19.2.03

FOURTH TURNING ALERT. The op-ed writers and political weblogs are identifying elements of several secular conflicts. Thomas Friedman has been getting a great deal of play today for this vision: "The new world system is also bipolar, but instead of being divided between East and West, it is divided between the World of Order and the World of Disorder. The World of Order is built on four pillars: the U.S., E.U.-Russia, India and China, along with all the smaller powers around them. The World of Disorder comprises failed states (such as Liberia), rogue states (Iraq and North Korea), messy states — states that are too big to fail but too messy to work (Pakistan, Colombia, Indonesia, many Arab and African states) — and finally the terrorist and mafia networks that feed off the World of Disorder." Peggy Noonan makes a similar observation, with a sharper edge: "The new world reality is a division, a sharp split, between the civilized world on one side and those who comprise, or refuse to thwart, the uncivilized world. The civilized world wants peace and means to stop those who would use weapons of mass destruction to kill civilian populations and terrorize the people of world. Many in the uncivilized world love peace also, but not all, and a key question is whether the peace lovers in their alliance encourage murderous violence by refusing the stop the uncivilized war-bringers in their midst, such as Saddam Hussein."

There are two themes in the commentary that bear watching. The first is the invocation of secular crises past. (source: Power Line.) I've been reading Reagan's War and have been struck by the parallels between the protests against short-range missiles and strategic defense and the recent protests against a war that has yet to start. (Those protests tended to be better-attended; they were also funded with Soviet money.) Tod Lindberg provides a brief summary here. But there continue to be invocations of the 1930s, with the stakes appearing to be higher and intimations of major changes in international institutions and alliances surfacing. John O'Sullivan sees it thus: "It is rather as if a stern headmaster with traditional views on discipline were to arrive at a disorderly school. He would be resisted by the school bullies, of course; but he would also be resented by many of the children who had got used to misbehaving occasionally and by those teachers with "progressive" views on how to keep order."

But that anticipates the more challenging second theme. The real clash of civilizations might not be between Developed Order and Primitive Disorder, notwithstanding the havoc that nineteen guys with modelers' knives can wreak. Rather, look for the clash within the Developed Order over the kind of world we want to live in. The fault lines between the Bush Administration and the French government, and those in the Anglosphere who agree with the French are the most obvious. But look further, and imagine: students who argue for popular sovereignty: "And we recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of dictatorship. In Iran, where there is a strong and growing student movement for democratization, we hope to support change from within, rather than from abroad. What we cannot accept is doing nothing. We insist that suffering cannot end and that the war on terror cannot be won until the dictatorships responsible for that suffering and terrorism are replaced by democratic governments." Imagine further: pluralistic student politics whilst much of the professoriate remains as if in amber loyal to the pieties of the past. [There is something to be said for favoring button-down shirts and ties. Some kinds of dated are classic. But I digress.]

The rethinking of the kind of civilization we want to live in does not end in the campus, or in high geopolitics. Tuesday morning, Milwaukee radio host Charlie Sykes moderated a segment on the Chicago nightclub deaths in which host and callers recognized that nobody deserved to die and that the fight and flight had no racial overtones, but that perhaps some of those young people who left small children might better be at home at 2 in the morning rather than at an after-hours club.

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