Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Three Weltanschauungs

IT IS OFTEN ASSERTED that the world is under the unipolar dominance of the United States, the sole global superpower with an uncontested military and vast economic capacity. The impotence of international Communism has changed the counterbalance to America's great weight in the world. However in Communism's vacuum I would like to posit that there has arisen three competing global ideologies in this turbulent era, America's practical power aside. Taken as a whole, each ideology is a distinct Weltanschauung -- a comprehensive view of the world. Each world view competes for global dominance as a basic strategy to survive modernity.

The First Weltanschauung is liberalization. The West -- both America and Europe, despite their mutual aversion -- carry the mantle of the Enlightenment, working to maintain and promote free democratic societies. Though they vastly differ in their evolution, it's like comparing Protestants to Catholics: both fundamentally accept the same faith but differ in its practice. America and its formidable military takes an offensive approach by attempting to expand liberalizing democracy to the dark, threatening corners of the world. Europe focuses its soft power by exercising realpolitik in a more defensive posture. Within the liberal world's heart are deep, bitter divisions that threaten its cogency, as can be seen in transatlantic discord.

The Second Weltanschauung is prosperous autocracy. China actively promotes that democracy does not necessarily equate to freedom. The Middle Kingdom's economic buoyancy is the basis for the case that autocracy alone can create prosperity. Prosperity can be compellingly misconstrued as freedom; wealth certainly can be liberating. But China is loudly promoting reformed capitalist autocracy to the four corners of the Earth as an alternative to democracy while they pursue raw materials for their vast, expanding population. Indeed, the dark corners of the world might benefit at first under the steady hand of an autocratic economic boom that suppresses dissent while maximizing profits. But autocratic prosperity could be misconstrued as freedom, at the expense of human rights. Within the autocratic world's heart is an inherent distrust of similar regimes, which are often nationalist, weakening their full unified potential for global dominance.

The Third Weltanschauung is politicized religion, revitalized in the modern era. Across the world, the barrier between church and state is thinning and cracking as people chafe from the modern condition. One example is America's affinity for a Christian 'Moral Majority' and government funded faith-based social solutions, or presidential deference to 'Intelligent Design' over evolution. But the most lethal, insidious and overbearing incarnation of the Third Weltanschauung is global Islamofascism. At the root of all politicized religions are legitimate questions regarding the moral and spiritual challenges of modernity. But taken to logical extremes, blurring the distinction between faith and state promises illiberality incarnate. And as history amply shows, within politicized religion's heart are fundamental divisions of faith, preventing the global preeminence of one religion.

These three comprehensive world views are the essential ideological attractors for the millions of people who live in today's world.

Recently the journal Foreign Policy published a much-referenced series of articles entitled The Failed States Index. Included with the articles is the Failed States Index Map. On this global map countries are classified as borderline, endangered or critical failed states. It graphically depicts how nearly half of the world's nations are ebbing towards the abyss of anarchy.

In the 9/11 era, the most dangerous threats to the modern world come from failed states. Before 9/11 we viewed other industrialized nations as having the greatest capacity for harm. Some remain potentially threatening. But the era of terror, politicized religion, ubiquitous communications, cheap technology and the escaping genies of mass destruction have made failed states an incubator of global turmoil. The glaring exception is China, which does not appear threatening on the Failed States Index Map. China's astounding growth and autocratic government might evolve into a threat, or as a post-Communist failed state in its own right.

If Foreign Policy's Failed States Index is accurate, half the world is closing down and becoming the dark nether regions of chaotic despair. From the perspective of the people who live in failing states, the Three Weltanschauungs might appear to have equal merit and risk. Each offers order provided by a systemic world view, each making a moral case. Each one defines freedom in opposite terms from the other two. Freedom is defined as individual rights, or as prosperity, or as transcendence. Freedom from oppression, from poverty and from the shackles of earthly limitations are legitimate choices. It's a bazaar out there in Darkworld,. The Three Weltanschauungs are for sale, promoted by powerful, persuasive entities.

It is not my intention to suggest that Chinese autocracy or Islamic fascism are morally equivelent to American or European democracy. But if Failed States are indeed failures, they are populated by people who can lay no claim of legitimacy to any of the three Weltanschauungs that influence the world. People in a failed state, if in a position to choose or be influenced, pose the most fundamental of questions: What is freedom? Is it better to have the vote and be poor, or wealthy and have no rights? Is it better to eschew secularity and money for spiritual fulfillment? From their perspective, which Weltanschauung speaks the most earnestly and offers the best future?

All three weltanschauungs address important questions that are being asked by millions of people in failing states, much less more prosperous ones. It's good that Foreign Policy visualized a map of the world's failing states; but it is also important to identify the basic persuasions that confront these dark corners of the world.

While it is true that people in the Failing World (formerly known as the Developing World) are faced with the fundamental issues of survival, their condition also represents a moral challenge on all levels. From their perspective, each Weltanschauung's imperfections might seem equivalent, even if we think they are not. And it is the Failing World that might be where the planet's fate lies. Our fate is tied to this roiling, growing half of the planet that must find a moral center to transcend anarchy.

Each of the three Weltanschauungs has a decadent component that threatens its survival. The first Weltanschauung -- liberalization -- suffers debasement from the excesses of capitalism and socialist utopianism. Though they are at odds, the net result of each system produces a lot of narcissism, whether it is the materialist of consumerism, or the spiritlessness of the nanny state.

Chinese prosperous autocracy so far comes at the expense of a large underclass under a harsh, repressive rule. Clearly, a breaking point might be coming in China -- but even if the PRC is overthrown, what will probably supplant it might remain autocratic, and certainly free market.

Islamofascism is curiously old but new. Old, because it's Islam; the Caliphate is an old dream. New, because it is defining 21st century conflict like no other force in the world with asymmetrical warfare and the inversion of modern infrastructure to destroy it. Nowhere does there appear to be a long-lasting Islamic state that is prosperous and free, at least by Western standards. Like the secular autocrats of China, Islamic fascists repress to control. Unlike the autocrats, they have a potent, ancient ideology that appeals to those who seek relief from modernity's wages.

The one thing that history seems to reveal time again is that no one knows who's going to fold first. The West might, with its self-conscious dithering and trepidation over its own power. So much of the world's current security rests on America's ability protect it. America might become over-stretched. China's government might be broken by popular backlash from an economy that is prosperous for some but impoverishing for many. Islamofascists might only get as far as endless disruption without making any real political gains in opposing secularity; they offer no real spiritual alternative for living on this earth, only offering a glittering afterlife.

Each Weltanschauung may not be a wholly legitimate response to modernity, but all three pose legitimate questions as to how to address it. Failed states are confronted with all three ideologies. From their perspective, it isn't obvious which Weltanschauung is the best model to pursue, or be subjected to. We should know who our competitors are on the world ideology market.