Although Ludendorff warned that "by naming Hitler as Reichschancellor, we have delivered up our holy Fatherland to one of the greatest demagogues of all time" it was not apparent at the time how extremist the new leader would be. It is largely forgotten that there were only two Nazis in HItler's first cabinet, Wilhelm Frick, minister of the interior and Herman Goering, who was initially a minister without portfolio. The Nazification of the state apparatus took several years and was largely facilitated by the unstable condition of German politics. The emergence of totalitarianism took place under the pretext of meeting emergencies as successive crises had to be met and things had to be "regulated". Stability and prosperity are inherently inimical to totalitarianism because a functioning status quo makes people reluctant to take chances with unusual political figures.
But if the CIA's long range forecast for the next decade is accurate the world is about to enter a period of transition in characterized by changing politics, an energy crisis and shifts in international power. The NIC 2025 Project predicts the world will be in for a wild ride. Some of its key predictions are:
- The whole international system—as constructed following WWII—will be revolutionized. Not only will new players—Brazil, Russia, India and China— have a seat at the international high table, they will bring new stakes and rules of the game.
- The unprecedented transfer of wealth roughly from West to East now under way will continue for the foreseeable future.
- Unprecedented economic growth, coupled with 1.5 billion more people, will put pressure on resources—particularly energy, food, and water—raising the specter of scarcities emerging as demand outstrips supply.
- The potential for conflict will increase owing partly to political turbulence in parts of the greater Middle East.
What is missing from this forecast is a real sense of the internal challenges the West will face as it finds itself facing a future which its institutions are fully unprepared to meet. Westhawk notes the curious resignation that seems to suffuse the forecast.
Mr. Fingar explains how rapid demographic aging will stagger Europe, Japan, and China; how global warming will cripple Chinese agriculture; and how conflicts over mineral and energy resources will tax India, China, and other developing economies. Yet his conclusion is that the U.S. will lose its relative power as a consequence. It is true that it does the U.S. no good when its overseas customers have economic and social problems. But the most severe first-order effects of these problems (if they arise) will be felt outside of North America.
But the greater omission is to imagine that no power or combination of powers will not act to turn the crisis into an opportunity to establish totalitarian rule. If history teaches anything it is that disturbances throw up demagogues. We may not be able to prevent their emergence but the least we can do is anticipate that they will come.