The End of the Long Peace and the Role of the Met Society in a Changing World

Earlier this year, in June, I started a new civil society organization that I called the Metropolitan Society for International Affairs. I wanted to help create a new, durable 21st century consensus for the role of the United States in the world, the nature of foreign relations and the purpose of global politics. I assessed that both the global condition itself and the principles that were established for US relations with it at the end of the Cold War were slipping away. But I also saw that nothing sufficiently new to replace it was being articulated by either party, or any other institution. Something was broken in the state of international relations, even when that something was much more stable than it is now. The Long Peace (1991-2016) was ending, one way or another.

    The events of this year, and especially the US election on November 8, have now made that entire case even stronger. As no election since the end of the second world war has done, this one has blown apart the remaining national foreign policy unity on basic approaches to nearly every region, idea and strategy. The US is now a global power without a global vision. And while US engagement with the world will not grind to a screeching halt, it will become even more reactive and defensive than it has been since 2001. We have built our global relations on the basis that we would always hold the strategic initiative everywhere, and we currently hold it almost nowhere. We are unstable, and uncertain, and so is the rest of the world.

    However, at the moment, it is still much clearer what has already been lost and what is at risk of soon being lost than it is clear what might replace it. In these times, many will continue the hard work to slow the disorder, resist the damage, and preserve as much stability as might be held onto. But at the same time, we cannot ignore the need to look further into the future, to a time when we will be able to build something new. It is this latter task to which I am committing my time and my organization. We at the Met Society will keep our gaze focused squarely on the further future, beyond the upheaval of the moment. For after all is said and done, whether in 5 years or 20, there will be need of a plan for what is next. It must hold within it our values, our interests, our vision, our aspirations and a new global purpose. 

    The first reason I take this focus, is in recognition to do the hard work of designing an architecture for a global order that will, one way or another, replace the one in which we have grown up. That system, established after the greatest cataclysm of the 20th century, and which has, sometimes for worse, but mostly for better, secured global peace and prosperity for the last 70 years, was not thrown together over a weekend. It was thought through and planned for years. Its designers put in the hard political and intellectual work to build a consensus on its function and its imperative. This must be done again, and the work needs to start now.

    But there is also a more human reason I make this commitment in this way. By doing today what we can do to imagine and define a future beyond the tumult of the present, the more purposefully and determinedly we can steer ourselves towards it. Politics is the art of competitive storytelling, and we must compete. This story, the 250-year long saga of the advance of Modernity has been the most compelling and potent of all human history. But it has been frightening as well as inspiring. Traditions and order may have kept us bound for centuries, but they also kept us safe - and to remove them is to threaten others with unsafety. We must, though, always remember that the liberating power of Modernity in all its manifestations has, over time, overwhelmed all the forces of reaction that have ever risen to halt it. We must now write the story, and tell the story of how we will do this once again, and in so doing reimagine and rebuild Modernity for the age to come.

Coda:

      This Great Cause of Modernity remains yet arrayed before us. This magisterial project, this unimaginable achievement of human endeavor that began a quarter millennium ago, and which, in fits and starts and cataclysms and triumphs has liberated human civilization from the chains of penury and raised it to the far side of the stars we shall not suffer to be reversed. Not in the name of outmoded tradition, not in the name of rapacious greed, not ever in the name of fear. For every force and beating impulse that gave it breath and life when it was young, and when everywhere the Crown and the Sword and the Book wished it extinguished, thrive today in every corner of the earth. Every human will to sacrifice dearly for the grander dream holds still its incontestable power to overturn the iron diktats of history. No cause ever has held in higher esteem the human will to imagine, to achieve, to renew and to be free. It is this will that we must now harness to create what is next. The arc of history may bend, but it is bent by those with the will to seize it.