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Chapter Fifteen


An Asean-10, as it is sometimes called, will be a dynamic, free-market area of 500 million people by early next century. Already, ASEAN wields enormous diplomatic clout, either driving or co-driving APEC, ARE and ASEM. —Wall Street Journal


In 1500 B.C., there were around 600,000 autonomous polities on the planet. Today, after many mergers and acquisitions, there are 193 autonomous polities. At this rate, the planet should have a single government any day now.

World government? Traditionally, the idea of world government has been embraced mainly by left-wing peaceniks. In other corners, it draws various kinds of disdain, two of which are of special interest. One school finds the notion hopelessly unrealistic—and files those left-wing peaceniks under the label "woolly-minded one-worlders." The second school finds the notion plausible but terrifying—and speaks ominously of a coming "New World Order."

Roughly speaking, what divides these two schools is which half of "Jihad vs. McWorld" they extrapolate from. Many members of the first school look to the future and see ever-more-virulent tribalism: civil war, cross-border ethnic strife, and terrorism—all empowered by new and deadly technologies, and all in the explosive context of overpopulation and environmental stress. Thus, according to the writer Robert Kaplan, the "grid of nation-states is going to be replaced by a jagged-glass pattern of city-states, shanty-states, nebulous and anarchic regionalisms." Private armies and drug cartels will flourish and "criminal anarchy" will emerge as "the real 'strategic' danger."

In scenario number two, the problem isn't chaos, but rather a spooky kind of order. The order emanates partly from the multinational corporations and globetrotting financiers who animate McWorld. They swear allegiance not to any nation, but to profit alone, and they've implanted their values in such supranational bodies as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, whose tendrils threaten to slowly engulf and then smother national self-determination. In this view, the alphabet soup of supranational organizations—IMF, WTO, UN, NAFTA, and so on—is the harbinger of a coming planetary authority, the sovereignty-crushing New World Order. In some apocalyptic visions on the fringes of Christian fundamentalism, such institutions literally represent the Antichrist.

One difference between these two schools—between the people who fear chaos and the people who fear order—is that the latter are more likely to be insane. They have a tendency, for example, to mistake unassuming dark-colored helicopters for attack aircraft sent by the United Nations.

Ordinarily, sane people are a more reliable guide to the future than crazy people. But here the opposite may be the case. If history is even a roughly accurate guide, much power now concentrated at the level of the nation-state will indeed migrate to international institutions. World government—a single, centralized, planetary authority—may or may not arrive, but something firm enough to warrant the name world governance is in the cards. World governance, you might say, is human destiny, the natural outgrowth of the millennia-old expansion of non-zero-sumness among human beings.

This isn't to say that the "chaos" theorists are wholly wrong. Indeed, there are at least two senses in which history will vindicate them.

First, the "fragmentation" and "tribalism" that are part of the chaos scenario are indeed growing, and will keep growing. In fact, that massive net decline in the number of polities on earth—from 600,000 to 193--masks a recent reversal. Over the past century, the number of polities has actually grown. But, as we'll see, this and other manifestations of "tribalism" are not just reconcilable with world governance; oddly, they are inseparable from it, integral to it.

Second, the chaos at the heart of the chaos scenario is not a figment of anyone's imagination. But, as we'll also see, it is precisely this chaos that is helping to drive the world to the final level of political organization, the global level.


An excerpt from Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, By Robert Wright, published by Pantheon Books. Copyright 2000 by Robert Wright. Other excerpts available at