Global Crisis/Innovation Blog

Parag Khanna Knows How to Run the World: From Medieval Disorder to a New Renaissance

By Shlomo Maital



Parag Khanna is Director of the Global Governance Initiative at the New America Foundation, and is an Indian-American and author of best-selling books.  His latest book is:  How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next RenaissanceParag’s main argument?  The world today is in disorder, much as it was in medieval times, with no country or city-state able to dominate or exert global control.   This book extends Khanna’s first book, The Second World, which was about  the disorder stemming from a multi-polar no-superpower world.  In this book, according to Publisher’s Weekly, Khanna claims “the “American Century” is over. …we are in for a fractured, fragmented, multi-polar  world, a new Middle Ages of decentralized power where “corporations, powerful families, humanitarians, religious radicals, universities, and mercenaries are all part of the diplomatic landscape.”   Here is an excerpt of Khanna’s own words, from an interview with Washington Notes blog

  “Instead of a world of just great and lesser powers, the emerging landscape looks a lot like the Middle Ages of a millennium ago. That was the last time in history when, like today, both East and West were powerful at the time same time. Song dynasty China invented paper money (of which they have plenty today!), the south Indian Chola empire ruled the seas from East Africa to Indonesia, the Arab-Islamic community was at its peak as the Abbasid caliphate stretched from Andalusia in modern day Spain to Central Asia, while the Holy Roman Empire marked an uncertain and unstable period in Europe.  The aftermath of the Crusades was a crucial turning point in history when Europeans began to focus on commerce to acquire commodities and spices, prompting voyages of discovery that created the first global trading system. Banking houses in Europe rose to finance long-distance naval expeditions, which were aided by the invention of the compass. Travelers such as Italian Marco Polo and the Moroccan Ibn Batutta covered tens of thousands of miles by land and sea, deepening understanding between East and West. Globalization was thus taking place on economic, strategic, and cultural levels just as it is again today. It’s also interesting that the participants in globalization were cities, corporations, churches, guilds, mercenaries, universities and humanitarians—very much like today.    America’s footprint in the world is much greater than that of its government alone.  American companies spread financing, technology and management know-how around the globe, American universities have set up campuses across the Middle East and Asia to educate the next generation of leaders, and American citizens and charities are the most generous in the world. So America needs to stay open and engaged in the ways that have made it the most respected leader in decades past. Where America builds relations among citizens and not just governments, such as with Europe, Japan and India, alliances are much more long-lasting and stable.”

    How will this new Renaissance occur?  The last Renaissance occurred when enlightened leaders liberally funded artistic creativity.  This Renaissance will occur when the real powers in today’s world, global corporations, become aware of their obligation to the wellbeing of the world, the planet, the environment, not solely their own stockholders, and act together to make the lives of ordinary people, and future generations, significantly better.