Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fin de Siecle

Current events in the Middle East and across the Maghreb seem to have come out of nowhere and caught everyone by surprise.  So far very few people have attempted to explain why now and why in these locations.  I wouldn't be so bold as to try to give any explanation just yet, but I would like to put forward a very general analysis of the timing.  I would ascribe it to the phenomenon known as Fin de Siecle, end of the century literally.  The idea being that world events tend to go a bit out of control or come to a head at or near the end of a century.

First off, it's obviously been some time since the end of the last century.  However this concept is not linked exactly to calendar dates and is more closely linked with movements or epochs.  Thus, if you look at the end of the previous century you see that the final outcomes from events that started near the calendar turn of the century did not come to an end until about 1918 with the end of the First World War.  So there is some flexibility when looking at the timing of events.  The Cult of the Offensive that helped lead to the outbreak of World War I was growing long before the outbreak of the war and those who were caught up in it ignored the facts that were piling up against it.  The introduction of rapid fire rifles and machine guns at the end of the 1800's actually favored defense as was shown during the Boer Wars and even to some extent at the end of the US Civil War.

If you look at the years around 1800 you will see similar world changing events just prior to and following the turn of the century.  The US and French Revolutions, the Inca uprising and the Mexican War for Independence and others.  There just seems to be a tendency for major changes or shifts in power or thought to occur right around the change of the century and there is no difference with our current change.

Looking at the 10 years or so before and now after the year 2000 we have huge changes in the world.  1989 the fall of the Berlin Wall is where I would put the start date.  As for the most influential or at least prescient writing, though I disagreed with him in 1992, Francis Fukuyama's, The End of History takes my vote. Democracy and Western political ideals in general have won, we are just now seeing the fallout from this win.  There is just no longer any justification for authoritarian regimes of any sort and people have had enough of waiting for these regimes to reform themselves.  The addition of current forms of rapid mass communication have sped up the rate of change to levels never seen before.  It has not changed to nature of history only the speed at which it happens.  We surely have several more years of violent upheaval to live through.  Our leaders need to catch up and come up with a coherent policy to deal with it.  Otherwise we will simply be blown by the winds of change and taken for a ride instead of charting our own course.

No comments:

Post a Comment