Notes on the current moment, written quickly

A Neomedieval World

One of RAND’s top political scientists argues that we have entered a neomedieval era.

Timothy Heath, a senior international defense researcher with the think tank, says that the signs we have entered this new era have been with us for at least 20 years: declining influence of nation-states, with power concentrated among the elite; stagnant economic growth, leading to massive income inequality; and growing threats outside of great nation competition from disasters, pandemics, etc.

While this means a more chaotic world political economy, it also means that “both the United States and China will be under pressure to avoid unnecessary escalation.” They might have a skirmish over, say, Taiwan, but it won’t lead to the kind of cataclysmic war that we witnessed in the last century.

The concept of neomedievalism is not new. In the late 1990s, some political theorists began to entertain the idea that globalization would weaken the authority of nation-states and give birth to quasi-governmental institutions and tribalism.

What is new is that RAND is proposing that U.S. policymakers adopt a new strategic outlook:

Decisionmakers need to adopt a more neomedieval mindset. They cannot assume the public will get behind a war effort that requires real and sustained sacrifice. Other threats—a pandemic, climate change, political upheaval—will always vie for attention and resources. With nations everywhere facing the same challenges, partners and allies will also be stretched thin.