“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else – if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
The “shape of the future” is perhaps the most sought-after concept in the world today. Everyone wants to see it, and international affairs experts are no exception. The more tangled the situation on the world stage, the more radical the changes; and the greater the impact of the factors that were once considered secondary (from technology to societal changes), the stronger the push to understand what lies beyond the bend.
The history and theory of international relations offer a versatile set of tools for analysis and forecasting, making it eminently possible for anyone seeking to dissect the present and model the future, especially since many ongoing processes appear to be reminiscent of past patterns. Searching for analogies in the past and applying past centuries’ templates to current events have become common practice. Often, the result looks convincing.
But this is an illusion. History at these turning points does not fit its own templates. Pivotal eras – and we are living in one – are unlike the steady flow of time. Elements that were there before have now come together to form a completely different picture. A conceptual framework that is unlike the familiar one is needed in order for us to be able to make sense of it. Otherwise, the risk is high that the interpretations will take us even farther from understanding the developments instead of helping us understand them.