More on 2025Wednesday, November 26th, 2008
A follow up with some good commentary on Global Trends 2025.
Dave Schuler writing at Outside the Beltway:
…This idea goes gack to Thomas Carlyle. It’s the “Great Man” theory of history and I think it’s a load of bull. While individual historical figures, e. g. Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Mao, may bring color and texture to the fabric of history that fabric is formed by economics, demographics, and social structures. Gaius Julius Caesar might have elected never to cross the Rubicon into the precincts of Rome, fomenting the collapse of the Republic and the rise of the Empire. Rome would still have been expansionist and there would still have been an empire. Rome’s location, population, and way of life demanded it. We’d just have used some other word for monarch than Kaiser or tsar.
France was loaded for bear after the French Revolution. Even without Napoleon’s military genius it still would have spread the Revolution all over Europe. It might not have invaded Russia but it most certainly would have invaded Italy.
And so on. The ghastly thing about that pronouncement in this document is that it has nothing whatever to do with the meat of the document at all. Nowhere do the authors demonstrate how the choices of individual leaders will influence the world of 2025. If they’re saying that the world of 2025 is completely unpredictable because it will be so completely formed by the decisions of unpredictable leaders in that world they could have stopped this 120 page report at page 25.
There is a repeated confusion of absolute growth with relative growth. While emphasizing the significance of the latter they don’t seem to appreciate that it’s absolute power, strength, and wealth that’s important not relative power, strength, and wealth. China is powerful because of its enormous size not just because of its relative growth, however dramatic that might be. The U. S.’s continued absolute power, strength, and wealth despite the relative change in power, strength, and wealth insures U. S. pre-eminence for the foreseeable future, even with our present economic downturn. Were it otherwise Luxembourg would be the most important country in the world.
Read the rest here.
There’s a synergy between great men and their times. Without Adolf Hitler, WWII is a localized, limited, war over the degree to which France and Britain were going to accept Germany politically dominating the smaller states of Eastern Europe (Germany’s economic domination was inevitable). Without Germany’s defeat in WWI, Versailles and the Depression there would have been no Hitler as Fuhrer of a Nazi regime.
Dave is right that the document is very weak and in need of systems thinkers from the hard and soft sciences and experts on cultural touchstones. Except for a distinct minority, most professional historians shy away from that kind of extrapolation and speculation due to their methodology regarding evidence, or at least they limit the scope of such activities. Historians and futurists are not the same thing, though the two should engage with one another.
Historians as a group tend to excel at going deep on particular subjects with only secondary concern how that subject relates to everything else. I’ve never been content to accept that, seeing historical knowledge as a platform or scaffold upon which to build new ideas. When I began my first master’s degree, I proposed doing a comparison of the development of the American Populist movement with the Russian Narodniki and People’s Will of the same period. The professor smiled wryly and said that topic was interesting but of a suitable size to be better left for a magnum opus to close out my career.
Analysis is enriched by consilience.