Predicting the future is a rather challenging task for a social scientist and all the more so for a political scientist. Moreover, what the media and the general public expect from political science is precisely predictions and explanation of future events, irrespective of whether we are addressing the issue of international relations, parliamentary election results or post-election negotiations concerning the majority government.
In the turbulent year of 1968, throughout North America and Europe and even in Croatia students and professors who demanded social, economic, cultural and political changes could hardly imagine what the world would look like half a century later in 2018, which is also quite an exciting year. One of the most memorable student slogans in 1968 was the one that appeared in May 1968 for the first time on the wall of Censier annex of the University of Paris III – "Be realistic, demand the impossible!" During 1990's, anti-globalisation and alter-globalisation movements resulted in a thesis about a "different world [different from the international system rooted in free trade and circulation of capital, author's comment], which is possible“. Among a large number of iterations of this slogan, perhaps the best known is the one by the Indian woman writer and human rights and environmental activist Arundhati Roy – "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing".
A different world is always possible and what appears unthinkable from a political or social aspect is far from actually being impossible. Enlightenment provided a stance according to which history and, then also politics, are perceived as a process of linear development in which we are inevitably moving from simpler organisational forms, community marked with status, predestination and oppression, towards more complex forms of being for humankind, a society characterised by personal freedom, control of one's own destiny and valuing of individual effort and success.
Nowadays, in 2018, people are truly better educated than ever before in human history, gender equality is higher than it has probably ever been, life expectancy has risen significantly almost all over the world, famine and diseases are being rapidly tackled even in the so-called "developing countries", while, irrespective of a large number of conventional, asymmetric and hybrid wars, whose fire has been smouldering or even blazing in many corners of the world, the level of violence is currently probably among the lowest in recorded history.
Still, it would be a grave error to think that in fifty years' time, in 2068, humankind will be living in some kind of post-political, post-economical age of wealth and will be cruising through the wondrous vastness of outer space, unrestrained and unencumbered like Captain Picard in Star Trek. In fifty years' time, we may be witnessing a new Renaissance, as well as new Barbarianism.
Nevertheless, politics will certainly not vanish and the same applies to political systems, irrespective of whether they are national or supranational. As it was evidently noticed by one of America's Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Papers No. 51, "if men were angels, no government would be necessary". Nevertheless, human nature is susceptible to mistakes and misconceptions and hence people are certainly not like angels and they will not be like angels in fifty years' time either.
What can be concluded after all, what can be predicted in such a distant future concerning politics, since politics is such a complex human activity? According to comparative politics, based on available facts we can reach conclusions about unknown facts, extrapolate trends and strive to identify indications of current technological and social innovations that at some point may significantly transform the world of politics around us. While doing so, it is important to abandon the illusion of linear progress, as well as to understand that no political events, no matter how epochal, can be declared as "the end of history", as stated by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama, when he was describing the end of the Cold War and the victory of liberal democracy and liberal world order.
Should we start from the dimension of international politics, we may soon be able to realise that the early 1990's and what the recently deceased American political columnist Charles Krauthammer in 1991 referred to as "unipolar moment", or the unique domination of the US at the level of politics, economics, military, international law and culture, were precisely that, i.e. merely one moment. In fact, from the History of Peloponnesian War by Thucydides until the present moment, the world has to the utmost extent been multipolar, with the rise and fall of a large number of regional hegemons.
In fifty years' time, the world will most probably be much more multipolar compared with what is currently the case, with the possibility of the rise of the People's Republic of China as a hegemon and the potential for conflict between Beijing and Washington concerning the primacy in this specific type of world. In addition to the nature of the international system, what could be of interest to us, is what will happen in fifty years' time with the processes of regional and continental political and economic integrations.
Besides Europe, the only part of the world in which the potential further deepening of integrations can even be considered is Latin America, i.e. the free trade system referred to as Mercosur. Nevertheless, in case of Mercosur, it remains to be seen whether further connections will be based on the liberal template of Anglo-Saxon and European origin or on democratic socialism of the 21st century for which the South American continent is considered as fertile ground. Furthermore, African Union operates on the continent whose North and South, and East and West are hardly connected by anything, irrespective of whether we are referring to the cultural, economic or legal aspect.
Consequently, it would be illusory to expect, even in half a century, that African Union will look like what used to be European Economic Community, let alone the today's European Union. The Arab League has never assumed organisational and functional forms that would push it towards an integration similar to that in Europe. Russia will probably continue striving to promote Eurasianism, as an alternative to Euro-Atlantic integrations, while it remains to be seen whether ASEAN will assume a more concrete legal and political structure and in what way the rise of China and India will affect integration in Southeast Asia. The creation of a specific global framework for governance and leadership, irrespective of whether through the United Nations or some new organisation, can be imagined only as a consequence of an environmental disaster, a world war or a public, massive-scale contact with intelligent beings from another planet.
Let us at this point address the issue of continental integration, which is of the highest interest for us from the Croatian perspective and which is in general considered as the most complex political system created by humans thus far – the European Union. European integrations can be compared with a bicycle - if you stop pedalling forwards, if you lean excessively towards the left or the right, you will lose balance and fall off, possibly sustaining injuries.
Nevertheless, against the backdrop of the forthcoming European Parliament election 2019, we are aware of the fact that the European Union is currently faced with different conceptions, some of which are heading towards disintegration or demounting of the Union as we have known it since 1992 and the Maastricht Treaty, i.e. a return to a state of pure market integration, without supranational, political elements and joint agreements on a wide range of fields of human activity.
The Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev in his new book entitled After Europe, which is about to be translated into Croatian, actually reminds us that we always have to think the unthinkable. Through a prediction both of the near and the distant future, as well as through an overview of the European historical experiences in 1918 and the dissolution of Austro-Hungarian Empire, the book reminds us that, notwithstanding different theories of European integrations, we lack models of thought through which we would be able to predict the potential disintegration processes.
In fifty years' time, the European Union will either be a true federation or at least a confederation with external elements of common citizenship or it will disintegrate, with potential minor framework of integration among individual countries or the remains of the single market. From a long-term perspective, it is impossible to maintain the status quo in which different interests and conceptions of a unified Europe create disaccord, while the existing institutional framework does not manage to tackle three challenges – the challenge of disparity at the level of economic development, fiscal sustainability and functioning of the law-based state and the rule of law; the challenge of disparity at the level of conceptions of citizenship, integration models and addressing demographic and migration issues, as well as the challenge of democratic deficit and a lack of common European public and media space. Hence, if the European Union is striving to survive, in fifty years' time it needs to become a "more perfect union", the term coined by statesmen and thinkers during the creation of the American Republic.
Concerning democratic deficit, another issue needs to be highlighted, one that will be providing an additional burden to political life over the next fifty years. After almost one century (from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century) of fights for universal and equal voting rights, at the beginning of the 21st century, it is important to point out that primarily the categories of citizens who initially had the right to vote – elderly, educated and wealthy men - are the ones who are the most actively involved in politics, while a vast majority of bourgeois masses only sporadically participate in politics, irrespective of whether it is the case of formal or informal forms of political participation.
It is a devastating fact if we consider huge efforts and hard work invested into massification of democracy, as well as the fact that modern, liberal democracy needs to be based on "direct self-government, over all the people, for all the people, by all the people", a phrase, which in this form is linked with the Gettsyburg Address delivered by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, although similar sentences were both uttered and written down by many others before him. Moreover, the question arises about whether over the next half century we will be witnessing a continuation of the transformation towards what the French political philosopher Bernard Manin referred to as "audience democracy".
In this type of democracy, citizens become to a greater extent observers and media consumers of politics as a performance and show and to a lesser extent active political entities that through articulation of their will, directly or through their representatives, shape the organisation and life of the political community.
This certainly leads us towards the question about the essence of contemporary democracy – limits of power, separation of powers and mutual rights and obligations under the rule of law or people's self-government, brought together in a republic, a political community of citizens who meet their obligations and are virtuous in the community, attentively focused on combating tyranny and corruption that arise from the seductiveness of unrestrained power. In the future, new technologies can assist us in more effectively controlling our selected representatives through publicly available data about the work performed by public and state bodies, as well as provide a greater transparency in political decision-making and create the prerequisites for rapid and mass articulation of political will of the citizens and their reactions to public policies in real time.
However, they simultaneously provide the opportunity of even higher control over the population and for restrictions of both human and civil rights. Recent Chinese examples disprove the thesis that new technologies necessarily imply free expression of ideas and bring down tyranny, showing that the brave new world in 2068 can easily become a world in which technology is used as a means to suppress the rebellion in non-democratic regimes.
Moreover, in modern Western society, there are increasing expectations from both politics and politicians. The complexity of the society and politics simultaneously requires increasing specialisation, which necessarily leads towards alienation of political representatives from the citizens, which in turn provides room for technocracy. New technologies have revolutionised the media and in a way enabled everyone to become a journalist, i.e. to both create and share media content. This consequently leads us to the question about whether at this point it is possible for anyone to become a politician, not in a formal, but in a practical sense. Hence, we are about to find out whether politicians of the future will be those who are the best among us or those who are the best at reflecting us. According to populism in different colours and forms, the latter interpretation certainly needs to be pointed out.
In addition to relationship between citizens and their representatives, as well as the issues concerning democratic legitimacy of political action, the forthcoming decades lead us to the question about who actually constitutes a political community and hence who can participate in decision-making concerning the organisation and arrangement of coexistence. In addition, it is important to point out migration pressures that will continue, primarily from Northern Africa and the Middle East, as well as from sub-Saharan Africa towards Europe, emphasising identity conflicts and leading to a wide range of uncertainties from the aspect of law and safety.
Furthermore, identification of an institutional framework will be required with sufficient integration capacity. Furthermore, development in the field of biotechnology and in that of computing and machinery will result in new problems in defining and determining who is a citizen and who is not. In fact, in fifty years’ time, research in genetic engineering may actually provide the prerequisites for the creation of a new generation of biologically perfect people with superior memory, cognitive and athletic abilities compared with other members of Homo sapiens species.
Political conflicts around ethics, eugenics and eventually equality of rights will be highlighted through this dynamics. In addition, the development in artificial intelligence in the field of war technology will be leading towards the development of the so-called "killer robots", or automatons who will be able to make decisions during the battle without human intervention (as opposed to the today's drones). Human rights organisations have already launched initiatives that are expected to result in the ban of this type of weaponry, either through audits of the existing conventions in international law, or by reaching new agreements.
Still, the experience in use of chemical and biological weapons, as well as the use of wide range of mines and explosive devices and ammunition over the last two decades, irrespective of their ban at the international level, vividly shows that even if something has been legally banned, it is still not considered as unthinkable or unacceptable from the political or military aspect. Development of artificial intelligence for peaceful purposes leads us to the question of acquisition of legal personality for robots, which could ultimately result in redefining of citizenship as something that does not involve only humans.
Subsequently, we need to consider the ways in which political interests will be articulated, primarily those that are no longer fostered by collective identities brought together in interest representatives. It has to be highlighted that, for several decades, membership and collective action crisis has been posing a slow but imminent threat to the central role of employer and employee interest groups and primarily to political parties. In addition, social atomisation hinders meaningful mobilisation that would be based on ideas and interests.
It encourages personalisation of political activity, while transforming it into show business and producing instant political content for a society that yearns for instant gratification and no longer manages to retain attention at the deeper and longer-term level against the backdrop of consumption of a wide range of media and pop culture short-lived content. Mass democracy of the 20th century, at least in Europe, was based on political parties as key stakeholders in the political process and articulators of political interests of the citizens. Nevertheless, as the late Irish political scientist Peter Mair wrote in the introduction to his posthumously published book entitled Ruling the Void: The Hollowing-Out of Western Democracy, "the age of party democracy has passed". If, on the other hand, political parties, in some other form, as the key actors in articulation of politics, live to see the year 2068, and we expect they will, what could they be formed around?
This question leads us to the last part of this essay that addresses the issue of new social cleavages in the mid-21st century, primarily in Europe. Among them, it is certainly important to highlight the one between advocates of further integration and advocates of disintegration, irrespective of whether it is the case of the national, sub-national or regional framework. We are currently already witnessing this cleavage and its actual force may be shown in the next European elections. Another cleavage builds on and that is the one between advocates of multiculturalism and postnationalism and advocates of the leading or guiding culture (Leitkultur) based on domicile cultural patterns and traditions.
Changes in demographic structure of European societies may aggravate this conflict even further and potentially affix the seal of confessional to it. In the forthcoming decades and against the backdrop of the deepening of the political chasm between the immigrants and the domiciled population, one may even expect to witness a specific trend of desecularisation of Western European societies. The latter will start returning towards Christianity, as a common denominator in Europe, initially from the aspect of identity and subsequently perhaps also from the spiritual aspect and that of ideas. In that context, one can easily imagine the strengthening of ecumenism, i.e. rapprochement of Christian denominations, while their historical, political and theological differences will assume secondary importance.
Finally, technological and climate changes will also result in several important cleavages. In the forthcoming future and certainly in 2068, we will be witnessing the conflict between the winners and the losers in the new technological revolution that is based on robotisation and automation, which will improve the effectiveness and ensure affordability of a wide range of production processes and service activities, both for investors and end users. However, they will also take millions of jobs. They will result in what the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari referred to as "the useless class", a socio-economic class comprising of people who are both unemployed and unemployable, people whose set of skills and knowledge are so successfully replaced by robots that they have no other choice but to languish in the margins of society.
This will redefine conflict between labour and capital, or that between the left and the right in Western societies. Moreover, the global North and South divide will additionally increase. While the conflict between the global North and South over the last several decades has primarily focused on the nature of free trade and circulation of capital, it will shift focus on the nature of production process and employability of the general public.
Furthermore, it is important to point out the education gap that will also occur between the highly educated and technologically qualified managers and people without such knowledge and certificates, or those who cannot even be involved in production, since robots have taken their jobs. It is not difficult to imagine the scenario in which the discord could lead societies into severe political conflict concerning the issue of how to arrange the world of labour.
The previously mentioned role of technology in surveillance and prevention of terrorism and similar threats (mass hacking, disruption of digital communication, digital media and digital voting as a result of activity performed by enemy forces in politics of both national and international origin), will lead to a new political divide, the one between freedom and safety. Even the American homo universalis, Benjamin Franklin, stated that "those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety".
Indeed, this is currently already the case and hence it can easily be expected in the forthcoming decades. It is possible to come across people who are willing to accept surveillance and loss of privacy and freedom of movement in order to receive any guarantee of protection from multiple threats of the modern world. Nevertheless, there is simultaneously a large number of people who, while striving to jealously protect their personal freedom, are prepared to renounce the benefits of new technologies in order to prevent the potential threat to their freedom and privacy. The last cleavage that needs to be mentioned is ecological cleavage. It affects several issues. Among them it is important to point out the issue of electricity generation and sustainable resource management.
On the one hand there will be advocates of rapid and radical transfer to new, environmentally-friendly technologies, while on the other hand there will be those who will be emphasising the costs arising from such rapid changes that will be incurred both by employers and employees. In addition, there is the issue of food production. It can easily be imagined that ethical and economic debate between vegetarians and vegans on the one hand and omnivores rooted in the European culinary tradition on the other hand will result in dynamics of political battle concerning the use of soil and water, animal rights, right to free decision-making and freedom of food choice, as well as sustainability of the achieved level of consumerism and production of wealth. Moreover, there is the issue of climate change and climate change-induced migrations.
Migration pressures and the global North and South conflict will not be triggered only by wars, insecurity of the South and aging population in the North, whose welfare state still magnetically attracts millions, but also by different climate realities. In fact, should climate trends that we are currently witnessing continue, substantial proportions of equatorial and subtropical belt will no longer be suitable for human life and sustainable agriculture. Consequently, while striving to find salvation from drought and heat, the inhabitants of these regions will have to find their place under the winter sun of Western Europe.
In his crucial work entitled Guns, Germs and Steel, the American geographer, biologist and anthropologist Jared Diamond showed that primarily geographical and climatic conditions provided the key prerequisites for technological and economic development in the West, which in turn provided long-term comparative advantages that guarantee its centuries-long predominance from both the political and military aspect at the global level. Nevertheless, in some other parts of the world it also highlighted the historical examples of civilisations that collapsed as a result of reckless management of natural resources and destruction of the environment in which they originated. In fifty years’ time, the world will certainly be an exciting, yet most probably a slightly terrifying place. Besides comparisons, extrapolations and predictions, based on similar considerations, warnings and through diverting attention, we can attempt to change ourselves for the best and hence make the future world a more comfortable and a safer place to live, both for our children and grandchildren.