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New Left Review I/193, May-June 1992

Benedict Anderson

The New World Disorder

It is quite possible that historians of the 2050s, looking back into our now closing century, will pick out, as one deep tectonic movement stretching across more than two centuries, the disintegration of the great polyethnic, polyglot, and often polyreligious monarchical empires built up so painfully in mediaeval and early modern times. [*] This text is a revised and expanded version of a talk recorded by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Ithaca, ny on 5 December 1991. In most cases the disintegration was accompanied by great violence, and was often followed by decades of civil and interstate wars. In the 1770s the first nation-state was born in North America out of armed resistance to imperial Britain, but it was inwardly so divided that it subsequently endured the bloodiest civil war of the nineteenth century. Out of the prolonged collapse of the Spanish Empire between 1810 and 1830 came the brutal despotisms, rebellions and civil strife that have plagued Latin America until our own time. As a result of the Great War of 1914–1918 the Hohenzollern, Habsburg, Romanov and Ottoman empires blew up, leaving in their wake a congeries of small, weak, and generally unstable nation-states in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Near East.

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