June 17, 1996
paper prepared for the ISA Session on "Fears and Foes"
Widespread apprehension and fear of catastrophe pervades the world at the close of the 20th century. The Cold War finale, paradoxically, seems not to have brought an end to history or opened an era of universal peace and democratic capitalism. Instead, civil wars, terrorism, crime, drugs, anomie and anarchy are widespread and the very existence and significance of the modern state is in jeopardy. Highlighting this turbulance is the proliferation of violent conflicts between weakened states and revolting ethnonational communities accompanied by desperate efforts to organize international interventions to restore peace and order.
Many explanations for these frightening and unexpected results reflect various paradigms in which villains and heros confront each other: there are always good guys and bad guys, Satans and Saints, centers and peripheries, oppressers and oppressed. Religious fundamentalists forecast armageddons and demand spiritual awakenings, while scientists and psychics offer apocalyptic forecasts based on geological or astronomical catastrophes that may terminate human life on earth, or at least end civilization as we know it.
An alternative explanation proposed here is based on historical forces rooted in modernity and its global dissemination following the collapse of all the modern empires in which the mega-struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union can be seen as only the final phase. On the ashes of these empires have arisen a host of newer states all hoping to experience the fruits of modernization: notably industrialization, democracy and nationalism.
Concurrently, the heartlands of the former empires are themselves confronting domestic crises of legitimacy and terror, including the sense that they must somehow cope more effectively with the Box of Pandora they have released upon the earth. Environmentalists point with alarm to the population explosion, floods of refugees, the exhaustion of natural resources and environmental degradation, all rooted in features of modernization. Memories of the great wars of the past continue to haunt students of world politics and lead to cries for major efforts to stop nuclear attacks, prevent terrorism or even resist anticipated wars between civilizations.
The perspective offered here reverses popular notions of post- modernism by seeing modernization as itself the root cause of what may be called the para-modern syndrome. From its inception, modernity linked Democracy, Industrialism and Nationalism ("DIN") in a kind of integrated but costly mixture which always produced great harm while also generating marvelous benefits. Modernity has not come to an end -- rather, we are just becoming more aware of its consequences.
Among the harms caused by modernity were the costs of urbanization and industrialism: poverty, child labor and exploitation of women, class struggles, vicious authoritarianism, imperial conquests, and great inter-state wars. It was easy for optimists to overlook these malign aspects of modernity (the DIN phenomena) while we focused attention on its benign and wonderful aspects. In the post-imperial era, however, the bitter fruits of modernization have suddenly sprung into the foreground of our attention. Meanwhile, the benefits of modernity have not disappeared, but we are more critical of them. Modernization and para-modernism, like Siamese twins, are so linked that we cannot have one without the other and no surgeons can separate them.
In fact, the positive and negative aspects of modernity have always been present as inextricably as the faces of Janus, the eponym of January, who may be viewed with equal foreboding or relief as the end or the beginning of an era, the day or the night of our existence. What needs to be understood is that in this narrative there are no saints or sinners -- all of us are equally implicated, as the creators and victims of the ambivalent processes of modernization. We simply need to understand them better and, while enjoying their achievements try, also, to cope with their most tragic consequences.
In order to do so, however, we need to overcome the disciplinary barriers that put blinders on our ability to perceive the world -- economists focus on industrialism, capitalism, markets, money and trade; political scientists study governance, democracy, power, elections and political parties; and anthropologists or sociologists deal with nationalism and ethnicity, with cultures, communities and class relations. All of these disciplines work in an a-historical vacuum that largely ignores the long-term dynamics reflected in the present world. All of these dimensions are equally relevant to an understanding of the world scenario that now confronts us. Above all, international studies is challenged to integrate them rather than limit itself to relations between states, an arena of diminishing importance in a para-modern world. Old states are withering and new states are virtually still-born. The state will not disappear but its centrality for world politics is fading. No doubt a few inter-state wars will occur but, I believe, wars between super- powers will not: instead, bush-wars, especially between ethnonational movements and weak states, provoking international interventions, will escalate.
We need to understand that state nationalism, which helped modern states create the foundations for democratic self- governance in the West, also paved the way for the rise of modern imperialism and the conquest of the earth by heavily armed states who, ultimately, struggled to fight and destroy each other in brutal inter-state wars. The successor states generated by the collapse of these empires increasingly confront ethnic nations which are mobilizing to protest their oppression by weak and arbitrary governments (often dominated by ethnic minorities), which cannot solve the most fundamental material problems facing every state in an industrialized era nor can they assure the security and justice promised by our democratic ideals.
In this political vacuum, traditional and sacred sources of solidarity, fear and anger compete with ethnic nationalism and capitalist materialism, as rival forces promoting greed, materialism and violence. The three (DIN) components of the modern state have become separated from the amalgam which made modernity seem benign. Now, as disassociated forces, they compete with each other and, among other consequences, produce the ethnonational violence that alarms the world today as one of the most conspicuous aspects of the para-modern syndrome: it provides the focus of attention in this paper.
Updated: 7 August May 1996
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