The End Of The Cold War

One of the most notable events of the last century was the end of the Cold War, which quietly and rather passively removed the “Communist threat,” and fears of World War Three.

Thus, when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, the old concerns unexpectedly faded, but these concerns brought about a different disquiet of the post-Cold war world, in which the Soviet Union fragmented into various smaller political units, each vying not only for complete independence, but also attempts at garnering economic power.

In effect, the relative stability of the Cold War, in which there was a lot of posturing, but never really a great threat of all-out war, gave way to the instability of the post-Cold War world, with various factions and groups vying for power and importance. This transformation may be analyzed through the lens of realism, both in its defensive and state-centered or hegemonic expressions.

The basic tenet of defensive realism suggests that in the face of insecurity or threat leaders will invariably pursue aggressive military and political policies, in order to ensure security.

And such was the era of the Cold War, in which there was theoretically the threat (or the perceived threat) to the Free World. These aggressive policies resulted in a balance, where both the USA and the USSR sought to gain an equilibrium whereby neither side would have the upper hand.

This resulted in a harmony of sorts, especially given the fact that the world was generally divided into two spheres of influence – Communist and non-Communist, or Free, and the various states of the world aligned themselves with either the one or the other.

Thus, the Cold War era was one in which defensive realism held sway. The crisis points during this time came two times. One in 1979, when the Iranian Revolution saw the overthrow of the Shah (who was perceived as being sympathetic to the US), and the ensuing hostage crisis, which lasted some 444 days.

The second event was the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, which the US saw as a blatant threat to its security. Both these events had crucial impact on the two powers involved.

For the US, it led to a decline in its image abroad, and for the first time, it began to be perceived as being weak and ineffectual.

While for the Soviet Union, the Afghan campaign would prove not only to be a veritable quagmire, but also would contribute to its eventual fall and the disintegration of its empire.

Given this external threat, defensive realism allows for the government to mobilize massive economic, military, and personnel resources. This certainly defined the Reagan administration, which was nationally popular, because of these aggressive policies.

And the result was that the US effectively out-spent the USSR, which had no hope of staying abreast. And when the US felt it had the upper hand, it felt it could relax its aggressive stance, and implement a more conciliatory policy towards the USSR, which saw the era of Gorbochev and Perestroika.

This relaxation is also part and parcel of defensive realism. Thus, defensive realism policies effectively saw the end of the Cold War.

However, this eventual breakup of the Soviet empire, led to severe fragmentation, in which the various ethnic states, formally under Soviet control, began to break away, in an uncontrollable free-fall.

Thus, the end of the Soviet Union saw the beginning of a time of extreme instability, in which petty states suddenly became crucial players on the world stage, especially several of the Central Asian states housed deadly nuclear arsenals, which were feared to fall into the wrong hands. The result of this breakup was not only fragmentation, but also the assertion of age-old rivalries, hatreds, and ethnic divisions.

This was savagely made clear in the former Yugoslavia, where the term “ethnic cleansing” was introduced. Thus, in effect, the post-Cold War era was one in which hegemonic realism played itself out, and continues to do so. As well, states which seek to maximize their influence internationally, especially when they perceive that they have the upper hand, and can do so without too much risk.

This is certainly the case in the current post-Cold War era in which we see various states advancing their own agendas, because they feel they can “get away with it.” Thus, for example, we have Iran seeking to acquire a nuclear arsenal; we have Chechnya seeking to be free of Russia, and many other factions and groups.

Further, weaker states tend to cooperate with stronger ones, in order to further their own agendas. This form of cooperation is especially pertinent in the post-Cold War era because fragmentation has meant not only petty states, but also aggressive groups that fight to impose their will and ideology on others.

In fact, the post-Cold War era is one of terrorism, where terrorists group cooperate with client or friendly states in order to acquire not only shelter, but also legitimacy. Thus, there are Islamic groups that are intimately allied with nation states such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia.

This alliance offers protection to the individual groups, and provides nation-states with access to either money, or influence, or both. Thus, the post-Cold War era is a highly unstable one, in that most of the world cannot sustain the intense fragmentation that took place when the Soviet Union suddenly disappeared.

Further, the post-Cold War period is one in which religion has suddenly become a potent force to rally and motivate people to undertake acts of extreme daring and ferocity.

This was never the case during the Cold War period, in which it was imagined that religion was a tamed, and toothless force that would only serve to better the lot of humankind.

However, with the oncoming of hegemonic realism, and the effective cooperation between individual groups and nation-states, religion is the glue that gives meaning not only the actions of these groups, but also helps to unite disparate nations and people into a larger unit.

Thus, perhaps we have come circle, and ideology is again exerting its force in shaping the minds and hearts of people. Previously, it was a political ideology – the choice between capitalism and Communism.

Now it is a choice between religion and capitalism, for many in this world. The future of international relations is once again confrontational, and will continue to be so, until the religious force spends itself.

Therefore, the Cold War era was defined by defensive realism, and the result was a balance of power. In the post-Cold War era, it is hegemonic realism that holds sway, with its stress on convenient, quick alliances, and the advancement of ideology, whenever the conditions are right, and opportunity permits.


The photo shows, “The Leaflet,” by Shaban Hysa, painted in 1976.

The Beginnings Of Philosophy

It was in the town of Miletus, on the shores of the Aegean Sea, that an Ionian Greek named Thales (ca. 640-546 BC) first recorded his thoughts about the origin and nature of the universe. In so doing he became the first western philosopher.

No one really knows why philosophy began in ancient Greece, but it is interesting to note that it began not on mainland Greece but on the edges of the Greek world, where there was no doubt much mingling of different cultures and ideas.

What makes Thales unique is the fact that he sought to understand the world as a whole. He wanted to find a single basic substance or element from which everything is made.

Thales speculated that this single substance was water, and he said that everything (including the gods) was made from it. This way of thinking certainly has modern parallels since early in the twentieth century, scientists believed that everything originated from hydrogen, which when combined with oxygen forms water.

Thales no doubt noticed that although water normally exists in a liquid state, it can also exist as a solid and as a gas. This may have given him the idea that its liquid form is the basic ingredient from which everything else is made. He also thought that the earth itself floated in water.

Another thinker, also from Miletus, who lived during the same time as Thales, was Anaximander (ca. 611-547 BC), and he thought that the primary substance is a boundless, indefinite “Something,” taking as many different forms as the things we see. He believed that the earth was a cylinder, with a flat top and bottom, upon which people lived. This is the earliest theory that we possess which states that there is no true up and down.

Another thinker from Miletus, Anaximenes (ca. 590-525 BC) also wanted to know the basic element from which everything else is made. He said that this basic ingredient was air, which takes solid or liquid form when condensed, and gaseous form when rarified.

About the time of Anaximenes, just north of Miletus, in the city of Ephesus, another thinker named Heraclitus (ca. 540-470 BC) was saying that at the heart of all things there burns an eternal, all-consuming fire. He said that it was from this fire that everything else was created and it was to this fire that everything eventually returned. Heraclitus sometimes identified fire with “Logos,” or Universal Reason, as the law of change.

However, it was the speed of movement of physical fire that gave Heraclitus the bridge that he needed to the second part of his philosophy, which was that everything is in a state of perpetual flux. In his famous quotation, he stated that a person could not step into the same river twice, since it is not the same water both times.

The third part of Heraclitus’s philosophy was his belief that the change which is at the heart of things is always expressing itself in a struggle between opposites which, when they do come together, produce types of unity, and then dissolve again. This is very much like Hegel’s (1770-1831) much later theory of thesis + antithesis = synthesis.

The early theories of the universe are in a sense scientific as well as philosophic because they are hypotheses about the natural world. But these early thinkers had little or no conception of inductive methods of experiment and verification as they are used today.

Their search for a single substance probably sprang from a desire to find an underlying unity in life itself, which is one of the deepest desires of the human spirit. Moreover, the concepts in terms of which they thought were not the same as ours, of course.

Part of what makes the thought of any early epoch so very hard to understand is the subtle change that occurs in the meanings of concepts throughout the centuries.

However, these early Milesians and Ephesians prepared the ground upon which later great philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle and Plato would securely plant their own ideas, which would then germinate and grow into the vast tree that philosophy is today.


The photo shows, “On The Terrace,” by Iakovos Rizos, painted in 1897.

One For All

When the rich man gazes down at the poor, does he realize he is one of the vulnerable ones? Every social hierarchy rests its security on the people that it rules. The stronger the foundation, the greater the security of that hierarchy. So, if you’re going to rule over the poor, at least do it well.

I have no optimistic dreams of a socialist utopia. I’m sure that cynicism is what such dreams are made of. I only ask that we have smarter and more coordinated masters. Ones that realize that all masters are chained to those beneath them.

For example, take health care. Even the Nazis made sure that the Jews weren’t sick in the camps, and it’s not because they loved the Jews – rather, they understood a basic biological fact that sickness spreads. If only we could be better than the Nazis.

all masters are chained to those beneath them

Yet, we struggle to understand why we should provide our own people health care, let alone why we should stop Ebola in Africa. Even if you see the poor as a bunch of rats and parasites, it’s important to remember where the plague came from.

Does it take a genius to know that we should educate our own people? We can’t even think for ourselves anymore. We import the educated, because we aren’t smart enough to work for ourselves.

All the while, we bicker over whether it’s in our interests to pay poor people to educate themselves. We supposedly live in a democracy, and yet we are economically and politically bound to these idiots!

We know that the air is unfit to breathe and that the food is unfit to eat, but we can’t seem to realize this isn’t just a poor man’s problem. We fail to realize that the same companies that feed garbage to the poor are the same ones that lie to us about our “organic” foods.

We import the educated, because we aren’t smart enough to work for ourselves

The rich and the poor have one common struggle, but the difference is the elites are the only ones who can actually do anything about it.

But of course, nobody cares.

The left is too wrapped up with the tribalism of identity politics. Ironically, the one thing that is supposed to unite the left is socialism, but a socialist can’t even make it through the primaries without getting stiff-armed out of the race.

Sooner or later you realize there is no left wing, Clinton and Obama were with Wall Street, not Main Street.

What about the right? Another meaningless term. The right-wing of liberalism was born of the desire to save the people from themselves. Now, these Neo-cons run around preaching the gospel of supply-side Jesus and have completely forsaken the poor, as well as themselves.

The left is too wrapped up with the tribalism of identity politics

The rich think that they are immune from the ills of their employees. Like young adolescents, these masters of the world roam the earth believing in nothing but their own invincibility.

No one is horrified when the poor are violated, not even the poor. It’s practically expected. When they suffer from gang violence, cancer, malnutrition, stupidity, rape, death on the battlefield, etc. no one is really shocked. Anyone who takes a walk through the South Side of Chicago, and sees the barred fortification of every window, knows that the poor expect it.

No, it’s the rich that never see it coming. The troubles of this world swoop in like some terrible bird, a grisly visitor who flies away with a piece of their life. As they gaze down from the tower of their social hierarchy into the abysmal suffering below, they begin to create a false dichotomy between themselves and the less fortunate.

But then they wake up with some illness, cancer, or kid with autism, and their world begins to shatter. Suddenly, they realize that they breathe the same carcinogenic air as those below them.

They begin to realize that the same laws that freed up companies to put poison in food and children’s toys – have poisoned them as well.

Every social hierarchy rests its security on the people that it rules

As the elite attempt to build their governments and companies on the minds of imbeciles, they start to realize that their national security and wealth is under threat. Their world begins to shrink, and they begin to understand that they are the same as those below them.

But do they know this can’t go on forever? The poor will get the worst of it, and the weak will suffer what they must.

But how long will it be before the elites save each other from themselves? And if gold rust, what shall iron do?

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.

Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. (James 5:1-8).


(The photo shows a painting by Sergey Korovin, “In the World,” painted in 1893).