The world, as a whole, is out of kilter and depth. In fact, it might not be inaccurate to posit that the world is in the midst of deep disorder. This much constitutes a statement of the obvious. What is a challenge is to tease out the reasons for these almost all pervasive disorder(s). A caveat is in order here: the contemporary world disorder is not merely about or does not accrue from the likes of Donald Trump and other nativist populists that have assumed political offices in many parts of the world; they are merely symptoms of deeper malaises and problems. The question is: what are these issues(or forces) that begat nativists?
The answer here lies in the domain of the obvious: it was the third wave of globalization, whose incubatory period can be traced to the seventies, which could be held to be “responsible” for engendering the forces of nativist nationalism in many parts of the world, especially the United States. Globalization not only meant freer flow of capital and goods but also peoples. In combination, the troika, in turn meant a more open world (salubrious for inherent and intrinsic reasons) but these created conditions which led to broad based anxiety in the Western world which, obiter dictum, was the progenitor of globalization and its consequences. Financial globalization, for example, benefited only the elites; the pie was neither broad nor deep enough for all to benefit from. Similarly, while freer trade pulled out millions from poverty (China is a case in point here), its distributional consequences created an underclass of people seething with discontent and anger. People flows, attempted to be subsumed under the rubric of multiculturalism, brought into contact unfamiliar peoples with the host societies of the West. (Many appeared to have held unfamiliarity as strange).
The confluence of these trends and their consequences created deep uncertainty, fear and anxiety in the West. Hitherto, it was the nation state, which was a closed container of peoples, capital and output, in relative terms, that people looked upto for assurance and certainty but this entity was changing; it, no longer provided familiar markers and its concomitant, certainty. The flux, fluidity and fear that this engendered in peoples’ consciousness, and psycho emotional worlds entailed a craving or even a yearning for the “old” and the familiar. Into this uncertain milieu strode Donald Trump and his cohort meretriciously promising a return to this lost world.
The rest, as we know, is history.
However, the implications of these “nouveau” trends have neither been sanguine nor salubrious. While their focal point has been the United States which in itself is not a salutary development, intense ripples have been felt across the world. As the country retreated into itself, and under Trump picked up fights with the world and is in the midst of tearing apart the post World War II rules based order, all for pandering to the base and other allied political agendas, the world, to revert to the thematic concern of this essay, is in the midst of deep disorder. No simplistic typology or category like unipolarity, bipolarity, multipolarity, hegemony ad so on can describe the contemporary world. The best that can be said about it is that we are in the midst of deep uncertainty which, in turn, is defined by such unknowns that there is neither a handle to grasp, so to speak, nor a perspective can be gained on these.
Yet again, holding uncertainty to be the defining feature of our world is easy. What is difficult to posit its direction, drift and nature even in the near future. This can neither be foretold nor even its contours defined. But, what can be stated with a degree of confidence is that the bottoms up demand for certainty and its concomitants, nativist nationalism(s) and other related corollaries can only be ameliorated by and through salubrious, sanguine and forward looking politics. Key to this politics would be far sighted and even great leadership. What is happening contemporarily is the obverse: attempts to roll back globalization, check and contain people flows through draconian and cruel measures, strengthening and entrenchment of borders, assorted conflicts spiraling out of control, international rules and regimes breached with impunity and so on. These measures and attempts do not constitute leadership; these are sheer and pure attempts at pandering to raw and crude instinct.
Can, the question now is, these insalubrious trends be reversed? Yes is the tentative answer but at the risk of sounding tautological, only through a revamped and revised politics whose tour de force has to be wise, deft and salubrious leadership. Is this much desired leadership on the anvil? No is the answer. The world will, in all likelihood meander on and drift in rather aimlessly till conditions and a need or demand for sober and far sighted politics gets real. Till then, the supply side of politics will gyrate to the rhythms of nativism, nationalism and parochialism.
—The author can be reached at: email@example.com