Geopolitical Futures is the second company I founded to forecast geopolitics. Many things such as the weather and econometrics are forecast with a degree of accuracy. Both methods are imperfect, based as they are on complex events, but they provide a sense of where things are going. It did not seem reasonable to me that the same could not be done with the relationships between nations. We suppose that since nations are vast and require complex governments, their leaders are to some degree at the mercy of the institutional structures they govern. In engaging other nations, a nation is constrained by its weaknesses and driven by its imperatives. There are things it needs from other nations, and the tools of economics, politics and the military are deployed for the imperatives that compel a government to act and the constraints that will shape and sometimes prevent actions. When we look at the world, my team and I look for recurring patterns of behavior embedded beneath the events that arise from them. The daily comings and goings themselves are circumstantial. Newspapers can deal with them. More interesting to us is the rhythm, regularity and, most important, direction of the events. This is […]
Today, May 7, 2020, is the 75th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany. That day ended an extraordinary period of human history, made infamous by an extraordinary man. I say Adolf Hitler was extraordinary because he was at once a maniac and among the most honest politicians in history. He never hid what he meant to do, and what he said he would do he did. He wasn’t above telling lies such as those at the Munich accords when it suited his purpose, of course, but in a sense those were acts of charity, freeing those afraid to act from the need to act. About his maniacal thoughts, he was always honest. In “Mein Kampf,” he described in detail his true intentions. Imagining death on such a scale, so thoroughly and efficiently, is astounding. Geopolitically, there was nothing extraordinary in his actions. When Germany unified in 1871, an economic dynamo was created in Europe. Germany quickly passed the French economy and was challenging the British. The rest of Europe feared its growing power and so formed an anti-German bloc comprising Britain, France, Russia and others. Germany faced a blockade from the sea and potential simultaneous attacks from France and […]
May Day has been special to me since the third grade, when a pole was erected in the center of the schoolyard of PS 67 in the Bronx. That morning, we were herded into the yard where the pole, festooned with crepe paper, was surrounded by slightly older girls, each of whom held the end of a crepe ribbon. They then danced around the pole, wrapping the paper around it. I don’t remember my thoughts at the time, but they likely were focused on lunch. It was several decades later that I discovered what the dance was about, something I am certain teachers, parents and certainly I had no idea of at the time. The maypole dance was an ancient fertility rite. The colored crepe paper ought to have been made up of the flowers of spring blooming, and the pole represented, well — a pole. As spring brought the world to life, the girls of PS 67 danced the dance of joy. In retrospect, it violates all beliefs held then and later. Then, the Catholic children not in parochial school and the Jewish children not in Yeshiva participated in a ceremony that celebrated not just fertility but the acts […]
A riot broke out in a poor, predominantly Muslim neighborhood north of Paris over the weekend. The immediate cause was a traffic offense and...
Karl Marx wrote that “history repeats itself twice, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce.” The collapse of the Soviet Union was not a tragedy, nor is what is happening in Russia now a farce. Still, the collapse of the Soviet Union was a defining moment in human history. Russia’s current struggle with itself doesn’t begin to rise to that level. At issue is the collapse of oil prices. Before the long decline in energy prices, oil and natural gas accounted for about 60 percent of Russia’s exports and 30 percent of its gross domestic product. At the time, Russia was a Third World country trying to sustain a First World military. I call Russia Third World because for Vladimir Lenin, the countries that survived by selling raw materials to more advanced countries were the prisoners of imperialism, and later came to be called Third World. To Lenin, the fact that Russia generated a third of its GDP, as well as the majority of its national budget, from energy sales to industrialized countries makes it a classic Third World country. The problem of these countries, according to Lenin, was that their survival depended on prices they […]
When I began the Thoughts column, I explained that I was using it as a space for thinking about a new book intended to place geopolitics within the framework of the philosophical tradition. The problem with writing this was the systematic nature of writing a book. A book must contain an orderly structure built around a central thesis. It can contain multiple strands of thought, but at a certain point it becomes chaotic. The problem is not so much about books versus short articles but about the tension between two ways of looking at the world and its parts. The systematic imposes an order on the world that may explain it but is insufficient. When the Geopolitical Futures staff members write an article, it is intended to be both self-contained and connected to our broader method. It must explain unfolding events through a single coherent lens. In this, our writing is like that of others, and is intended to clarify and reveal the connections. There is another approach to thinking, which I will call prismatic. Rather than looking through a clarifying lens for the order of things, it looks at the world through a piece of glass that seems to […]
Earlier this week I wrote a book review about the breakdown of community and friendship in our time. In that review, I spoke of a poker game I was part of that lasted through the 1980s. It was a poker game that consisted of intimate friends who never gave any hint of the nature of their personal lives. It was a friendship without mercy, where defeating or devastating another player was a moment of joy and where there was no quarter asked nor given. No women played, although someone’s wife or the highly significant other sometimes served the pastrami and corned beef platters a local delicatessen knew to prepare for us each week. The game started at 7:30 each Tuesday night and ended at 1 a.m. Checks were accepted, indicating the degree of trust that existed. The game consisted of the same players: a lawyer, a realtor, a couple of army officers, an English professor and myself. We played dealer’s choice, pot limit table stakes, with a $5 ante from each player. That meant that someone could bet the pot, and be raised the pot, but could not bet more than was in front of him. This made for side […]