Deeper Understanding of Crisis and Mysterious Nature of Twentieth Century

  February 17, 2021   Read time 2 min
Deeper Understanding of Crisis and Mysterious Nature of Twentieth Century
If the meaning of the twentieth century is that “civilization is passing away,” and war, in its genesis and prosecution, is inextricably linked with civilization, then the passing of civilization heralds the passing of war.

In framing a question concerning the meaning of the twentieth century, one must inevitably acknowledge a hermeneutic prejudice with respect to both content and boundary, declaring “our time” to be a time possessed of its own most proper significance. Thus, in the domain of sociopolitical inquiry as it bears upon the study of peace, we have a representative work in Kenneth Boulding’s widely read The Meaning of the Twentieth Century (1964). In this work Boulding discloses, as the meaning of the century, the fact of “a great transition” from civilization to “postcivilization.” Today, this distinction may well be termed the modern-postmodern transition as we re-examine the structural possibilities of civil society. Boulding recommends, as the appropriate comportment and strategy, “critical acceptance”; and, rather than understanding the transition as itself an ideological position, he sees the great transition from the perspective of one having “no desire to plant a standard other than truth itself.” Thus, given the evident relationship in our time between the assertion of ideology and conflict, and, thus, the possible degeneration of ideological conflict into war, Boulding (in a spirit of fidelity to truth) concludes: “Therefore, an understanding of ideologies, of man’s need for them, and of the circumstances under which they can be modified, is a crucial component in the achievement of the great transition.” The practical issue here, of course, is that of the very character of war, both waged and yet threatening, in this century—as Boulding puts it, “a revolution in the art of war which makes the whole existing political structure of the world dangerously obsolete.”2 Indeed, remarks Boulding, “A strong case can be made for the proposition that war is essentially a phenomenon of the age of civilization and that it is inappropriate both to precivilized and postcivilized societies.” It is noteworthy that, for Boulding, the passing of war does not entail the elimination of conflict. Rather, “post-civilization” calls for the management of conflict in international relations in such a way as to overcome the prevailing calculus of the well-known prisoner’s dilemma with its mutually diminishing desiderata of welfare and security. It is said that through processes of integration of social relationships and mediation of dispute (third party intervention), the degeneration of conflict into war may be effectively preempted. Further, to the extent that social science may itself contribute to the task at hand, observes Boulding, “calculation, even bad calculation, is the enemy of the irrational.” Thus, “If ideological struggles can be transformed even partially into conflicts of scientific theory, we have a much better chance for their resolution.”