EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the October 10, 2005, issue of National Review.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but by 2050 China will be a colossus bestriding the world like a, er, colossus, and America will be on the skids, reduced to a race of wheezing 400-pound lardbutts in faded Disney merchandise confined to their Barcaloungers. And playing Greece to Beijing’s Rome will be the European Union, run by the 120-year-old Jacques Chirac. And, if you make any jokes about Chirac or his Oriental mistress, you’ll be punished by one of your household’s many Shanghai-manufactured Elmo and Pooh toys exported to the U.S. by the People’s Republic in the early years of the century as a vast army of sleepers waiting to be activated and serve as the enforcers of the new Middle Kingdom.
Well, it might happen. And it might not. We’re not very good at projecting half-a-century out. In fact, we’re not very good at projecting half-a-decade out. There weren’t a lot of people in 1913 predicting that by 1918 the Russian, German, Austrian, and Turkish empires would all be gone. And there weren’t many experts in 1987 predicting that by 1992 the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, and the Soviet Union would all have collapsed.
So it would seem to me more likely that something sudden and convulsive will have rearranged the geopolitical order long before China completes its stately rise to global hegemon. Will the something sudden convulse China? Beats me. We might be in for a nuclear catastrophe in the Indian subcontinent or complete societal breakdown in AIDS-riddled southern Africa…