The twentieth-century brought an astonishing number of advances to the human world – scientific, technological, and agricultural. It was also a century of appalling violence, the most destructive in human history. An estimated 167 million to 188 million people died at the hands of their brothers.
The century that put communism, fascism, and nationalism on the map also saw the invention of highly efficient weaponry and a willingness to direct it against civilian populations on a massive scale.
Do we understand what could happen to us on American soil – tragedies more devastating than anything we have experienced since the Civil War? How easily we ignore the warnings!
At this historic turning-point we can least afford a repetition of the world’s destructive past. Only a strong America, just and wise and levelheaded, can lead a disrupted world back to stability and peace.
In his book, “The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West”, the historian Niall Ferguson, who I have introduced to you previously, is explicit:
“The hundred years after 1900 were without question the bloodiest century in modern history, far more violent in relative as well as absolute terms than any previous era…. There was not a single year before, between or after the world wars that did not see large-scale violence in one part of the world or another.”
Niall Ferguson’s observations are useful because he departs from the typical explanations that blame weaponry and fascist governments, as significant as these were. Instead he identifies the true causes as ethnic conflict, economic volatility, and declining empires.
In short, he reminds us of our human vulnerability to fear, emotional insecurity, and tribalism.
The convergence of multiple crises I have been writing about here involve all these things, but also newly emerging threats that most of us have not seen coming.
These include an extremely fragile, interdependent banking system, depleted natural resources, the rapid loss of farmland and collapsing aquifers, and the degradation of critical environmental ecosystems.
Run-away technology is rapidly outpacing the maturity of human moral competence.
In every case, the challenges we face as individuals and families rarely come into focus until we consider their local implications.
And, as Dr. Ferguson points out, it is the anxiety of people under pressure that leads to social deterioration and violence.
Long-time readers know my views. In the extremes of social and economic stress, it is my belief that local communities are the only place where we have the freedom and opportunity to take control of our lives in a civilized manner.
The difference between a disrupted past and a secure future will depend entirely on the manner in which we address problems with our neighbors and manage our local affairs.
We cannot completely wall-out the chaos of the world, but we can accept personal responsibility for the unity and well-being of our communities.
The distinction between past and future will be determined by dependable relationships, respectful attitudes, and giving a helping hand.
Building trust with neighbors and cooperating to meet shared needs are personal choices that lead to safety.
As we work together shoulder-to-shoulder, we can begin to know, understand, and influence one another. The lessons of civility and cooperation to be learned here will serve us well as a nation.
Yes, we need to be realistic— Many people remain crippled by dogmatic prejudices. This is unlikely to change until we are forced to address the essential needs that we face together in a disintegrating social order.
Patience and determination will then make many things possible as never before. Necessity sharpens the mind and invigorates the will.
Distrust and alienation are diminished as we identify common concerns and work in service to common needs.
And what of our common purpose?
Ultimately, in my view, our first priority must be the survival of the United States as a constitutional republic. The future depends on this.
Let us seek a strengthening respect for the Constitution and the cooperative form of governance it requires.
It is the Constitution that has allowed us gradual progress, an advancing strength toward unity, justice and inclusive fairness for more than 200 years
Dear readers: I will be taking a short break— Please watch for the next post on or about December 17. New readers will find a project description, an introduction to the coming book, and several working drafts of early chapters linked at the top of this page.