Like most Americans, I’m concerned about the looming loss of our superpower status to China and the challenge of Islam. Our comfortable normal seems to be changing into an uncomfortable abnormal. On the other hand, maybe there was nothing normal to begin with about the general dominance of the West, and our superpower status in particular.
Take China. For something like 3,000 years the Chinese Empire was the world’s most advanced civilization. The West didn’t truly gain the upper hand over China until it lost the opium wars waged by the British roughly 160 years ago. But the British Empire is now gone, having lasted only 250 years or so, and China now vies with us for supremacy.
How about Islam? Well over 1,000 years ago, it swept to power in North Africa, Asia Minor, the Midle East (including the Holy Land), and much of India, then morphed into the Islamic Ottoman Empire. It conquered Christian Constantinople in 1469 and renamed it Istanbul in 1469. After that the Balkans fell to Islam, and in 1688 Vienna narrowly escaped the same fate.
The Ottoman Empire only fell apart roughly 100 years ago, first with Balkan independence and second when it was carved up after World War I by Britain and France. That didn’t last long, and what was once Islamic is still Islamic. Not only that, Islam has now peacefully invaded Western Europe proper, where Muslims have high birth rates and the natives are failing to reproduce themselves.
So what’s normal and what’s abnormal? Taking the long view, the dominance of the West wasn’t normal, it was abnormal. It seems to have sprung from a temporary and now ending advantage in technology, mainly in weaponry and the ability to project power around the globe. Depending how you count, Western dominance has lasted only about 300 years. Our waning superpower status is less than 100 years old.
Is the supremacy of China and Islam actually the normal state of affairs? Possibly the answer is yes, and the world is only returning to its usual course after a relatiely brief detour. Perhaps that can be of some solace to us and our European friends. We’ve had a good run for a few hundred years. And having had a taste of freedom, people around the world may not be willing to see it disappear.
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