The neuroscientist Abhijit Naskar famously said: “All notions of order are a myth, only order of the universe is chaos. Expand your sight and you’ll realise, there is order in every chaos.”
We live in a chaotic world to which we seek to bring order. Without order, could our natural state be perpetual war?
The philosopher Thomas Hobbes thought so. He warned that if unregulated, humans descend into a war of all against all.
His answer was to tame the state of nature with the Leviathan — the sovereign: the “common Power to keep them all in awe”.
Immanuel Kant argued for a “perpetual peace”, when all the nations of the Earth live under universal rule of law.
Out of the 17th and 18th centuries emerged what we refer to today as the the global rules based order. The war in Ukraine is just the latest conflict to be defined as a battle for the future of the order.
On Q+A this past week, every guest agreed that Ukrainians defending their nation against Russian invasion are in a real sense fighting for us all.
But it begs the question: what rules based order? Who does the order serve?
The West has made and broken the rules
The order is spoken in hushed tones, like holy writ. It is presented as synonymous with freedom and democracy.
We often hear advocates talk about “our way of life”. But it is not that simple. The order grew out of conflict. The seeds of the modern order were sown after World War I. After World War II the United States established its hegemony.
It was referred to as a liberal rules based order. But it wasn’t global. The Cold War competition between the Soviet Union and the West divided the world.
The phrase “rules based order” was coined in the 1990s after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The rules were never for all. And the order was more power based — even race based — than global. As professor of International Relations Amirtav Acharya has said: “I do not think ‘rules-based order’ is a helpful or even meaningful concept. It immediately raises the question: ‘Whose rules’? The prevalent ‘order’ has been dominated by the rules and institutions of the West…”
The West — particularly America — has made the rules and broken them.
Historian Simon Reid-Henry writes that the architects of the post-war order increasingly made a case for the use of “political violence” in defence of the order. The values of the order, he says, are not universal but “Atlantic dominated”.
The rules written in the 20th century do not reflect the world today and will become increasingly detached from reality.
Where will we be in three decades’ time?
China is a part of the global order: a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the World Trade Organisation, the World Health Organisation, a contributor to global peace keeping operations.
China is critical to the global economy, the biggest engine of economic growth and soon to usurp the United States as the single biggest economy in the world.
China is an indispensable nation. Yet China is avowedly not a liberal democratic nation. Indeed, it is hostile to liberal values. This is the direct challenge to the so-called order.
Beyond China, the West is losing its grip on power and influence. By 2050, according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the United States will be the only Western nation among the world’s top 10 economies.
China will be the largest, India second and the list will include Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico and Russia.
With economic power comes political might. What would a global order look like in 2050?
Democracy, too, has been under threat. The end of the Cold War was hailed as liberal democracy’s triumph but today those values are in retreat.
Freedom House, which measures the health of democracy globally, says the number of democratic governments has been declining for 15 straight years.
The war in Ukraine has galvanised Western powers, Australia included. On Q+A, Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy reiterated Australia’s commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes.
That may be a long time.
In order, there is always chaos
For Ukraine, this is a battle for survival. Vladimir Putin sees this war as an existential moment. He believes he is fighting for the Russky Mir — Russia world.
Putin is striking against an order that he believes is exhausted and lacks legitimacy.
He is not alone. China’s Xi Jinping believes any global order must recognise China’s power.
Many other nations not bent on invasion or domination also question the utility of a 20th century Western-centric order that has too often been exploitative, violent and hypocritical.
The war in Ukraine arrives at a hinge point of history.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy has turned his country’s fight for survival into a global reckoning. Will freedom and democracy survive? If so, how does democracy redeem itself?
The war will, at some point, end. But the contest for global order will continue. Disruption is dangerous and history tells us that more — perhaps even worse — conflicts lie ahead.
Abhijit Naskar is right, in order there is always chaos.
What is order?
As he writes: “Order is nothing but a friendship with chaos.”
Source: ABC News