeling that the world was about to repeat the same mistake with regard to the United States that it made during the 1970s with the Soviet Union: reading an expansion in military activity as a sign of increasing power when in fact it serves to mask a decline.

The United States, which until very recently played an important role in building international order, appears more and more clearly to be contributing to disorder throughout the world.

The war against Iraq represents a decisive stage in this recent transformation. Aprés l’empire’s thesis about the significance of America’s “theatrical micromilitarism” was all too well illustrated by the aggressive preemptive strike of the world’s leading military power against a military midget—an underdeveloped country of twenty-four million inhabitants exhausted by a decade-long economic embargo. The theatrical media coverage of this war, including the U.S. military’s close surveillance of how the war was “playing” back home and around the world, must not blind us to a fundamental reality: the size of the opponent chosen by the United States is the true indicator of its current power. Attacking the weak is hardly a convincing proof of one’s own strength. On the contrary, and in direct confirmation of the central thesis of this book, the United States is pretending to remain the world’s indispensable superpower by attacking insignificant adversaries. But this America—a militaristic, agitated, uncertain, anxious country projecting its own disorder around the globe—is hardly the “indispensable nation” it claims to be and is certainly not what the rest of the world really needs now.

The rise of higher education today is leading us toward the calamity of ... oligarchy.

At the very moment when democracy is beginning to take hold in Eurasia, it is weakening in those places where it was born. American society is changing into a fundamentally unegalitarian system of domination, a phenomenon perfectly characterized by Michael Lind in The Next American Nation.

Media reports tend to make the world seem dangerous and regressive.

Nevertheless, if one refuses to fall into simplistic economic schemas, whether of the left or the right, Marxist or neoconservative, there exists an immense amount of statistical information that allows one to take stock of an enormous cultural advancement going on in the world at the present time. Increases in general literacy and the spread of lower birth rates are the two fundamental changes shaping this cultural progress. [ He predicts total literacy around 2030 and zero population growth around 2050. ]

Progress is not, as Enlightenment thinkers may have believed, a pleasurable linear ascent on all fronts. Being uprooted from one’s traditional life—from the well-trodden routines of illiteracy, pregnancy, poverty, sickness, and death—can at first produce as much suffering and disorientation as it does hope and opportunity. Very often, perhaps in a majority of cases, the transformation of cultural and personal horizons is experienced as a social and individual crisis. Destabilized peoples behave violently both among themselves and toward others. The move into modernity is frequently accompanied by an explosion of ideological violence.

...one must understand that the crises and massacres that the media tell us about endlessly are not in most cases simply regressive phenomena, but in fact symptoms of a transitional derailment that is part of the modernization process. One must keep in mind that a stabilizing process will follow automatically and the disturbances will disappear without the least outside intervention.

If one goes back to the origins of the Protestant Reformation when literacy really takes off, we find the feverish Swiss, shaken by religious passion and perfectly capable of butchering each other over grand ideas and burning heretics and witches—all this on the way to acquiring their legendary reputation for cleanliness and punctuality, and eventually becoming the headquarters of the Red Cross and a center for the dissemination of lessons on civil harmony throughout the world. Therefore, out of simple decency, we ought to refrain from making categorical claims about Islam being different by nature and stop making pat judgements about its presumed essence.

Speaking of the coming economic crisis in the US

We do not yet know how and how fast Japanese and European investors will lose their shirts, but they will. The most likely scenario is a stock market crash larger than any we have experienced thus far that will be followed by the meltdown of the dollar—a one-two punch that would put an end to any further delusions of “empire” when it comes to the US economy.

“Universal terrorism” is absurd from the standpoint of the Muslim world, which will eventually work its way through its transitional crisis without outside intervention. It could only be useful to the United States if it somehow needs to have an Old World embroiled in a state of permanent disorder.

We do not yet know if the universalization of liberal democracy and peace is an inevitable historical process. We do know, however, that such a world poses a threat to the United States. Economically dependent, America requires a minimum level of global disorder to justify its politicomilitary presence in the Old World.

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