The Next Hundred Years
by Sean Gabb
(Published in The Salisbury Review, Winter 1999)
When I was a boy, back in the 1960s, the science fiction novels and comics gave me an optimistic view of the 21st century. There would be settlements on the Moon and inner planets, and movement back and forth would be no harder and no more dangerous than it had once been between Europe and the New World. There would be indefinite life extension and the abolition of poverty, this brought about by economic growth on Earth and the decanting of surplus population into the new off-world colonies. There might be some need for military spending, but this would be connected with a fight against space piracy or some vague but fairly limited alien threat. Otherwise, it would be an age of freedom, reason, and growing happiness, all underpinned by the expansion into new territories – in short, another 19th century.
Looking ahead from the edge of the new century, its shape now seems very different. The expansion did not and probably will not happen. Perhaps the technological barriers were higher than expected. Perhaps the discovery that Mars and Venus were not suitable for mass settlement drained interest away from space exploration. Whatever the case, effort has gone instead into a bureaucratic expansion that has reached its domestic limits in most countries, and that is spilling over national boundaries to merge in the creation of a New World Order police state. This has three elements that are already familiar, but which will continue to develop over the next generation: the creation of “victimless” crimes as an excuse to abolish due process of law; the use of new technology to abolish privacy; Balkanisation to abolish those countries in which resistance might otherwise endanger the project.
The “War on Drugs” is really and intentionally a war on freedom. Because there is no victim to complain and bear witness – or at least to be produced in evidence – the traditional means of fighting crime do not apply. To see if a man has robbed a bank or murdered his wife, the police do not need to stop and search people in the street, or break into homes at three in the morning, or plant listening devices in homes. Nor is it necessary to confiscate assets on suspicion. There are other ways of gathering evidence and more effectual punishments. But pseudo-crimes, like the sale and possession of recreational drugs, do require the use of Gestapo tactics, so that everyone is under suspicion and everyone is subject to investigation regardless of probable cause.
One of these Gestapo tactics is the ending of privacy. Because any of us might by “laundering” money, none of us is to have the right to keep our own affairs to ourselves. Banking officials have been turned into an arm of the Police, empowered and obliged to report us for any “suspicious” transactions. Even without electronic identity cards – already used in some countries, and planned for this one – a combination of supermarket loyalty cards, credit cards, library cards, mobile telephones, video surveillance, and the Internet, is being used to monitor us as we go about our daily business. Our ancestors came to the towns not just to earn more money, but also to enjoy the privacy and anonymity that allow individuality to flourish and that are impossible in small communities. In the next century, we shall all be placed back in the Village and forced to live out our lives under the watchful eye of authority. We shall not be dissuaded just from the formal crimes of drug abuse – or whatever other new offences are invented – but also from those activities that while perfectly legal, are disapproved by the authorities or attended by practical deterrents. I think of smoking, drinking, eating fatty food, and probably having too many books at home.
These controls will be enforced by an international government. This will not be the loose federation of my childhood reading – an interplanetary equivalent of the British Empire that would respect local custom and confine itself to defence and justice. It will be, and already is in outline, a collaborative oligarchy drawn from the governing and business élites of all the main countries. It will not be democratic. Power will derive from a web of international treaties and be exercised by international bodies and armies. Even if national institutions are allowed to remain more than formally democratic, resistance in any one country will be pointless. The New World Order rulers will be like bedbugs in a cheap hotel: fumigate one room, and they will withdraw to another and wait the best moment to return. Minor countries that resist will, like Iraq and Serbia, be bombed into submission. Larger countries will be disciplined in more subtle ways – a matter of hard things said in all the usual international gatherings; perhaps a few expulsions of representatives from sporting bodies; perhaps one or two threats of sanctions; and always a general barrage of disapproval and smears from the displaced local Establishment and its media. It took just thirty years of mostly uncoordinated pressure to beat down a grimly determined South Africa. Under more coordinated pressure, Israel may last another decade in its present form. I doubt if a democratic reaction against the New World Order could survive more than two years once we are properly into the next century.
And that is assuming that nation states are allowed to survive. A united, national spirit provides too smooth a surface for despotism to take hold. It is no coincidence, then, that the apprentice despots are praising “diversity” to the skies. What we are now facing is not a voluntary mingling of peoples in a new territory; nor the assimilation of individuals into an existing nation. It is the breaking up of nations into patchwork quilts of nationalities, all encouraged not to trust or understand or like one another – and therefore not to be able to coordinate resistance to tyranny. That is the purpose of all the presently asymmetric “hate crime” laws: not to discourage but to foster hatred.
I cannot exclude the possibility that the new century will be an age of catastrophic horror: there is so much that could go uncontrollably wrong. But it is more likely to be an age of dull, frightened conformity. Whether we are libertarians or conservatives, the coming century will not be shaped by us.