on 14 May 2013
Let me present three striking theses of Heilbroner and reconsider them from a contemporary perspective:
Thesis One: There are grave doubts whether there is "hope for man?" (p. 8), because of overburdening the planet, destruction of the biosphere, and dangers of "obliterative war" (p. 57). This question seems all the more justified in 2013, because of the potentials of biological weapons produced in "kitchen laboratories", a lot of fanaticism, increasing signs of approaching scarcities of some critical resources, devastating climate changes, and additional developments mentioned below.
2. To assure a long-term future for humanity revolutionary transformations are essential, such as reducing consumerism, decreasing disparities by large scale transfer of resources from rich to poor countries, and controlling dangerous weapons. I agree that radical transformations are essential, though some of the directions proposed in the book are not compelling, with others being more critical.
3. Democratic regimes and capitalist markets will be unable to bring about essential transformations, neither various models of socialism. Instead "an authoritarian, or possibly ...a revolutionary regime" of nation states is essential (p. 24), up to an order "that blends a `religious' orientation with a `military' discipline" (pp. 176-7), with "centralization of power as the only means by which our threatened and dangerous civilization will make way for its successor" (p. 179).
This is the most striking and also shocking thesis of the book. The author expresses dismay at having reached such a conclusion, but insists on it. I admire him for doing so and agree with him in principle. But the subject is dense with dangers and needs careful consideration, taking into account additional emerging fateful issues posed by "human enhancement", escalating kill-capacities, highly "intelligent" robots, 3D printing, nano-technologies, possible synthesizing of multicellular life, space exploration, and more. All these aggravate by orders of magnitude the question "is there hope of humanity?" adding the even more vexing question "and what about evolving into a post-homo-sapiens species?"
Therefore, for instance, constraining parts of science and technology and the diffusion and uses of their products, strictly enforced worldwide by a strong global regime, is likely to become essential.
This book is superior to many of the current publication on global issues. Minor prediction errors, such as on energy scarcities (e.g., pp.69 ff.), do not weaken the main messages of the book. It deserves pondering by all worried about the future of humanity.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem