The economist had a good article on the parallels of the present time and the eve of World War I. We sometimes forget the prelude to that bloody and destructive war was a lot of self-congratulatory talk on globalization, modern technology, mass immigration, and all the things deracinated cosmopolitan elites are excited about now. And then, as now, there was an undercurrent of discontent, nationalist enthusiasm, and competition for raw materials that drove much of the rivalry of the reigning empires and nation-states.
The author observes inter alia:
The memory of the horrors unleashed a century ago makes leaders less likely to stumble into war today. So does the explosive power of a modern conflagration: the threat of a nuclear holocaust is a powerful brake on the reckless escalation that dispatched a generation of young men into the trenches.
Yet the parallels remain troubling. The United States is Britain, the superpower on the wane, unable to guarantee global security. Its main trading partner, China, plays the part of Germany, a new economic power bristling with nationalist indignation and building up its armed forces rapidly. Modern Japan is France, an ally of the retreating hegemon and a declining regional power. The parallels are not exact—China lacks the Kaiser’s territorial ambitions and America’s defence budget is far more impressive than imperial Britain’s—but they are close enough for the world to be on its guard.
Which, by and large, it is not. The most troubling similarity between 1914 and now is complacency. Businesspeople today are like businesspeople then: too busy making money to notice the serpents flickering at the bottom of their trading screens. Politicians are playing with nationalism just as they did 100 years ago.