Though I’ve written a lot on technological, energy, and geopolitical futures, this has largely been to the neglect of ideology. Part of the reason is that making accurate predictions on this topic is far harder, because of the inherent intangibility of belief systems. Nonetheless, it is necessary, because of their overwhelming influence on the historical process; for instance, the 20th century would have been totally different had Communism, fascism, and Islamism failed to overtake major states such as Russia, Germany, or Iran.
Furthermore, I do not think it is an impossible endeavor. While forecasting specifics such as Stalinist central planning or the mystical millenarianism of Nazism would have been impossible for an observer in 1911, entertaining the possibility of the emergence of such regimes was entirely possible by drawing on the main strands of contemporary intellectual thought on new types of politics and society, which at the time resolved around Marxism, utopian socialism, Social Darwinism, and futurism.
What trends would a similar exercise reveal for today? I would argue that the equivalent themes, largely marginalized now but with the potential for explosive growth under the right conditions of socio-political stress, include: the Green movement (ranging the gamut from local sustainability activists to authoritarian ecosocialists); the technoutopians (include the open-source movement, Pirates, technological singularitarians, Wikileaks activists); and a revival of fascist, far-right thought in the guise of ethnic chauvinism and various Third Position ideologies. Bearing in mind the profound instability of today’s world order, we may be seeing some of these ideologies coming into political fruition sooner rather than later.
The foremost challenge of the 21st century is managing or adapting to the havoc that will be wrecked by accelerating global warming. Drought, heat, and flooding threaten to decimate crop yields in much of the global South (and in the worst case scenario, make them uninhabitable). As their carrying capacity shrinks, their political systems will fray, creating chaos and waves of “climate refugees”.
One ideological product of these development will be many different manifestations of what I termed “Green Communism“. In an age of diminishing resources and climate chaos, the political system with the best promise of offering both stability and fairness is authoritarian ecosocialism (or “ecotechnic dictatorship“). This would involve a ruthless drive towards a sustainable society and radical downsizing of the industrial system, but in such a way as to minimize the impact on human welfare. Popular resentment at the decline in consumer purchasing power will be tempered by greater equality and dedication to meritocracy and transparency. Advances in operations research and computer networks mean that the central planning needed to build ecosocialism can be far more viable and efficient than in the late USSR.
Since there will be enemies, both within and without, intent on sabotaging any embryonic Green Communist state, a certain degree of repression will be an inescapable condition of its early survival. Though the ideological foundations for a degeneration into unbounded chiliasm are admittedly present, the risks of that happening can be controlled by a system of universal two-way “sousveillance“, allowing for the early detection of corruption, free-riding, or tyrannical tendencies on the part of individuals.
Bearing in mind its current political system and ecological fragility, China may adopt something approximating ecotechnic dictatorship in the decades ahead (with a heavy nationalist tinge).
Ecotechnic dictatorships are a mere subset of a far larger emerging Green movement, which will have increasingly transformational effects across the entire political spectrum as every political system is forced to confront Limits to Growth. But amongst some countries and peoples, the manifestations of Green ideology will be much stronger than in others.
Consider the plight of climate refugees. Uprooted from their traditional communities, denied access to higher and cooler ground by anti-immigrant sentiment in the developed countries that were largely responsible for their predicament in the first place, and facing a profoundly uncertain future. These people will need a narrative. Hence, the inevitable Greening of anti-imperialism and Third Worldism.
Then there are their compatriots in the developed world. The restrictive practices of the US towards Latin American immigrants arouses resentment among Hispaniacs, both those in the US and in Mexico, Guatemala, etc. There is a similar situation with regards to Europe and Africans. But whereas today the southern peoples are merely denied economic opportunities, in the future it may become a matter of life or death. The collapse of Third World states, coupled with developed countries raising their moats, will enrage immigrant communities; some of their members may try to get back at the rich world-destroyers, e.g. through biological or ecological terrorism, and their sources of inspiration may include thinkers such as Derrick Jensen, the anarcho-primitivist who asks himself whether he should write or blow up a dam on waking up every morning.
There will be few countries where Green ideology is explicitly recognized as the bedrock of the state. One exception is Bolivia, which recently enshrined natural rights on an equal footing with human rights; there are whiffs of similar trends in Ecuador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Cuba.
In the wake of the economic recession, and the increasing visibility of Islam, there has been a far right resurgence in Europe. But today’s crop of neo-fascists are a different breed from the Brown Shirts and jack-booted militarists of the 1930’s. The far right politicians who actually come to power may be ethnic chauvinists, but they do not favor the military expansionism and slave empires dreamed of by wartime Germany, Italy, and Japan. Instead, they are intent on reasserting the “rights” of the “indigenous” population (read: whites), closing down the borders to poor countries, and deporting as many “unintegrated” immigrants as possible.
As mentioned above, global warming will produce failed states and climate refugees, stoking Third World resentment and radicalizing immigrant communities in the developed world. One general consequence is a further strengthening of already latent neo-fascist sentiments in Europe and the US.
However, outcomes will vary greatly country by country. Due to the stability of its two-party system and the very long-term survival of its liberal democracy, the US is unlikely to regress into far-right dictatorship (but a semi-authoritarian corporatocracy is entirely feasible). Prospects for Europe seem much bleaker. The ghettoed Muslim communities of the continent aren’t going away, and as economies falter under the pressure of debts and peak oil, they will make an ever more attractive target for demagogues yammering about imminent Eurabia and welfare state parasites. Even as they mount imperialist wars for resources, as France did in Libya, the Europeans will close off their borders and subject unwelcome minorities to repressions under the convenient guise of anti-terror laws. Deportations will also become prevalent, as with the recent expulsion of the Roma people from France.
Objectively, Russia has most of the prerequisites for neo-fascism: corporatism, ethnic chauvinism, unaccountable power agencies, an overweening executive, and the deference to hierarchy embodied in the power vertical. Almost 50% of Russians support the idea of “Russia for Russians”. For now, the Kremlin explicitly rejects nationalism; however, should its political legitimacy wane, e.g. on the back of economic stagnation or rising dissatisfaction with corruption, then it may bow to nationalist pressures if not lose power to them. And those nationalist revolutionaries aren’t necessarily going to be National Bolshevik brawlers or Young Guard fanatics; more likely, they would wear suits, and speak the language of liberalism, while taking the country into neo-fascism.
As a nation under rising Malthusian stress, any far right upsurge in China would logically hew to more historical lines. Countries like Russia, Germany, or France have more than enough land for all their citizens; they might just not want any more of them. But China will need more land, for food and minerals; a nationalist regime in Beijing would have no problems with traditional methods of territorial expansion.
There will be a strong ecological element to modern neo-fascism. Read most far right thinkers today, and you’ll find that they focus on zero population growth and land conservation; indeed, adoration of pre-industrial mores has always been a staple of the Third Position. Immigrants not only crowd out indigenous peoples, but accelerate environmental degradation; as such, they are not welcome.
The Pirates are the most solidified exemplars of modern anarchism, leading a Romantic resistance against the corporate state for information freedom. Closely aligned strands are the open-source movement, which stresses voluntary and collaborative work to produce free software; and the Wikileaks project, whose guiding philosophy is that authoritarian conspiracies rely on secrecy for their effectiveness and dissipate when revealed to the light of mass scrutiny.
It is hard to imagine a Pirate Party ever forming a hard political force, given their anarchic nature. Nonetheless, their ideology – in both theory and practice – will serve to undermine authoritarianism (be it a mild extension of today’s “anti-terror” climate, or full-blown Green Communist or neo-fascist constructs of a new kind).
In a more general sense, this counter-culture also stands for shortcuts and living smartly. They like concepts such as internationalist geoarbitrage or living off Internet “muses” as opposed to traditional employment and national loyalties, and are interested in things such as virtual reality, life extension, nootropics and psychedelic drugs, and the technological singularity. Obviously, few states like such folks, least of all authoritarian ones.
Myriads of Hybrids
Commenting on 20th century history, many observers have acknowledged that in many cases, it was difficult to tell where fascism ended and socialism began; likewise, the boundaries between authoritarianism and totalitarianism were always blurry. For instance, just what is the Libyan Jamahiriya?
Likewise, real world examples will inevitably diverge from the templates suggested in this post. For instance, take China. Most opponents of the Communist Party’s hegemony aren’t liberals as such, but either ecosocialists or nationalists. Now if the Communists were to falter, or open themselves up to a wider political spectrum, would they sooner embrace the ecosocialists or the nationalists? Or perhaps they’d try to accommodate both?
Perhaps a system of green socialism will develop in Russia (or Canada), but with exclusionary and ethnic chauvinist tinges. Immigrants may be allowed in, but only as long as they agree to be electronically tagged, pay a huge percentage of their incomes in taxes, and to be barred from free or subsidized social services. If this is the form that right-wing sentiment predominantly takes, then we may see the emergence of caste systems throughout the northern hemisphere by 2100.
In any case, one thing seems sure -the coming decades will provide no shortage of new ideological developments and struggles. Those despairing that we are at end of history are unlikely to remain disappointed.
EDIT: This article has been translated into Russian at Inosmi.Ru (Радикальные идеологии 21-го века).