far right rally torches SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images

Global Conflict in a New Age of Extremes

Today, like in the twentieth century, nationalism is tearing societies apart and dividing erstwhile allies. And the world’s major powers have largely resumed their Cold War postures, preparing themselves psychologically, if not militarily, for open conflict.

TEL AVIV – The late historian Eric Hobsbawm described the twentieth century as the “age of extremes,” in which state socialism led to the gulag; liberal capitalism led to cyclical depressions; and nationalism led to two world wars. He then predicted that the future would amount to a prolongation of the past and present, characterized by “violent politics and violent political changes” and by “social distribution, not growth.”

History may not repeat itself, but it does frequently rhyme. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society,” but only “individual men and women” certainly rhymes with the divisive worldview and self-serving behavior of today’s populist demagogues.

Today, like in the twentieth century, nationalism is tearing societies apart and dividing erstwhile allies, by fueling antagonism toward the “other” and justifying physical and legal protectionist barriers. The world’s major powers have largely resumed their Cold War postures, preparing themselves psychologically, if not militarily, for open conflict.

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