Francis Fukuyama wrote his influential essay The End of History in 1992, and in terms of the macro-thesis, I think we have to say that it has not aged well. History appears to me like it is just limbering up.
Mankind has not reached any kind of apotheosis in the secular state, and we are not going settle into a benign and room-temperature consensus, in which the global elites give every man his own fig tree, that he might sit under it, and where the bureaucrats of Brussels wipe away every tear. No, history is just getting started, and it looks to me like it is going to be a real rodeo.
The Thesis in a Nutshell
I have been on a Peter Zeihan jag for a little while now, and while I don’t agree with him in every particular, I am massively persuaded of his central thesis. If you would like to go on your own personal jag, his current books are The Accidental Superpower, The Absent Superpower, Disunited Nations and, in just a few weeks, The End of the World is Just the Beginning. I have read the first and third, am currently reading the third, and will read the fourth as soon as it is out. It has been a most informative jag.
I am going to summarize that thesis in the next few paragraphs, go on to register a few caveats, and then get to my main point, which is to suggest what all of this means for international Christian kingdom work, if true.
It has been easy for many to assume that globalization has been the simple result of inexorable progress—mankind growing up into evolutionary maturity and all that jazz. But what we all took for a glorious manifestation of the innate goodness of man, flowering up into the age of Aquarius, was actually a manifestation of the superior firepower of the United States Navy. Near the end of World War 2, at the Bretton Woods conference, the United States made an offer that the world did not refuse. It would have been kind of criminal for them to have refused it. In summary, we offered to use our navy to guarantee the safety of merchant shipping from anywhere to anywhere. We have often been accused of trying to play the world’s policeman, in a boots on the ground kind of way, and while we have occasionally gotten sucked into that role, that has not been the main point. It would be a far more accurate charge to say that we decided to become the world’s Coast Guard. This is what made globalization possible, and it has been a really good seventy-year run.
This is what made supertankers possible. This is what made China’s economy even a possibility. This is what reduced deep water piracy to the status of a career option that fond mothers hardly ever urge their sons to pursue anymore. This pax Americana was in fact an imperial and international thing, but it was remarkable in that it did not rely on the old and traditional mechanisms of empire. In the give and take of imperial machinations, there was a lot more give than had been ordinarily the case.
The problem is that Americans have gotten tired of it, and are—as they say in the South—”fixin’ to” retrench into a self-sufficient quasi-isolationism. This is why “America first” resonates. We can grow our own food. Because of the shale revolution, we don’t need the Middle East for oil anymore. We are in effect a huge island, with the Atlantic off to the right, the Pacific to the left, a handful of Canadians to the north, and then Mexico, which, in addition to being a medium-sized immigration headache, is actually our largest trading partner.
When we pull back, and the artificial globalization that we induced ceases to function in the same smooth way, the broader world is going to devolve into conflict and chaos. Some nations will disappear (Zeihan thinks they will be China, Russia, and Germany). Other nations will become regional hegemons—Turkey in the Med, France in Europe, Argentina in South America, and so on. Regional wars will break out all over the world, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine simply being the first in a long line of them. Pacifists will perhaps discover that they had a simplistic understanding of the causes of wars, but I am not counting on them learning this. That is not something they usually like to do.
A Few Caveats about All of This
Peter Zeihan is the kind of guy who makes a couple of very specific predictions a minute, and so it would not be difficult (one presumes) to discover a few times when there was a swing and miss. So I am not signing off on every last prediction, or every last detail. But I have been persuaded by the broad narrative arc that he has sketched for us on the white board, and I think that Christians everywhere should be preparing themselves accordingly. And if he is right, then preparations are more than just a good idea—they are most necessary. Those preparations need to be made by mission boards, denominations, publishing houses, and so on. Many of those preparations, if intelligent, will require a genuine strategic shift.
Another caveat. Peter Zeihan is not quite a geographical determinist, but he comes close. He is all about the rivers of America, the escarpment of Brazil, the water surrounding Britain, the geography of China’s different regional states, and the big flat area that the Russians are so nervous about trying to defend that they attack instead. There is an awful lot to learn from him here, as I have done, but I do think he gives short shrift to the religion and worldview of any given region’s inhabitants. Learning from him does not require us to discount things that he has perhaps discounted too much.
Yet another qualification. I don’t see any indications that Zeihan is writing from a Christian framework, and so that should be factored in. So factor it in. If he is identifying something obvious about the direction the world is headed in, we can take note of that fact, and then respond to it like Christians. But we are going to have to work through it in order to do so.
America as Gated Community
One of the things that globalization has done for us is that it has made this next metaphor meaningful. Think of the globe twenty years from now as one big city, and it is a city that does not have a bad side of town. It has lots of bad sides. Not only that, but there are vicious street gangs roaming around, constantly at war with each other. And there, over on Swank Hill is America as the global town’s gated community, living the dream. That is likely to excite agitated comment in other quarters. But it is not just a posh neighborhood; it is a posh neighborhood that is hard to get at, and it is is bristling with firepower.
So we need to be thinking ahead like Christians.
Our egalitarian brethren never met a privilege that they didn’t hate. And our carnally minded brethren never met a privilege that they didn’t want to slip under their tongue, like it was hard candy or something.
If it is the case that America is going to be on top of the world for the next century, and if there is nothing we can do about it, the question still remains whether or not we will be on top of the world and relatively decent. Because there is always a possibility, remember, that we could be on top of the world and evil. We could descend, like Charn, into great wealth and greater cruelty. Whether that happens or not will depend upon whether the American church gets its act together. But we are evangelicals. Getting our act together is not part of our historic tradition.
The egalitarians assume that being on the top of the world this way is the evil. That position, that privilege, is the sin. The carnally-minded guy think that a divine providence hands out privileges to His favorites, and so he doesn’t mind throwing a few carnal elbows in order to protect those privileges. Yeah, he feels a little bad about the rest of the world spiraling into chaos, but what is he supposed to do about it? But for the most part, he surveys his lot with satisfaction, and resolves that it is high time for him to build bigger barns (Luke 12:18).
The biblical principle here is this: to whom much is given, much is required. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48). And if you follow Zeihan’s analysis, it is not as though we have been given just a “little bit” more. It is more like we were a trailer park redneck who won Powerball.
And here’s the thing. Our evangelical elites have developed a particular technique that really is quite the trick, and which we must resist every time we see it. They have figured out how to be blown about by every wind of doctrine, which was the easy part, but they have also successfully called this activity “being counter cultural.” In other words, they identify what the world wants to do next, and what the world wants to quit doing now, and because they are using evangelical jargon, they call the old worldly thing “worldly,” and the next worldly thing “radical.” So instead of studying and obeying the founding documents of the City of God, those documents being law and gospel, they instead have gone over to the central park of the city of man in order to chase the squirrels.
I say this because when Americans generally decide to retrench, there will be enormous pressure on American Christians to decorate that pressure with a few Bible verses and call it good. That’s what we have been doing with all our other pressures, right? Raise your hand if you have ever heard a sermon on stewardship and climate change. Raise your hand if you have ever heard a woker than mid-morning sermon. Raise your hand if you have ever heard a red, white, and blue Fourth of July sermon, with a video montage of fighter jets blowing out of a gorgeous sunset. You see, we have not trained our preachers in wilderness schools for untameable prophets, like we should have done. No, we decided instead to run them through a county-sponsored extension program that educates men on how to chase squirrels without hurting them, and which has given these men special uniforms, powder-blue shorts and all.
The best indicator of whether or not you will stand up against the ungodly outrages that will present themselves ten years from now is whether or not you have stood up against the ungodly outrages that started ten years ago. If you are good at rationalizing evil because you learned how to point at other unrelated evils, like all the BLM preachers did, then all we know is that you are good at rationalizing evil. We are not going to call on you in the next round, because rationalizing evil is not going to be the need of the hour. We need men who will oppose evil, with the law of God in their left hand, the gospel in their right, and Christ in their mouth.
The best indicator of whether or not you will stand up against the ungodly outrages that will present themselves ten years from now is whether or not you have stood up against the ungodly outrages that started ten years ago.
A Few Practical Things
Consider what follows as consisting of a few preliminary sketches. A lot of work has to be done here.
The first thing to note is that international missions will get a lot more difficult, and a lot more dangerous. Sending churches and mission boards will need to revisit the training they supply to missionaries initially, along with their protocols for extracting missionaries and their families. Youth group missions, where a group of kids go and build a community center or something, may have to be greatly cut back—depending, of course, on when and where. Missions will become a lot more serious, and the tourism element in short term missions will likely lose some of its allure.
Another is that denominations that are international in scope are going to face their own sorts of challenges and difficulties, largely in the realm of polity. As I believe that travel is going to get a lot dicier, I believe that denominations (like our own CREC) need to develop protocols that allow for (or even encourage) online presbytery meetings, for example. Face-to-face is always to be preferred, obviously, but we shouldn’t be a position where everything has to grind to a halt because a war broke out, or because different nations are applying travel sanctions. We shouldn’t want the impossible best to become the enemy of the possible good.
It may be necessary for affiliating groups to add an additional layer of loose association. If a coalition of churches in one country affiliates with a North American denomination, but there is minimal contact between the two, then it is quite possible that after twenty years the two groups will scarcely recognize each other. This is not all bad, but it will be necessary to hold things more loosely, and perhaps to have developed a category for holding things more loosely. When the ChiComs kicked all the missionaries out of China, this set the stage for a great explosion of Christianity within China, some of it pretty loopy. That was a net plus regardless, but we should remember that God was making the Western church hold things loosely. What will happen when we still have some connections, but nowhere enough to help steer? Maybe we should plan for that.
Seminary training for Third World pastors will need to be reinvented, along the lines of what Third Millennium is doing. If men from the world of tumult are brought into the gated community for their training, it will become increasingly difficult (if not impossible) to persuade them to take their families back into the maelstrom again. So the focus that Western Christians have should be that of exporting the blessings we have, having our resources overflow outward. We should be open-handed in inverse proportion to the likely closing of our gates (which we will almost certainly not be in charge of).
A similar point should be made with regard to publishing houses like Canon Press. A high priority needs to be placed on translation and export of valuable resources. But it needs to be a venture that does not assume a global marketplace that is running along all nice and tidy-like. Those who are responsible for the generation of content should have a division that is responsible for translation and distribution into Blade Runner zones. This will mean a run and gun offense, and less fastidiousness
And those who have the knowledge and ability should be looking into crypto currencies as a way of funding overseas missions. If we are entering an era that is more of a wild west thing, and since we have all completed the Romans 13 beta testing, then we should be anticipating this event. If we have gone to the rodeo, at some point there will be the bull rides.
All for now.