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Homesick Politics

MADRID – World order – or the lack thereof – is a hot topic these days. Our fixation with the future of global structures and systems is evident everywhere – in the news and at conferences, on bestseller lists, even in popular television shows.

People are anxious. The world seems to be undergoing fundamental change: new actors are emerging on the world stage, previously sacrosanct rules of international behavior are being openly defied, and a new wave of technological progress is disrupting entire industries and economic sectors. In our quest for structure and predictability – a natural impulse in times of rapid change – we are desperate for hints about how the world, and our role in it, will develop.

It is of course vital in such situations that we identify the best, or at least the most feasible, way forward; predictability provides a foundation for cost-benefit analysis and strategic thinking. The problem arises when our yearning for certainty overwhelms rational thinking, taking our ideas and actions in an unproductive – or even dangerous – direction.

The current trend toward rose-colored retrospection is a case in point. Faced with political, economic, geostrategic, and social uncertainty, policymakers have increasingly succumbed to the allure of nostalgia, promising a return to what they portray as the familiar and complete rules and practices of the past.