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The Battle of the 21st Century

The Battle of the 21st Century

June 7th, 2012 // 6:51 pm @

Once, science and religion and art were the same thing—the search for, and attempt to live, truth.

Then came the rise of dominant government and its attempts to control all.

In the Western world, religion and science were seen as the tools of power.

Sides were taken, and conflicts ensued. Left out of the battle, art developed in the shadows.

In the Orient, a different reality evolved.

Art and religion were considered the great centers of power, and so the lines were drawn and battles came.

Science, once at the forefront of Eastern culture, took a back seat. It grew, but behind the scenes.

By the early 21st Century, at least from the perspective of government power, science had become technology and art had become symbol.

Today the globe is increasingly divided between East and West.

A world is growing around China, encompassing the Orient and also much of the Middle East and Africa.

Another world is centered around the United States and includes most of Europe and the two American continents.

Russia and India have yet to take sides, and Japan is caught between its natural philosophical and geographical sides.

These two worlds have been based on the battle between religion and science in the West and the clash between art and religion in the East.

Ironically, the growing conflict between the two worlds coincides with the rise of each culture’s historical shadows—put succinctly, if the battle comes down to technology the East will win and if it comes down to symbolism the West will be victorious.

Tocqueville predicted in the 1830s that the world was destined to be divided by the followers of Russia and the allies of the United States.

He said that if the battle came down to military conflict Russia would win but if it came down to economics the United States would prevail.

Today, we can see the rise of China and the U.S. in similar terms.

But the idea that China will triumph if the battle is technological while the U.S. will succeed in a symbolic challenge seems counter-intuitive. After all, China is struggling to catch up with the U.S. in things technological and China has millennia of experience mastering symbol.

Still, it isn’t old sources of power that win new conflicts. Innovative power takes the day, and the battle of the 21st Century is lining up to be innovative technology versus innovative symbolism.

Ultimately, it all comes down to leadership. Vision. Creativity. Initiative. Ingenuity. Tenacity. Resiliency. Impact. Hope. Inspiration.

China and its associates will likely fight for its global interests using overwhelming centralized state technological might.

America and allies will push for a democratic world utilizing the massive power of the greatest ideas—chief among them freedom.

Both sides will use both technology and symbol, just like both Russia and the U.S. emphasized both military and economic strength.

But ultimately symbol must overcome centralized might.

The future of world freedom and prosperity depend on it.

Hopefully, the history of this century will not unfold this way, but currently the trends are heading in this direction.

The battle has already begun, and China is aggressively pursuing this course while the U.S. stagnating in a rut of decline.

The sooner America gets its act together, the better.


(An excellent book on how to add symbolic thinking to our analytical world is A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink.)


odemille 133x195 custom Egypt, Freedom, & the Cycles of HistoryOliver DeMille is the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

Category : Arts &Blog &Culture &Current Events &Featured

2 Comments → “The Battle of the 21st Century”

  1. Keith

    12 years ago

    Catherine Austin Fitts put it right in a recent post where she wrote: “The test of activism in 2012 [and beyond] is going to come down to two questions. Is it decentralizing? So does it serve the interest of decentralization, or does it serve the interests of centralization? And is it wealth-building or wealth-destroying? Because what we need is activism that is both decentralizing and wealth-building.” This means entirely new models in business, economics, science, government and religion, and all of these new models must establish decentralized paths, meaning fewer central authority forces and more pockets of autonomy. It is already happening in science and economics because of technological advances, but not fast enough in business, government, and religion because there is no symbolic thread. Such a symbolic thread will be, in my view, a return of God through non institutional means, in other words health, education and welfare, once decentralized and removed from technocrats and power whores, and once taken back by more diversified and local means, this will produce that vague symbol of meaning that no CFR writer could ever imagine or willingly support.

  2. Joseph Sorensen

    12 years ago

    Dr. DeMille,
    Thanks for the recent posts regarding China. I am currently in Beijing and will be here for a year working with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), particularly with their Institute of World Religions, which has growing ties with ICLRS at the BYU Law School. I am living with, and being mentored by (I hope signifying “when the student is ready . . .”) someone who has been a high government official in the US, involved in trade relations with China. I have been a bit disturbed by the apparent lack of broad perspective in analyses and discussions that I have been privy to, while here in China. I am around people who are very good at practical aspects, an area where I need much mentoring, but am discouraged by the seeming narrowness of the views and the short term contexts. They get the surface stuff way better than I do, like how the Party works and the issues where distrust exists, and I’m excited to learn from them, but I fear that the lack of historical understandings on both sides, about both sides, is presenting insurmountable obstacles.
    Discussions that I’ve heard, between Chinese and Americans, note the significance of religions, but again from a present, practical standpoint. Neither group really seems to understand the significance of their own historical religious roots in their current societies, let alone that of the other’s. It has been fascinating, in a daunting, Everestish way.
    Finally, perhaps you have seen the recent Brookings report “Addressing US-China Strategic Distrust,” if not, it is valuable; it is the first thing said mentor directed me to, though I’m concerned by his comments that we’ll struggle to agree. That’s a good thing for educational purposes, but again it makes the practical prospects more daunting.
    Again, I appreciate the posts regarding China and hope here are more to come, they provide a valuable reference point.
    Joseph Sorensen

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