Samuel Huntington, in his famous Clash of Civilizations, postulates an early 21st century where civilizational kin states coalesce around great power “core states” and behave as semi-cohesive units, often engaged in conflictual relationships with other such units (this map shows his basic framework). Today I juxtapose this with the future postulated by Parag Khanna, again in Connectography, the future seems to hold a North American Union, a modified European Union, a South American Union, Arabian Peninsular Union, African Union, South Asian Union, and East Asian Union, as infrastructure links up all of humanity into such clusters anchored by numerous 25 megacities. Both paradigms end up missing key components. Huntington, as with many analysts, saw some of Khanna’s connectivity but disregarded others, as he sought to explain and delineate the boundaries of the new civilizational blocs. Khanna sees all these connections as universally beneficial, but he doesn’t explore in depth how age-old identity politics and personal biases might arise to take into account and make sense of the new world being constructed; this wasn’t his intended focus, but it is indeed interesting to compare and contrast the two paradigms for some insight into this.
Khanna doesn’t muse much about the political ramifications of such infrastructural expansion, basically how societies might respond to their reduced isolation. Balochs in southern Pakistan view a Chinese-built port as an imperialist threat. Jihadists might view Western trading with the Islamic world as a cultural assault. American workers see opening of trade with China, Southeast Asia, or Mexico as economically crippling them, despite it bridging overall societies. As with any economic phenomenon, infrastructural linking will translate into political actions, some of which translate further into the military or security realm. And pre-existing ideologies, or new ones where a vacuum exists, will receive new life as concerns over economic disruption emerge and legitimacy for action is required. This allows a convergence with Huntington’s paradigm. His civilizations, or a modification on them, could arise around the 25 megacity clusters he envisions as competing in this new world. The Tokyo-Osaka megacity doesn’t bring together separate regional identities, but rather further coheres an already highly coherent culture and state; Japan even corresponds to one of Huntington’s civilizations.
Elsewhere, megacities spring up within countries, and inevitably compete within the national government. The increasing centralization of the CCP in China means that Beijing, and by extension the collective Bohai Rim megacity, is making decisions for Chongqing-Chengdu, the Pearl River Delta, and Shanghai-Nanjing. As Hong Kong’s autonomy decreases and Chongqing-Chengdu has its elites purged (one of the first, Bo Xilai, was quite powerful in this region), Shanghai is given preferential treatment as a connecting point to the outside world. Beijing and the rest of the Bohai Rim megacity risk a tense struggle with the others as they undergo this consolidation process, all while the Belt-Road Initiative will actually end up empowering the Pearl River and Chongqing-Chengdu, as they become rising hubs of globalization. Beijing’s solution has been to invoke Chinese civilizational unity, a political measure to quell the rivalries between megacities. This is a dangerous game, as the rise of megacities runs directly counter to Beijing’s centralization efforts, despite their imperative nature for the Chinese state’s maintenance. The interplay between the civilizational narrative and the megacity competition pulling China in multiple directions will define the state’s agenda in the coming years.
In Khanna’s earlier work, he lists the US, China, and EU as the superpowers whose own internal shifts will drive the global competition for the “Second World” countries, essentially the middle powers in today’s world. The Rhine-Ruhr megacity drives the economic dynamo of the EU; this is happening as London seeks to pull away, Greater Istanbul begins its inevitable rise, and Moscow bottoms out. Political response in the Rhine-Ruhr to the EU’s failing and incoherence have generated the Euroskeptic impulse to pull away from the very institution of which it is the core of. This contradiction has yet to manifest in its complete mature form. It creates within the core megacity of the EU a status-quo vs revisionism dynamic. The status-quo faction has the emergent realities of connectivity on its side, politics therefore stemming from emergent economic reality. But the Rhine-Ruhr megacity will indeed face a threat from the Euroskeptic revisionists, a threat to which it must politically respond. One potential response might be modifying the EU, shredding certain disadvantageous parts of the organization while letting the corresponding political fervor serve as a distraction from other integrative policies designed to benefit the German state enveloping this megacity. It doesn’t make sense for Europe to simply tear itself apart, but rather it will have to acknowledge and balance the interests of the current Euroskeptic populism.
This congeals with the civilizational paradigm as similar paradigm shifts play out between the US government in the “Bos-Wash” megacity, against and in cooperation with LA/San Francisco and rising Dallas-Ft. Worth. Western supremacism is downplayed and out of style nowadays in both regions, but it will continue erupting forward as the megacities seek to assert themselves in the connective paradigm. The civilizational context will serve as the ideology of masses angry at a changing world. Ironically, we see a situation where the national governments, inversely of China and Japan, seek to downplay Huntington’s paradigm; the natural political impulse stemming from the economic reality is fought against in the US. As the three megacities rise, however, much of the US remains left behind, only to fester in an anti-globalization ideology. The US government will likely continue moving forward with globalization, while much of the country wants to move in the opposite direction. An appeal to the tenets of the anti-globalism movement would indeed make sense, especially as a North American Union was emerging. The feeling of a rise mixing with the frustration with globalization could create an ideology suggesting a focus on North America and a deliberate hostility toward globalization elsewhere. Mexico would complete its transition from being “torn” between Latin America and the West, and Anglo-America would break away from Europe at the civilizational level, all as the NAU coalesces. At the same time, the US would embrace the call of anti-globalization elsewhere, supporting ethno-nationalism moving counter to globalization. Euroskepticism and anti-”Sino-imperialist” rhetoric would suit the US’ ideological pressures while remaining consistent with the US’ typical historic imperative of denying Eurasian regional powers the freedom to cohere into potential rival superpowers, as seen in Germany or China.
This means a spike in zeal to certain regionalist tendencies. The result will be that some political borders will shift as the US supports certain separatist movements with the blessing of international recognition. At the same time, some parts of the world, like the peripheral islands of Indonesia, will be home to anti-globalist sentiment yet have no fuel driving them forward; other areas, namely those home to megacities seeing their fates tied more to the global system rather than to the national government, will see a push toward separatism, lobbying for the localization of governance and in some cases pushing for full divorce with the capital. All of this is the natural emergence of politics from the new economic realities being constructed. New boundaries, however, will give way at the end of this tumultuous period to a coalescing around whatever the dominant nodes in the system are. That is, the 25 megacities will essentially begin pulling surrounding territory toward them, after having generated shifts which pulverized the old order. While this is all happening, trade continues flowing over the newly constructed corridors. And the North American Union will keep its eyes on the cohering of Eurasia. The continuing of geopolitics does not halt the economic realities. Rather, the new global infrastructure will not stop creating new political realities. In some places, clear trade routes will emerge, as parallel infrastructure pulls disparate yet adjacent populations together. People will be fairly content with the rising prosperity due to trade, which will be fairly secure compared to previous eras. By this point, the civilizational paradigm might truly be irrelevant. Ideas will move around along with people. Ideological fluidity will be great in this era. Politics, of course, will still flow from economics, but in this era, peace and diversity of ideas means a likely need for inclusivity along these routes. Secularism will proliferate, but small variations in conditions along the trade routes will mean a subtle divergence in realities. One could expect secular offshoots of earlier belief systems. Hierarchy will still push to the surface as people’s lives diverge, some better than others.
Huntington’s initial work was often dismissed as pessimist, racist, and too determinist. It hasn’t served as a guide to conflict because he painted in broad strokes, much like Khanna and any other intellectual working on a global worldview. They often focus on one key aspect in framing their work, leaving others to handle other pieces. What Huntington did get right is how kinship would bind people together into groups. The relationships between those groups can manifest as the infrastructure of Connectography or the forecasted tensions of Clash of Civilizations. The lesson for analysis is to always look between paradigms and pull the best from all of them.