From the Middle East to Europe and the United States to Asia, from geopolitics to economics, the world has fallen into widespread chaos. But there is cause for hope.
PARIS —"Chaos" comes from the Greek word khaos, which means "chasm, abyss." It is defined as "the general confusion of the elements of matter before the formation of Earth." In one of Joseph Haydn's masterpieces, The Creation, the Austrian composer conveys the chaos of the world before God created the heavens and Earth and before order emerged.
The problem is that we now have the vague feeling of watching the reverse process. Order doesn't come out of chaos. Instead, chaos seems to gradually replace any semblance of order— flawed as it is — that we previously had.
Is this feeling legitimate? And if so, what's causing such chaos? Economic and geopolitical crises are multiplying in a tangle that seems as inexorable as it is confused. Not so long ago, it seemed that good economic news, whether from emerging countries or from the United States, was balanced by bad geopolitical news — and vice versa. In January 2008, on the eve of a very serious global financial crisis, Klaus Schwab, the founding chairman of the World Economic Forum, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine about "How Business Can Help Save the World." At the time, the opposite was actually happening: The state came to the rescue of banks to fix the industry's irresponsible behavior.
But despite the emergence of global terrorism, and after two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the dominant feeling geopolitically was still that the world was more or less under control. We just had to get the economy back on track and neutralize Osama bin Laden.
In 2016, while the stock exchange, oil prices and China's growth are simultaneously falling, global insecurity is rising, leaving us with the feeling that we are losing control of events: North Korea claims to have tested a hydrogen bomb, tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia is escalating dangerously, ISIS is retaliating for the loss of territories it used to control in Iraq and Syria by opening new frontlines in Libya and multiplying acts of terrorism from Europe to Asia — Indonesia recently — and from Africa to the United States.
Stock holders sit in a stock exchange in Beijing, China in 2009 — Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA
From a dark shadow, light emerges
From economics to geopolitics, the dark side of globalization seems to cast its shadow over the world. The influx of refugees and the unacceptable behavior, spontaneous or planned, of a tiny minority of them, as at the Cologne station on New Year's Eve, have fomented populism and nationalist anxiety. Today, Hungary isn't the only country to threaten the fundamental values of the European Union. Now, here comes Poland, the biggest country demographically, economically and politically speaking of all new members of the European Union.
The world is going too fast. Describing the feeling of growing chaos that we experience is one thing. Analyzing its full particulars is something else. To make a long story short, the principle of "order" — quite the troublemaker in the Middle East, let's not forget that —embodied by the United States is not what it used to be, allowing factors of disorders to multiply. The slowdown in growth is becoming more difficult for authoritarian regimes to bear than for democratic countries. How could corruption thrive when there's nothing left to distribute?
In despotic countries, current rulers are trying to make up for the drop in income by both concentrating power inside the country and playing the nationalist card abroad. In democratic countries, discredited elites can lead to populist temptation. But simplistic formulas fail to respond to the complexity of the situation. They only strengthen the feeling of global chaos. Yet it would be wrong and dangerous to sink into melancholy. Obviously, ISIS will not disappear with a wave of the wand, oil prices will remain low, the number of refugees will continue to increase and China's growth won't always be what it was.
But there are grounds for hope. Despite internal divisions and verbal excesses, Iran is returning to the community of nations. Meanwhile, it's unlikely that Britain will leave the European Union. In the United States and France, the next presidential elections probably won't see victories of the more extreme candidates.
Last but not least, though the decline of China's growth does affect the global economy, China is not Russia. Xi Jinping is not Putin. He's far more cultured and thoughtful than his Russian counterpart. China remains a cause for hope, providing that the country is careful not to give in to an irresponsible logic of nationalism.