Wednesday, October 19, 2011
THE AGE OF TURBULENCE BEGAN
The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World is the title of a 2007 book by Alan Greenspan. For almost 20 years, he was chairman of the United States Federal Reserve Board, which oversees that nation’s entire central banking system. Greenspan highlights the marked contrast between the world situation before 1914 and what followed:
“By all contemporaneous accounts, the world prior to 1914 seemed to be moving irreversibly toward higher levels of civility and civilization; human society seemed perfectible. The nineteenth century had brought an end to the wretched slave trade. Dehumanizing violence seemed on the decline. . . . The pace of global invention had advanced throughout the nineteenth century, bringing railroads, the telephone, the electric light, cinema, the motor car, and household conveniences too numerous to mention. Medical science, improved nutrition, and the mass distribution of potable water had elevated life expectancy . . . The sense of the irreversibility of such progress was universal.”
But . . . “World War I was more devastating to civility and civilization than the physically far more destructive World War II: the earlier conflict destroyed an idea. I cannot erase the thought of those pre-World War I years, when the future of mankind appeared unencumbered and without limit. Today our outlook is starkly different from a century ago but perhaps a bit more consonant with reality. Will terror, global warming, or resurgent populism do to the current era of life-advancing globalization what World War I did to the previous one? No one can be confident of the answer.”
Greenspan recalled from his student days a statement by Economics Professor Benjamin M. Anderson (1886-1949): “Those who have an adult’s recollection and an adult’s understanding of the world which preceded World War I look back upon it with a great nostalgia. There was a sense of security then which has never since existed.”—Economics and the Public Welfare.
A similar conclusion is reached in the volume A World Undone, by G. J. Meyer, published in 2006. We read: “Historic events are often said to have ‘changed everything.’ In the case of the Great War [1914-1918] this is, for once, true. The war really did change everything: not just borders, not just governments and the fate of nations, but the way people have seen the world and themselves ever since. It became a kind of hole in time, leaving the postwar world permanently disconnected from everything that had come before.”