Brzezinski Zbigniew - Between two ages

Author : Brzezinski Zbigniew
Title : Between two ages America's Role in the Technetronic Era
Year : 1970

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Introduction. Perhaps the time is past for the comprehensive "grand" vision. In some ways, it was a necessary substitute for ignorance, a compensation in breadth for the lack of depth in man's understanding of his world. But even if this is so, the result of more knowledge may be greater ignorance—or, at least, the feeling of ignorance— about where we are and where we are heading, and particularly where we should head, than was true when in fact we knew less but thought we knew more. I am not sure that this need be so. In any case, I am not satisfied with the fragmented, microscopic understanding of the parts, and I feel the need for some—even if crude—approximation of a larger perspective. This book is an effort to provide such a perspective. It is an attempt to define the meaning—within a dynamic framework—of a major aspect of our contemporary reality: the emerging global political process which increasingly blurs the traditional distinctions between domestic and international politics. In working toward that definition, I shall focus particularly on the meaning for the United States of the emergence of this process, seeking to draw implications from an examination of the forces that are molding it. Time and space shape our perception of reality. The specific moment and the particular setting dictate the way international estimates and priorities are defined. Sometimes, when the moment is historically "ripe," the setting and the time may coalesce to provide a special insight. A perceptive formula is easier to articulate in a moment of special stress. Conditions of war, crisis, tension are in that sense particularly fertile. The situation of crisis permitssharper value judgments, in keeping with man's ancient proclivity for dividing his reality into good and evil. (Marxist dialectic is clearly in this tradition, and it infuses moral dichotomy into every assessment.) But short of that critical condition—which in its most extreme form involves the alternatives of war or peace— global politics do not lend themselves to pat formulations and clearcut predictions, even in a setting of extensive change. As a result—in most times—it is extraordinarily difficult to liberate oneself from the confining influence of the immediate and to perceive—from a detached perspective—the broader sweep of events. Any abstract attempt to arrive at a capsule formula is bound to contain a measure of distortion. The influences that condition relations among states and the broad evolution of international affairs are too various. Nonetheless, as long as we are aware that any such formulation inescapably contains a germ of falsehood— and hence must be tentative—the attempt represents an advance toward at least a partial understanding. The alternative is capitulation to complexity: the admission that no sense can be extracted from what is happening. The consequent triumph of ignorance exacts its own tribute in the form of unstable and reactive policies, the substitution of slogans for thought, the rigid adherence to generalized formulas made in another age and in response to circumstances that are different in essence from our own, even if superficially similar. Today, the most industrially advanced countries (in the first instance, the United States) are beginning to emerge from the industrial stage of their development. They are entering an age in which technology and especially electronics—hence my neologism "technetronic" *—are increasingly becoming the principal determinants of social change, altering the mores, the social structure, the values, and the global outlook of society. And precisely because today change is so rapid and so complex, it is perhaps more important than ever before that our conduct of foreign affairs be guided by a sense of history—and to speak of history in this context is to speak simultaneously of the past and of the future. Since it focuses on international affairs, this book is at most only a very partial response to the need for a more comprehensive assessment. It is not an attempt to sum up the human condition, to combine philosophy and science, to provide answers to more perplexing questions concerning our reality. It is much more modest than that, and yet I am uneasily aware that it is already much too ambitious, because it unavoidably touches on all these issues. The book is divided into five major parts. The first deals with the impact of the scientifictechnological revolution on world affairs in general, discussing more specifically the ambiguous position of the principal disseminator of that revolution—the United States—and analyzing the effects of the revolution on the socalled Third World. The second part examines how the foregoing considerations have affected the content, style, and format of man's political outlook on his global reality, with particular reference to the changing role of ideology. The third part assesses the contemporary relevance of communism to problems of modernity, looking first at the experience of the Soviet Union and then examining the overall condition of international communism as a movement that once sought to combine internationalism and humanism. The fourth part focuses on the United States, a society that is both a social pioneer and a guinea pig for mankind; it seeks to define the thrust of change and the historical meaning of the current American transition. The fifth part outlines in very broad terms the general directions that America might take in order to make an effective response to the previously discussed foreign and domestic dilemmas. Having said what the book does attempt, it might be helpful to the reader also to indicate what it does not attempt. First of all, it is not an exercise in "futurology"; it is an effort to make sense of present trends, to develop a dynamic perspective on what is happening. Secondly, it is not a policy book, in the sense that its object is not to develop systematically a coherent series of prescriptions and programs. In Part V, however, it does try to indicate the general directions toward which America should and, in some respects, may head. In the course of developing these theses, I have expanded on some of the ideas initially advanced in my article "America in the Technetronic Age," published in Encounter, January 1968, which gave rise to considerable controversy. I should add that not only have I tried to amplify and clarify some of the rather condensed points made in that article, but I have significantly revised some of my views in the light of constructive criticisms made by my colleagues. Moreover, that article addressed itself to only one aspect (discussed primarily in Part I) of the much larger canvas that I have tried to paint in this volume. It is my hope that this essay will help to provide the reader with a better grasp of the nature of the political world we live in, of the forces shaping it, of the directions it is pursuing. In that sense, it might perhaps contribute to a sharper perception of the new political processes enveloping our world and move beyond the more traditional forms of examining international politics. I hope, too, that the tentative propositions, the generalizations, and the theses advanced here—though necessarily speculative, arbitrary, and in very many respects inescapably inadequate—may contribute to the increasing discussion of America's role in the world. In the course of the work, I have expressed my own opinions and exposed my prejudices. This effort is, therefore, more in the nature of a "think piece," backed by evidence, than of a systematic exercise in socialscience methodology. Finally, let me end this introduction with a confession that somewhat anticipates my argument: an apocalypticminded reader may find my thesis uncongenial because my view of America's role in the world is still an optimistic one. I say "still" because I am greatly troubled by the dilemmas we face at home and abroad, and even more so by the social and philosophical implications of the direction of change in our time. Nonetheless, my optimism is real. Although I do not mean to minimize the gravity of America's problems—their catalogue is long, the dilemmas are acute, and the signs of a meaningful response are at most ambivalent—I truly believe that this society has the capacity, the talent, the wealth, and, increasingly, the will to surmount the difficulties inherent in this current historic transition. ...

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