Visions 2000


Sir Michael Howard


One of the most remarkable events in human history occurred, first in Western Europe and then on the Eastern seaboard of the United States, in the 17th and 18th centuries: the scientific revolution, itself part of a total transformation in the way people looked at the world. It challenged the assumption that God, or gods, had determined the way in which things were going to be,and that mankind had to learn about it through the medium of a church and live their lives in accordance with precepts handed down from on high and interpreted by some sort of shaman. The new concept was that individual people themselves have valid perceptions and reasoning processes. These reasoning processes compelled them to abandon their old presuppositions, whether they were about science or about politics. This new outlook eventually led to scientific and technological development on an enormous scale, and, of course, that technological development led to political revolution.

But the impact of new ideas on traditional societies was, and is,always deeply disruptive. They have always provoked reaction and confusion until ultimately, with luck, a synthesis emerges between these revolutionary concepts and the traditional societies on which they impact. This has been going on for 300years, and is still happening today. The diffusion of rationalism,technology, democracy and human rights always causes profound disruption to traditional ways of life. The nature of the confusion and the dislocation varies in different parts of the world, but all developing societies have somehow to find their way through it.

One result of the technological revolution has been overpopulation. The majority of mankind no longer dies in childbirth. Even in Central Africa the life expectancy is now up to forty or fifty years, which means that many more people are around. In a horrible way, AIDS is doing something to redress the balance, much as the Black Plague did in Europe 600 years ago. AIDS is a disease which we seem unable to check, as we have all others in the past. It is perhaps significant that AIDS is connected with the dissolution of sexual mores, which have always been central to traditional values in all cultures.

If I have a vision at all, it is of a society that has solved these problems. But my prognosis is that these issues are going to keep us busy for a long time. They will appear in different forms, each more difficult than the other. Their impact on politics will be continuous. We must face the fact that we have a very different century in front of us. So I am less concerned with goals than with the struggle itself.

We shall still be faced with international conflicts which some people will try to resolve by the use of armed force, as Saddam Hussein did in the Gulf. The only justification for the maintenance of armed forces is to deter such people from using force to solve their problems. So long as such problems do exist, the possibility of force being used as a short cut will still be there; which means that we must still siphon off some of our resources to maintain a military structure. But the purpose of that structure is the maintenance of a stable order that will enable us to deal with the huge problems-political,social, economic, and ecological-that will continue to confront mankind, not only in the next century, but the one after that.

War is a spin off of the conflicts produced by these problems. Many of the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries arose from the impact of the ideas of the American and French revolutions on other societies, and the turmoil that those revolutions created within them. National socialism was a reaction in Germany against all the ideas of the western world, all the norms and values of democracy and human equality, which had come to betaken for granted in the societies of western Europe and the United States. It was also the result of the economic confusion which itself was the result of the First World War. War is like the eruption of a skin disease, which breaks out in an unhealthy society.

  • This document was created from the article, "Visions 2000" written by an unknown author for the November/December 1991 edition of "Chief Executive." The original article is located in MS134.003.027.00017.
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