Over the last two decades, three issues have occupied my mind:
Has the digital era segmented or united the world? Has instant access to data and global networking made people more broad-minded and tolerant of diversity, or has it merely reinforced the views of likeminded individuals?
People accept globalization when it delivers prosperity and winners outnumber losers. But will globalization be more resented and resisted as the world enters a long period of slow or no growth?
How can in-groups that share common values deal with out-groups that don't? Is it possible to be truly inclusive without demonizing those that are outside the tent?
My modest aim in this book is to dissect these questions from an historical perspective — to see how far the world has come, and what lies ahead if current trends continue.
So, let us begin with history.
From 1618 to 1648 Europe was torn apart by a devastating and ruthless war. It was waged with a fanaticism nourished by religious extremism, which absolved soldiers who committed atrocities because it was God's will and done in God's name. Out of this debacle came the Westphalian system, giving rise to the nation-state.
Fundamentally, the conflict in Europe was about who should have the right to define ethics, norms, values and behavioural patterns in a Europe baffled after Martin Luther's challenging of the Catholic Church, and still struggling to digest the social repercussions of the information revolution inaugurated by the printing press and movable type.
The global picture today resembles this earlier situation in many ways — the religious fanaticism, the chaotic warfare and social breakdown all speak to our liveliest fears of today, especially when their effects can be multiplied by the sinister use of modern weaponry and technology.
The Thirty Years War put Europe on the road to a unique constellation of military power, economic influence and political thinking. The main thread was the jump from the local to the national level. People lost their affiliations to smaller communities and stopped knowing or caring about their neighbours. This initiated a long march towards dehumanization, denaturalization and high power distance. Before the Thirty Years War, “power” was rarely exercised outside the local level.