A Striking View from Jerusalem at Year-End
Quite the most arresting take on world affairs and trends to appear in the major English-language press worldwide at year-end 2013 is a column published on December 26 by Amotz Asa-El in the Jerusalem Post. The piece is entitled "The Year Authority Broke Down."
Asa-El is a distinguished Israeli commentator, author, and blogger. Besides having two advanced Columbia University degrees in journalism, he's the former executive editor of the Jerusalem Post. Asa-El's commentaries appear regularly online and in both the English-language and Hebrew press.
These credentials only add to the striking nature of his observations. As might be expected by a conservative Israeli writing from Jerusalem, Asa-El begins with the ongoing debacles of U.S. President Barack Obama.
But then, surveying world affairs, he quickly puts our president's meltdown -- which, of course, is particularly threatening to the safety of Israel -- in a larger context. He says:
The decline in governmental authority has not been unique to the US, or indeed to the free world.
The breakdown of power is global, and it is both horizontal and vertical, affecting interplay between strong and weak states as well as relations between the masses and their leaders.
Asa-El points to China, Russia, the Eurozone, and the Middle East as also providing evidence of a global weakening of government control -- and rising governmental ineffectiveness. Fecklessness on the part of those in power, he suggests, is emerging as the motif not just of the Obama administration, but of great-power governments worldwide.
But, he notes, there's a counter-trend.
At the same time, fueled by social media and the internet, popular unrest with government is spreading. Mass (and sporadically violent) demonstrations in Ukraine, Turkey, Brazil, Sweden, and Thailand are current examples. Only in Syria and Iran -- and, to a much lesser extent, Egypt and the Gulf States -- have rulers shown a willingness to turn their armies on the people as a way of staying in power.
But governments everywhere are watching these events with disquiet.
Again, here's Asa-El (emphasis added):
The intensifying fear that the people are about to riot is making governments increasingly insecure and introverted. This is certainly true of the US, but also of China, which this year said it will ease its one-child policy, allowing some to have two children, and also shut down its notorious labor camps.
These are of course happy developments, but in an age of diminishing authority, they likely reflect fear of the people rather than altruism, let alone an appreciation for freedom.
Asa-El then highlights something which has not, to my knowledge, been observed in the usual year-end commentaries on who's up, who's down, and who's out. (Or who's dead.) It's not just the latest confirmation that the late Samuel Eliot Huntington was mostly right when he observed that "Islam's borders are bloody," either.
This is something else.
For the first time since the period of the Soviet collapse from 1989 to 1991 -- not to mention Tiananmen Square in Beijing -- people and nations are in ferment worldwide against current rulers, forms of government and economic and political organization.
Something -- what it is is not yet clear. nor may it turn out to be only one thing when it is clear -- is plainly going on. It's not necessarily a struggle for democracy, either. But there are popular
uprisings currently taking place against the status quo on every continent of the world. And
governments and their leaders are hard-pressed to deal with them with conventional formulas.
The year 1789, of course, started out as such a year. So did 1848. The years 1917-1922 saw the collapse of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and German Empires; a wave of Red revolutions in Europe, and the emergence of a swarm of new nation-states.
And then there was 1968.
That was then. Looking at now, Asa-El attributes much of today's unrest to the communications revolution symbolized by the internet. But then, again, writing from the tragic perspective of Jewish history, he offers this sober warning:
The relationship between the rise of high technology and the decline in the power of states and superpowers remains enigmatic, but the actual crisis of political power is manifest and perplexing.
Pray for the state, cautioned the sages, because if it had not been for [fear of] the state, people would swallow each other alive. In 2013, more and more people feared government less and less.
This trend may ultimately prove to hold more promise than menace, but it also might result in people turning on each other -- perhaps as early as 2014.
The Israeli Asa-El has given Americans something to ponder as this new year gets underway.