A World History for the Future

By Theodore H. Von Laue, Professor Emeritus, Clark University and President of the New England Regional World History Association

A paper presented at the premier conference of the New England Regional World History Association, Bentley College, Waltham, MA, USA. 23 April, 1994.

World history, assessing the human experience through time, is a novel and urgent challenge in this age of wide-open post-modernity. It inspires a lively variety of approaches among a growing number of history teachers in schools, colleges, and universities, for good reasons. As we face worldwide uncertainties, we need to experiment with historical interpretations that convey a sense of control over the present and the foreseeable future.

The future is always be part of our lives, especially in times of profound change like the present. Let us never forget: we live at a unique turning point in human affairs. Never before have all the peoples of the world, deeply divided by millenia of diverse cultural conditioning, been compressed into such a tightly competitive interdependence. Never before have they interacted in such inescapable intensity. And never before have the still growing human multitudes drawn so recklessly and ignorantly on the natural resources of their earthly habitat. The human interaction within earlier “world systems” and “ecumenes” has been rather superficial; it has not prevented the rise of profoundly different and antagonistic cultures.

in the early global age these cultures have become interlocked to the point of cultural disorientation or even dissolution. Traditional guidelines developed in the isolated cultural and linguistic envelopes of the pre-global age are outdated in the relentlessly advancing global interaction. Under these conditions we have to try out novel approaches to human reality, in our political and economic affairs, in our lives, and in our historical interpretations as well. In order to come to grips with the new globalism, we have to work toward a “universal directional history” covering all aspects of life that can give us some understanding, in sound empirical knowledge, of where we have come from and where we are going worldwide. Given the pervasive shortage of human energy, however, we cannot afford to get immersed in the infinities of the past. We need a forward-looking sense of command over human destiny.

following essay offers an innovative suggestion of a world history for the future, designed as an introduction to the existential challenges we and our heirs are going to face in our lives. Allowing ample room for detailed implementation by specialists, it goes beyond current efforts in the field—admittedly foremost as an effort to gain a reassuring overview over the extraordinary times through which the generations of the 20th century have lived. Lightly skipping over mountains of scholarship and avoiding the maze of post-modernism, it searches for the essentials guiding both human behavior and the course of history to the present and foreseeable future—with a moral concern oddly lacking in most accounts of world history. When we deal with human affairs, we are obliged to participate responsibly and constructively; it is morality that keeps societies and cultures functioning.

One inspiration for this venture comes from a comment by Arnold Toynbee: “The historian's profession...is an attempt to correct a self-centeredness that is one of the intrinsic limitations and imperfections, not merely of human life, but of all life on the face of the Earth.” Rising from the self-centeredness of daily routines to a time-spanning global overview is a risky endeavor, calling for intellectual daring in simplifying and abstracting the complexities of groundfloor existence. This essay on world history resembles an apprehensive glimpse of the earth as from a space capsule. What indeed are the human beings down below doing?


I start with an assessment of the basic motivation of human nature, the motor of history. Human beings everywhere and at all times are prompted by an urge for power, for dominating the setting in which life is conducted. In order to overcome the perennial uncertainties of life they crave to expand human control in all directions, an unending and highly complex effort.

One major target is the natural environment, to be dominated for the sake of providing food, shelter, raw materials for tools and weapons, or sources of energy assisting human beings in their effort to survive. Nature furnished fire, explosives, wind for windmills, cotton and silkworms for textiles, water for steam engines, copper and iron for tools and later for machines, and with the rise of science and technology the forces that carried men to the moon. There is no lack of opportunities to prove the power of human beings over physical nature, with due awareness of the damage inflicted. Consider what happened to the cedars of Lebanon or the tropical rain forests; think of air pollution and global warming. Power over nature does not mean power against nature.

Next an even more crucial form of human power: shaping human behavior at the deepest level of human motivation. How in the persistent insecurity of life can the human psyche be trained to maximize individual resilience and working capacity? How can human beings, as social creatures forever dependent on community support, be socialized in the depths of their subconscious, so as to increase spontaneous social cooperation? The power skills conditioning the innermost core of human behavior have been most effectively developed in the form of religion, a subject never fathomed in its depths by rationalist historians. Properly understood, religion is the crucial technique guiding, in the name of an all-powerful divinity mystically experien- ced, the relentless power struggles in the human conscience between uncontrolled bodily promptings and the search for psychic harmony and wholeness, and also between selfishness (or sinfulness) and submission to the harmonizing rules guiding the supporting community—or even preserving the natural environment.

Throughout history the awareness-raising techniques guiding the life- long inward power struggles have been perfected, advancing from polytheism to more potent and ascetic monotheistic creeds. The founders of the major world religions shaping human motivation at the core have been the most powerful figures in history, dominating individual lives and collective destinies through generations. What could be more central to human survival than tuning weak and fallible individuals to maximum creativity in facing both the adversities of personal life and the responsibilities of social cooperation? A responsible world history has to emphasize at all times the crucial role of religion in the human effort to affirm life by transforming the instinctual bodily promptings into spiritual and intellectual energies. The transrational skills of religion have been the central guarantee of human survival through peaceful human cooperation—set into the ceaseless social and political competition for power within their communities.

Sinful human beings forever compete for power under ever more demanding rules promoting social cooperation, in communities ranging from tribalism to modern nation states. They cooperate under compulsion as in tyrannies and dictatorships, or, at best under democratic rule, compelled by their own civic consciousness. Inevitably the intensity of civic discipline increases the more populous the community; a modern state with tens of million citizens has to exert extensive social controls for the sake of civic cooperation. With all their obvious flaws, functioning modern democracies are built on a massive unconscious civic docility enforced by a minimum of compulsion, even when they are caught in the largest context of power struggles, in the international—and now the global—arena.

In international relations power has traditionally assumed its rawest form in wars for domination—with visions of global domination from the l8th century onward. The perpetual competition within regional or worldwide “systems” has led to the perfection of military skills and state power, affecting the spiritual and intellectual underpinnings of society and its socio-political organization, the key factor in human evolution. Devotion to the community based on religious values has always constituted a superior source of strength for survival, as is most impressively demonstrated in the history of the Jews.

But international relations also have peaceful components, in trade and commerce, in cultural relations; enemies learned from each other even in war. Religions crossed over political boundaries; respect for human dignity softened hostilities. That complex outermost framework of human interaction has always played a crucial part in shaping societies and even individuals down to their core. We now need a heightened alertness to its significance, all along aware of the diverse dimensions of power.

In human relations power takes many forms, ranging from raw force to kindness and love. Life may appear nasty, brutish, and short; but let us not forget the power of the saints,or even of ordinary good people. Different societies present a different mix of the extremes—lucky are those peoples among whom power is exercised peacefully through moral self-restraint; they possess an advantage over rivals ruled by compulsion. Competitive strength grows from peaceful civic cooperation. World history therefore has to pay close attention to that crucial capacity, with special emphasis on the moral values sustaining it.

Considering the human craving for power in all is forms as the motor of history, we can perhaps draw some hopeful conclusions. Admitting the high human costs of all struggles for power, we nevertheless observe a remarkable refinement of human capacities in the course of history. Human power over nature has phenomenally increased; civic skills in the leading states have been impressively advanced, together with a sense of humaneness. Huge challenges remain, but the historic record of power-driven human perfectibility, taking into account the wide range of human creativity with due emphasis on religion, inspires some confidence. Starting a world history course with reflections on the broad scope of human nature in the concentric layers of social interaction should sensitize us and our fellow citiziens to the complexities of historical developments around the world.


With this new sophistication I turn next to the physical settings of the human power struggles (all too often overlooked by historians and social scientists). Using a globe for illustration, I point out the great variations in the earth's land surfaces and their climates, each shaping the lives and the cultures of the local people; world history has to proceed from a strong dash of geographic determinism. The influence of climates deserves special emphasis. Cool climates stimulate human energies and ambitions; the northerners have been the most active and cerebral agents in global power politics. Hot and humid climates create more sensuous and passive ways of life. Geography also shapes routes of communications and transportation, thereby promoting human interaction; fertile soils and mineral deposits furnish valuable assets; deserts impede human contacts; land-bound peasants are at a disadvantage compared with sailors living along ocean fronts. For millenia the inhabitants of the vast Eurasian plains lived dangerously on open highways traversed by armies as well as merchants, both disseminating vital skills of power.

Different geographic conditions, in short, prompted a bewildering variety of cultural responses, of different languages (6170 by a l990 count) and different histories. Viewed in all-inclusive historical perspective, the “world systems” described by various theorists have not prevented the creation of a geographically determined profusion of human associations often at bitter war with each other: consider the cultural-political tensions within the present “world system” described below. Geography is at work also at present and in the future, resisting the growing uniformity of the new globalism.


With a clearer sense of the geographic diversity of the human habitat and its influence over human lives I turn next to an outline of the history of the different power centers and the cultural resources developed in different parts of the world. Here our accounts should proceed comparatively, with an eye on the power-mobilizing interaction between nature and fellow humans in a given geographical area, always searching for the totality of factors at work in shaping human cooperation. I would begin with the Fertile Crescent, its power politics and religious creativity leading up to the Roman empire. Next I would shift to the Far East, to the glory of the Chinese empire, and thence to the states and empires rising and falling in the wide open Afro-Eurasian space, with due emphasis on the spread of Islam and Islamic states. As for India, why did it not turn into a power center? The peoples in sub-Saharan Africa and in pre-Columbian America (as well as their descendants) deserve special attention, considering their weakness when confronted with conquerors trained in the merciless Afro-Eurasian power competition. But they too pursued ambitious policies of expanding their power; think of the Aztecs or even Indian tribes in North America, or the Zulus in South Africa.

And now come the winners in the global power competition, the peoples of western Europe (eventually allied with their kin in North America, both legitimately called “the West” in the large perspectives here used), aided by uniquely favorable conditions beyond human control. Security from alien invasions, access to the oceans, and easy internal communications combined to create in a relatively small area a network of intensely—and often brutally—competitive interactive communities. Thus western Europe turned into an unprecedented cultural hothouse, stimulating from the l5th century onward a rapid advance in all power skills to the point of dominating the rest of the world by the end of the 19th century. Their skills, increasingly drawing on the wealth and cultural accomplishments of all humanity, covered the full gamut of human crea- tivity, including respect for human dignity (a subtle form of power); the Europeans took the inititive in abolishing slavery (a topic deserving impartial discussion in inter-cultural comparison).

Their most important achievement, however, was not capitalism, nor science and technology, nor industrialism, but the largely subconscious (and therefore commonly overlooked) spiritually based discipline of social cooperation on which all accomplishments leading to their global preeminence were premised. All analyses of the rise of European and Western power must stress the perfection, under constant social tensions, of the largely voluntary social cooperation embodied in constitutional government and a market economy. Admittedly, after the Age of Enlightenment the hold of organized religion declined, but religious values remained part of civilized life, invisibly perpetuating themselves, up to a point, by the benefits of peaceful cooperation. Under the banner of freedom and liberal democracy the western Europeans (like their American descendants) turned into the most intensely socialized human beings on earth, reaffirmed in their civic docility by their belief in “progress” and their pride in their worldwide preeminence; freedom is a highly complex cultural molecule. Yet by any all-inclusive analysis they remained the products of exceptionally favorable circumstances not of their making, not of their conscious design.

To drive home this point essential in any meaningful world history: in all parts of the world human beings aimed at power and domination, subject to the conditions imposed by nature and geography. Nature and geography, not human planning, created the setting which in western Europe and North America advanced human capacities to unprecedented heights. Let us always remember our depen- dence on forces beyond human control and thereby diminish the bitter indignation over human inequality in the contemporary world; it was “Mother Earth” who created that inequality. But at the same time, let the Westerners become aware of the moral responsibilities derived from their undeservedly privileged conditions. A world history for the future needs moral reflection.

It also calls for an acute awareness of the obstacles to inter-cultural understanding. People cannot help but judge the world and their neighbors near and far according to their own cultural conditioning; they universalize their historic experiences. As a result, they have no comprehension of, or liking for, cultural otherness; it threatens their own identity and tends to make the others into enemies. Teaching how to cross cultural barriers and to view the others realistically as legitimate products of alien circumstances should be an essential part of world history. Compassionate cultural relativism is a moral obligation and a precondition for understanding the problems of the next phase of world history concerned with the confluence of the world's cultures under Western domination.

And so attention turns to the outpouring of European peoples and their ways around the world, to global Westernization progressing since the days of Columbus and ominously culminating in the early global age of the 20th century.


Nowhere else in the world had nature and the power competition created cultural resources matching those of “the West”; by the end of the l9th century European and American imperialism had subdued all political resistance to Western domination. The opening phase of the global era therefore deserves special attention, viewed here from perspectives that are still controversial but essential in a world history aiming at guidance for the future. We have to recognize that the ascendancy of the West initiated the most frightening conflicts in the history of the human race. The 20th century surpassed all previous centuries in wars and mass atrocities. What else would you expect, given the abysmal ignorance among political leaders and their followers—indeed among all generations born after l870—under the impact of the rising globalism, an unprecedented experience in human existence?

The Western expansion around the world, led in the name of freedom and democracy by the two countries most favored by geographical circumstances—Great Britain and the United States—precipitously enlarged the traditional European power competition to global proportions. The British empire together with American imperialism served as a model for global expansionism, arousing worldwide anti-Western ambitions with unforeseen explosive consequences. The Germans, prompted by the British example to seek “a place in the sun” of global prestige, sparked the first “world” war. The victory of the Western democracies in that war further escalated the descent into political confrontation and human misery. It not only incited political ambitions around the world to extravagant heights, but also stirred up the irrationalities of mass politics in countries defeated or otherwise disorganized by the war and unprepared by history and geography for democratic government. The West thus ignorantly provoked the rise of communism and fascism, thereby sharing the responsibility for their inhumanities (an impartial world history, aware of the new worldwide visibility of power, should emphasize the revolutionary influence of the Western model over unprepared peoples).

With the Western superiority always prodding their minds, Russian communists guided by Marxist dialectics were eager to raise their backward country from political collapse to universal leadership; fascists in Italy and Germany suffering from a feeling of inferiority wanted to expand their national power globally. Meanwhile alert intellectuals around the world enlarged their perspectives Western-style for anti-Western aims. In the Far East Chinese and Japanese leaders geared their national ambitions to the global scale,proceeding with the advanced cruelty copied from communism and fascism. Japan eventually joined Hitler in the second world war, committing its own atrocities. When the scale of power competition was raised to global proportions, what did human lives count?

The prescription for organizing limited indigenous resources for the global power struggles was revealingly outlined by Lenin: “What is to a great extent automatic in a politically free country must in Russia [and by implication in all unprepared countries] be done deliberately and systematically by our organizations.” Put differently, the totality of civic accomplishments achieved over centuries in the geopolitically most favored countries had to be artificially matched as soon as possible by refined political compulsion. Under highly adverse conditions at a time of national crisis traditional attitudes were to be drastically changed.

Lenin's blueprint of totalitarianism, applicable to both communists and fascists (as well as more recent dictatorships), took the most refined form under Stalin, a ruthless dictator driven by admiration of American industrial power. He was determined, in an utterly unprecedented large-scale experiment of forcible reculturation, quickly to transform his backward peoples in their huge country into citizens capable of overcoming at last both the dangers of external aggression and the humiliations of backwardness, whatever the human costs. If Hitler had conquered Russia, the inhumanities would have been even greater than those committed by Stalin and his henchmen, a fact overlooked by Stalin's detractors oblivious to the global context of his policies.

Fascist totalitarianism was perfected by Hitler, a master of domestic mass politics yet totally ignorant of the larger world. Plotting to enhance national resolve by racial purity on the road to territorial aggrandizement, he started the second world war, admitting at the end his utter failure by committing suicide. His most tormenting atrocity was the holocaust, best understood as the climax of the evil tendencies prepared since the late l9th century. It combined rabid territorial expansionism with the widespread political racism escalated by anti-semitism, the product of long-standing ethnic and religious hostility especially vicious in central and eastern Europe. Again, given the explosive tensions of the times, the new technological methods of genocide, and human ambitions raised to global extremes, what else would you expect?

After the defeat of Hitler, the war ended with the explosion over Japan of two atomic bombs, the deadliest instruments of mass destruction imaginable. The development of nuclear weapons capable of crushing all civilized life was another landmark in the evolution of globalism, a fatal threat overhanging the future, countered by uncertain global cooperation. At any rate, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki terminated, under American auspices, the stormiest phase of the incipient globalism. The Western preeminence and its humanitarian ideals had been strengthened, introducing a yet more intense form of global interaction, somewhat calmer though still perilously violent.

The American-inspired guiding vision of the new era was embodied in the United Nations, a global agency designed “to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights, for fundamental freedom for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” It was to prevent a repetition of the tensions responsible for two world wars by diplomatic negotiation—a pious long-range hope for a peaceful globalism. Yet it promoted some practical advances toward that goal in the face of major obstacles, foremost the Cold War, a prolonged but subdued third world war.

Thanks to Stalin, the Soviet Union had matched the United States as a nuclear power. In raw competition involving bitter repression and futile local wars, the two “Super Powers” offered conflicting goals for the human destiny: was it to be a free market economy under liberal democratic government, or a social order designed to provide the benefits of Western society by social planning and political compulsion? In the power competition of invidious comparison promoted by increasingly effective mass communications the outcome was foreordained: Soviet organizations were not able to arouse the creative energies furnished by voluntary cooperation in the privileged “politically free” countries; the Soviet system became thoroughly discredited at home and abroad.

Meanwhile, the intensified globalism was extended to the many new states created by decolonization. The newcomers in the world's political arena were pressed into the forms of statehood copied from their former masters, without experience of self-government;adjustment to statehood was in most cases a bloody process. Yet henceforth much of the world's cultural diversity was cast into a political shape; the number of states rose to l84 (measured by l993/4 UN membership). The complexity of global politics was further increased by the advancing status of Japan and the “little dragons” of the Pacific rim, extending the traditional global balance of power to the Far East. By the end of the 20th century the whole world with its multitudes of actors had become a hothouse of competitive interaction, forcing the leaders, even the United States, to keep up with their rivals, while overburdening the lesser countries.

Thus after two world wars and the collapse of Soviet communism at the end of the 20th century— or rather, phrased with more sensitivity for human suffering: after the unprecedented worldwide atrocities, inhumanities, and agonies indicative of the transition to the new globalism—Western ascendancy was complete. Under American leadership the world had become “Westernized” in global interdependence, a totally new phase in world history.


And now a look at the conditions shaping the present and foreseeable future, in what is becoming “global” history. In the past half-century the West, by the persuasion of an enviously admired model, has imposed upon the rest of the world universal standards of power in weapons, political institutions, economic and financial organizations, science and technology, and ideological orientation, supported by a network of global agencies including the United Nations, MNCs, and NGOs (like the International Red Cross), all using the English language as the preferred means of communication. Western tastes dominate urban architecture, fashionable clothing, and life styles generally. Envious comparison encouraged by worldwide communication systems ranks everybody against everybody else around the world: who does not want to be at the top and enjoy the good life advertized by Americans? In addition, the ideals of freedom and democracy propagated around the globe have everywhere politicized collective life as never before. Yet lifted out of the restraining contexts of civic discipline these ideals tend to promote anarchy. Westernization, alas, does not spread the invisible spiritual underpinnings of civic discipline that have bestowed global leadership to the West; it even undermines the traditional discipline of non-Western cultures.

Westernization, now generally decultured and universalized as “modernization,” proceeds by its own momentum (even if the United States, its chief source, is losing its glamor) as a source of profound worldwide cultural disorientation. The West has imposed—and continues to impose—its own cultural standards as absolutes upon the diverse non-Western cultures. The latter continue to throb underneath the Western surface, humiliated, discredited, embattled, and yet still legitimized by their past creativity in response to local conditions. Nowhere around the world do we still find cohesive original civilizations; all have lost their original integrity, admittedly to varying degrees. Some people—foremost the Japanese—possessed a measure of cohesion and resources of civic discipline enabling them to absorb Western achievements while preserving their cultural continuity.

The majority of non-Westerners, however, were shaken to their depth, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Suspended between the discredited norms of their past and the uncomprehended realities of Western ways, where are people to find effective guidance for their personal lives and collective existence? Corrupt political leaders aim at Western life styles, complete with Mercedes-Benz cars; ambitious intellectuals emigrate to the West, often creating, with the help of compassionate Western scholars, a Westernized version of their traditional cultures. The bulk of the people are caught in civil unrest bordering on violent anarchy, most prominently so in West Africa, but increasingly also in other parts of the world, including south Asia and most alarmingly the peoples of Eurasia. Held together all through their past by dictatorial authorities, how can the latter—and the Russians foremost—suddenly manage to conduct their affairs by themselves?

Cultural disorientation is even invading the heartlands of the West, wide open as they are to the diversity of the world and caught in their labyrinthian post-modernism. The upward-bound migration of non-Western people into the developed countries has introduced cultural pluralism, a trend reenforced by the agitation for recognition among African-Americans and American Indians, all weakening the traditional democratic consensus. The dynamics of Western life introduced additional tensions, as in the feminist protest against masculine domination or the controversy over abortion and homosexuality. The customary civic discipline and its religious foundations obviously are declining; crime and anti-social behavior are growing.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the growing disorientation is what may be called the “global overload.” People are overwhelmed by the discordant profusion of stimuli and information thrust at them by life locally, nationally, and globally. In danger of losing their identity and sense of purpose in the vast unstructured new openness, they desperately seek refuge in narrow traditional bonds like nationality, ethnicity, religious fundamentalism, or even small-scale gangs—in any available form of human bonding no matter how primitive. Globalism is a source of widespread psychological helplessness, which leads from shrinking intellectual and social awareness to civic discord and violence.


In this culturally disoriented world, so my future-oriented global history now argues, the eternal power struggle continues, in some ways more subtly. Global interdependence affirms the dominance of Western ways now supported by Westernized allies in the Far East. In the age of nuclear weapons, it seems safe to predict, world wars are outdated. Within global interdependence the rivalry between the major power centers—North America, Europe, the Far East—is essentially economic. Worldwide economic relations demand peaceful methods of competition (as under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and enlarged frameworks of regional cooperation (as under the expanding European Community, Nafta, and comparable associations on the Pacific rim, in Africa or South America, each an arena of subdued power struggles).

The prosperity of the industrial leaders intensifies the Western impact on the world in the name of “development.” The major states try to expand their sway by “developing” “under-developed” countries in their own image, yet with all too limited comprehension of the obstacles. Geography and climate irrevocably stand in the way, reaffirming the validity of traditional ways. Inequality therefore will persist; modernization cannot reshape the earth's surface. Can the gap between the rich and the poor be narrowed?

Not surprisingly Westernizing modernization provokes continuous resistance, as tradition-oriented disoriented people try to affirm their customary ways, especially where they retain a measure of sovereignty, as in China or in post-Soviet Russia. Yet the outcome of the cultural power struggle seems predetermined: who can resist the lures of Western wealth and self-indulgent life styles, or of freedom, or of advanced technology?

The biggest challenge to Western domination is currently mounted by Islamic fundamentalists, who have declared war on the Western Satan with a persuasive message: a simple life style based on religious values is a sounder foundation for social stability and spiritual satisfaction than materialist self-indulgence. Yet even these fanatic crusaders are vulnerable. Engaged in a power struggle with the Western establishment, they need the latest weapons and technologies for their terrorism. They also cannot allow too great a contrast in life styles and cultural sophistication between their followers and the Western world. In addition, their violence hardly fits the spiritual message of the Koran.

Other long-simmering power conflicts promoting violence are in the foreground of contemporary news: ethnic or religious minorities assert themselves in the name of freedom and self-determination: Irish Catholics in British Northern Ireland; Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Muslims in Yugoslavia, Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, Tatars (and many other ethnic minorities) in Russia; Armenians and Azeris (together with smaller ethnic groups) in the Caucasus area of the former Soviet Union; Tibetans in China, Tamils in India and Sri Lanka, Muslims and Hindus in India, and tribal groups in many parts of Africa. While the grand contest between the two Super Powers has come to an end, a profusion of unmanageable local conflicts derived from the cultural diversity of the world's peoples testifies to the intensity and complexity of contemporary global power politics. Who is not entitled under the Western definition of human rights to self-assertion?

Looking at the global power politics at the turn from the 20th to the 21st century we can discern two conflicting major trends. On the one hand global interdependence linking the major political and economic centers promotes a reasonably peaceful style of competition. On the other hand, cultural disorientation combined with the search for equality and human dignity is promoting a worldwide surge of traditional identities, which often provokes anarchic violence threatening the peaceful global interaction that alone can guarantee an improvement in the human condition. The contest between these two trends will continue for a long time.

Add now for a realistic grasp of the future a brief reference to the non-political consequences of the Westernization of the world: l) the over-rapid population increase starting in the past century and ominously carried into the future, and 2) the resulting drain of the earth's vital resources evident in the disappearance of tropical rain forests, the shortage of water in dry lands, the pollution of the air, global warming—to mention but a few items under anxious current discussion. Huge problems loom ahead; we are certainly not headed for the end of history.


What then, in the light of the mounting challenges and the record of world history generally, are the prospects for the foreseeable future? A present and future-oriented world history certainly does not want to attempt any forecasting. It merely wants to sketch realistically, unspoiled by shallow optimism, the totality of factors shaping the human development in the past and the present, thus offering a guide for our inescapable yet always risky concerns regarding what lies ahead, with due emphasis on the essentials.

As for my own concerns: first a positive view. Global interaction is bound to test, under Western auspices, cultural achievements from all parts of the world for the common benefit, such as medicines, foods, agricultural methods, artistic qualities, or spiritual techniques; as a result all people will become more resourceful. But, for a more apprehensive view, these boons depend on peaceful interaction, which cannot be taken for granted.

Indeed, on the way to the integrated globalism of the distant future I foresee a major crisis of anarchy and violence. In a world geared to the progress of science and technology as well as to the mindless pursuit of pleasure radiating from the metropolitan centers, the most essential skills are neglected. In order to promote peaceful interdependence we need effective command over the global realities; we need the most careful study and detailed awareness, free of national or cultural bias, of the totality of factors shaping the lives of the growing human multitudes. For that purpose we must increase our cerebral energies, the source of human intelligence.

Next, and even more important, we must revive and advance the religious resources that tune people peacefully to their new interdependence. The available spiritual techniques are in dispute, contained in pre-global symbolisms and institutions, sometimes hardened into religious fundamentalism. Where do we find trans-cultural formulations of the spiritual techniques needed for containing worldwide disorientation and the drift toward anarchy and violence? How can we mix the moral cement needed for consolidating the ever tighter global interdependence?

Peaceful global interaction—our long-range goal—requires heightened moral sensibilities and expanded intellectual capacities. At the deepest level of human consciousness we need to evolve universal values promoting global co- operation, while also respecting the continuing cultural diversity. We need to reconcile the compassion of cultural relativism with the affirmation of global absolutes guaranteeing peace and justice for all. A morally alert future-orien- ted global history, as all-too-briefly outlined here, should help us move toward the transcendant universal truth of loving all our neighbors—and our natural environment—as we love ourselves. The human experience through time teaches one supreme lesson: human life and happiness depend on the moral skills promoting peaceful cooperation. A global history without moral reflections, however controversial, is an irresponsible venture.

Looking back over the long course of world history as here sketched, I like to offset, in conclusion, my prophylactic pessimism by repeating an encouraging message suggested earlier. Let us keep in mind the advance of human skills through the past millenia. Despite continuous crises and wars, despite outrageous inhumanities, human beings have developed impressive resources for sustaining life, honing their sensibilities and skills, refining their humaneness. In times of profound crises their desire to exercise power over their destiny is bound to reaffirm the priority of the spiritual techniques that have advanced human cooperation in the past. I am confident that in the future human beings will be able to perfect these techniques for constructively meeting the awesome challenges of the utterly novel global phase of human existence. There is encouraging evidence around the world of human efforts working in that direction.