So the book I have selected for this month is the latest offering from Peter Zeihan entitled The End of the World is Just the Beginning. It is, in turns, exhilarating, encouraging, provocative, and horrifying. Even if you don’t buy his thesis wholesale, it remains a fascinating and informative read. This is his fourth book, and the others are a wonderful build up to this one, providing a lot of the much-needed background. Those books are The Accidental Superpower, The Absent Superpower, Disunited Nations, and now this book, the capstone.
I really commend the book, and you really ought to read it, and if you are involved in international work of any kind, you really must read it. I have missionaries and international relief organizations particularly in mind. In addition, I would urge any friends of this ministry overseas—in eastern Europe, Brazil, the UK, Australia, Japan, and elsewhere—to read this book. All my friends in the CREC with international connections would do well to prepare for what is (likely) coming, and this book will be a great help.
Boil That Thesis Down, Boys
Here is my takeaway of Zeihan’s central thesis. Near the end of the Second World War, the United States made a unique offer to the world that was codified in the Bretton Woods agreement. Instead of going the standard imperial route, the Americans created an Order to serve as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. In return for participation in that Order, the United States Navy would guarantee the safety all merchant shipping, sailing from anywhere to anywhere. We were in a position to do this because our Navy was huge, and still largely intact, and our domestic economy was largely unbombed, and we were ready to buy stuff from all over. This Order was enormously successful, and had a 70-year-run, which is even now coming to an end. The primary fruit of this Order was what we call globalization.
So globalization was not the result of the Age of Aquarius, nor was it the consequence of the dawning of a New Spirit in Man. For a third thing it was not, it was not the fruit of Peace, Love, and Understanding. It was the result of the firepower of the U.S. Navy, deployed all over tarnation. But now with the Soviets gone, the Cold War won, we Americans have grown restive domestically, and are demanding a retrenchment, which we can afford to do. America first, as the saying goes. This means the end of globalization, the end of massive international supply chains, the end of cheap oil, and the end of quite a number of countries.
Americans, meanwhile, won’t fully notice, because we have the capacity to grow our own food, make our own stuff, and drill our own oil. We will withdraw into our gated community, and some will wonder what all the noise outside is. Zeihan believes that the nations that will not make it as nations include China, Russia, and Germany. Nations that he believes will become regional hegemons will include Argentina, France, and Turkey. What will not disappear is the old Chinese curse, which is “may you live in interesting times.”
As mentioned above, it is not necessary buy everything Zeihan says to conclude that we are still in for a very tumultuous ride. If you read some of this older books, you will see some astonishing foresight. For example, he predicted the Ukraine war years ago, along with the reasons for it. But he also predicted that the Russians would roll right into Kiev, which could have happened had not some doughty Ukrainians thought otherwise.
For all that I have profited from Zeihan’s analysis, and I have learned a lot, there are still three main caveats that I want to put on the record.
First, not only is the whole world dependent on fossil fuels, so is Zeihan’s thesis. He makes a lot of good sense when it comes to wind and solar power, and he knows the fossil fuel industry like the back of his hand, but what if we introduce a little supposal—I mean something like that Mr. Fusion gadget out of Back to the Future, which could power Connecticut for a year with three used banana peels. If anything like that were to happen, then quite a bit of his geopolitical analysis goes right up the middle of a passing dust devil. So that shouldn’t be ruled out. It wouldn’t be the first time that an unforeseen technological innovation completely changed the course of history.
Second, his argument is that a policy decision on the part of the United States created globalization in the first place, and that a domestic reaction against that policy is going to usher in a world of chaos. But what is to prevent the United States from reversing its policy again, keeping our Navy huge, and maintaining the Order? This would of course require the election of a president who was an even greater charismatic dynamo than the current resident of 1600. But what if that happened? and what if our peaceniks suddenly realized that a world without American battle groups was going to be a world riven by endless wars? And what if they started clamoring for more aircraft carriers? Okay, I don’t think they will do that, but is it not possible that Americans generally could? What if a future president reads Zeihan and says, “omigosh,” and reinstates the Order?
My last caveat is that I am suspicious of Zeihan’s serene assumption that Americans could not incur the wrath of God. He is something of a geographical determinist, and he does show how American plains, rivers, coasts, harbors, soils, and energy deposits were the equivalent of winning a resources version of Powerball. At the same time, he does not budget sufficiently for how faulty worldview assumptions can throw all of that kind of thing away. One of the things that Jeshurun does is that he waxes fat, and kicks. Zeihan sees it happening in other places, and describes it pretty well, e.g. Venezuela, but seems sublimely confident that we are not going to do anything that stupid. But this overlooks that can-do American spirit. A number of American states, and major metropolitan areas, are right this minute being governed by the very same kind of lunacy that wrecked Venezuela. This is a worldview issue, which means it is a religious issue, which makes it a God issue. But I think the fact that Zeihan is an open homosexual means that he is interested in not dwelling too much on all the ways that God could bring judgment close to home.
One of the central things I have learned from Peter Zeihan is how abundantly blessed our nation has been. But being blessed is not the same thing as being lucky. Not the same thing at all, and I suspect that Zeihan is more inclined to the language of luck.
Anyway, get the book.