Derek Sivers
Dawn of Eurasia - by Bruno Maçães

Dawn of Eurasia - by Bruno Maçães

ISBN: 0300235933
Date read: 2024-04-23
How strongly I recommend it: 8/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Portuguese political thinker travels the border between Europe and Asia with the view that this border is moot. Great cultural insights and observations. I love this stuff.

my notes

Travel can help ground analysis in the real world.
Thoughts without travels are empty.
Travels without concepts are blind.
Reflection is indispensable to guide us through the many different ways of seeing the world.

In just a decade or two, three of the five largest economies in the world will be in Asia: China, Japan and India.
The only uncertain point about this metric is which country will occupy the fifth position.
My own guess is Indonesia.

In the past Asia may have looked like an oasis of peace and tolerance.
Today it is home to failed states with nuclear weapons, open struggles for military supremacy, historical grievances, and some of the most intractable territorial disputes in the world.

The fact that the Qing and the Mughals and the Habsburgs had very different views about religion, about commerce, about hierarchy, about markets was not very significant, because they lived their own lives in relative isolation.
What is different about our time is that globalization forces us to live all jumbled together and yet we all have very different visions.

This century will be Eurasian: where very different visions of political order are intermixed and forced to live together, and no one will be dominant.
This is how China increasingly sees the world order.
China is already living in the Eurasian age, as is Russia.

Eurasia is the largest landmass on earth, the place where most of the great civilizations of human history were developed.
One of the great ironies of the twentieth century is that the most powerful country on earth (USA) was for the first time located outside its largest landmass.

Be able to look at the world from two or more incompatible perspectives at the same time.

The Cold War can be understood as a conflict between Europe and Asia, subtly covered up by the ideologies of capitalism and communism.

The important and still undecided international questions of the last ten years all point to the borderlands dividing Europe and Asia and are a direct result of flows – of people, goods, energy and knowledge – made possible by the gradual decline or collapse of the barriers keeping the two continents apart.

Eurasian borderlands cities like Istanbul, Baku or Kyiv function as transaction nodes.
Early exemplars of the new Eurasian world: Hong Kong and Singapore.
Hong Kong was first Eurasian; with one foot in Asia and the other in Europe.
Simultaneously in both a command economy, and a liberal enclave.

Singapore: Letting the statue of Stamford Raffles stay was a sign of public acceptance of the British legacy.
Investors in Europe and America took notice.

The past is such a jumbled assemblage of notions and suggestions that whatever ideas emerge triumphant can and will find their origins further back.

The division between Europe and Asia is not a division in space but a division in time.
The idea of Asia is European, agglomerating extraordinarily different cultures and civilizations whose only common trait would seem to be their collective exclusion from Europe.
What sense does it make to lump together Japan and Arabia?
Each of these regions has stronger historical and cultural links with Europe than they do with each other.

Travel is meant to create new worlds of experience and transform us beyond what even imagination can do or accomplish.
He wanted to place himself in circumstances where, in order to understand, he would have to change the very categories by which such understanding is exercised.
Europe has nothing more to give me. Its life is too familiar to force me to new developments.
I wish to go to latitudes where my life must become quite different to make existence possible, where understanding necessitates a radical renewal of one’s means of comprehension, latitudes where I will be forced to forget that which up to now I knew and was as much as possible.

Modern society emerges when what was previously believed to be a divinely ordained and meaningful natural order comes to be seen as open to endless manipulation and transformation.
Scientific progress depends on rejecting established authority.

Modern European societies perfected a series of structures for modern living.
From individual rights to the money economy or the neutral state refusing to promote one way of life among others, they were meant to create a flexible and expanding medium for experimentation.

Greek thought became an integral element in the Middle Eastern tradition, while a Middle Eastern religion – Christianity – occupied the central place in European life.

To become modern is no longer equivalent to becoming Western.

The distinction between hard and soft power: hard power does not depend on the willingness of the other side to play along.

Since European standards are almost always the strictest, standardization will mean following EU rules and regulations.
Corporations who adhere will be at a disadvantage in their domestic markets compared with companies not operating in the European Union and thus not subject to its standards, so they have an incentive to lobby their governments to adopt these same standards and create a level playing field.
(Example: All airlines have to buy emission permits for flights at European airports.)

The country of Transnistria is not recognized by anyone, but it functions with full autonomy.
Romance, East Slavic and Turkic nations have intermixed in Transnistria.
“This is Transnistria. Do not believe anything anyone says.”

Power is an invention. The best option is to play our part with sufficient irony and genuine amusement.

The borderlands between Europe and Russia remain in the balance between two concepts of political order.
To remain genuinely in the balance is to fail to incorporate any of those concepts and thus to remain politically amorphous.

Conflict in our time starts from the fact of deep integration.
The different sides are so deeply connected that everyone is present inside the enemy camp, and will try to weaken his forces from within.
The image of conflict is no longer that of battling warriors but of species competing for the same ecosystem, struggling forces which are at the same time part of a single system.
It’s far more rewarding to manipulate and weaken the others, to get them to act in certain ways, than to confront them openly in more destructive forms of conflict.
Non-military means have actually exceeded the power of weapons in their effectiveness.

Russia and China had one underlying goal: to show Europeans that their decades-old integration project was one among many, benefitting from no special aspirations to universality.
This goal succeeded.

In Moscow they will tell you that Russia, not Europe, knows how world politics works.
Europeans live in an imaginary world just of their own, Russians live in the real world.
Europeans are parochial, Russians abide by the more or less universal rules of power politics.

China is actively developing values that can appeal to every human being: some version of development and well-being that can be readily understood and assimilated by every nation on the planet in a way that democracy and human rights cannot.

The European Union turned in recent years from an exporter of stability to an importer of instability, because it did not take the former role seriously enough.

If a problem cannot be solved in the given context, you need to go beyond this context.

The Islamic world is politically anarchic and energy-rich.
It has become a source of destabilizing flows crossing Eurasia in all directions.

As China keeps rising – most Chinese prefer to say ‘recovering’ - it shares responsibilities for managing the global order.
A world governed in common by China and America.

China’s ultimate goal is the dilution of American power in Eurasia.

The countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council - GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE) - now export three and a half times as much to the Japanese, Korean, Indian and Chinese markets as to the EU and the US combined.

Russia will always be too European for Asia and too Asian for Europe, but in Eurasia it can feel at home.

The artificial separation between Europe and Asia cannot hold in a globalized world.

The reason we never thought of Asia and Europe as a single continent is that seamen could not make the voyage around it.
It was easier to circumnavigate the globe than to sail around Eurasia.
The strong natural frontiers of the Sahara and the Himalayas have no equivalent where Asia merges with Europe.

Global warming may transform the Arctic region into a new, vibrant sea route linking Europe and Asia.
The northern sea route is 37 per cent, or 7,400 kilometres, shorter than the southern route via the Suez Canal.
The 2.6-million-square-kilometre area at the centre of the Arctic does not fall under any country’s jurisdiction.
Will there be a capital of the Arctic?
Kirkenes in Norway may be the best candidate for the role, but Murmansk in Russia starts with considerable advantages.

The Suez Canal has traditionally been the sea gate to Europe.
The Strait of Malacca can open or close the route to China and Japan.
For the time being, the Indian ocean is the link.
The Indian Ocean quickly becomes the most important body of water in the world.

India can become the central node as a sea power.
In Oman, for example, the souks of Muscat are peopled with a Hindu community from Rajasthan and Hyderabad.
There are two old Portuguese forts, a reminder of the time when Portugal ruled the waves.
The embroidered caps of the men bear influences from Zanzibar and Baluchistan.
Chinese porcelain is ubiquitous and the bakers are Yemeni and Iranian.
On the beach women dressed in burqas fly their kites just like in Afghanistan.

The goal should not be to look at the whole from the point of view of one part, but to look at each part from the point of view of the whole.
We learn this mental habit from the study of atlases and maps: an external, more detached and more objective perspective.

There is no natural way for the parts of the world system to be organized.
The fact that Lisbon, Amsterdam and London became cornerstones - could as easily have been Cairo, Tabriz or Hangzhou.

Every journey is a spiral.

We all desire to carve out our own paths on earth.
No society wants to think of itself as a copy.
Where differences do not exist, or where they have been lost, they will be invented or created anew.

Azerbaijan and Armenia: Both countries look to Karabakh as the beating heart of their national histories.
Azerbaijan, a place of told and untold horrors, where horror has been sublimated into songs and poems covering the stratum of daily life more fully than anywhere else I know.
All Azerbaijani songs are about two things: love and land.
Read a brief account of its history and you will think of Azerbaijan as the main stage of world history, where every people and every civilization makes a brief appearance, only to disappear just as quickly.
The deep irony of Azerbaijan is that, while it sits at the centre of the Eurasian supercontinent, it is as far away from every centre as one can be.
Always subject to multiple influences coming from the outside, unable to form its own overarching narrative or grand theory of history.

Never try to learn from the past more than the past knew about itself.

The modern Caucasus never truly became a part of Russia, Iran or Turkey, but was deeply influenced by all three.

The Caspian sea works more as a barrier than a bridge.
The Caspian is like a compass where the four cardinal points guide you to the four corners of the Old World.

To know that a civilization or a country is more advanced than another, one needs to know the starting and end points of human cultural progress, but there is no way to know them.

Neft Dashlari Azerbaijan - Neft Daşları - is a full city on the Caspian sea, with hundreds of kilometres of roads built on piles of landfill connecting different oil platforms, partially submerged apartment buildings hosting thousands of oil workers, schools and cinemas, hotels and even a tree-lined park.
Its central settlement was built on a foundation consisting of seven sunken ships.

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, the Caspian was shared by only two states, the USSR and Iran.
A hundred years ago, it was essentially a Russian lake, with northern Persia very much under Russian control.
Today, these two countries look at their three new neighbours – Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan – with thinly disguised contempt as each year they gain a new measure of independence that adds to the region’s geopolitical complexity.

Pipelines are the continuation of war by other means.

Kazakhs have no interest in having a clear geographical identity.
The name Eurasia is present everywhere attractive because it is seen as a combination of different civilizations.
Kazakhs take for granted the fact that they are in the middle and will always be in the middle.

East Asia has infatuation with technology for its own sake, and seems to have its own logic, detached from practical use.
In Europe or the United States, technology is not allowed to grow too proud or too vain.

Western ideas, represented by the symbiosis of British commerce and French liberty, were later taken up by the United States on a continental scale.

How tragic, how absurd the whole enterprise when Lenin, his soul burning with deep rebellion against Western hegemony, casts around and the only ideology he can find is taken second-hand from Marx, a German philosopher.

China now feels so confident in its own capacities that it no longer needs to clothe its historical trajectory in the language of revolt or revolution.
The Chinese dream is the set of possibilities which a strong state can realize.
Ask what the conditions are for the dream of state strength or state capacity to be realized.
Abstracting from every specific content or goal, a fully-fledged political doctrine.

Falsifying attempts to promote Western values as ‘universal’, and applying to all humanity.
A full indictment of Western political ideas, including an independent civil society, economic liberalism and freedom of the press.

For China, the idea of non-interference means the opposite of what it means in the West.
Interference not with the ability of the individual to pursue his or her dreams, but rather the ability of the state to pursue the Chinese dream.

China believes the media should be infused with the spirit of the Party.
Criticism by the media gouges an opening through which to infiltrate ideology.
The status quo is a strong West and a weak China.
Freedom of the media would only benefit whoever is stronger at the present moment.
Official newspapers, and radio and television networks, are the mainstream media trusted by the Party, and they must play what the media control bureaucracy calls the positive and upright main theme, eliminating the negative impact of static and noise, in order to form an organized, directed political will that leaves nothing to chance.

Modern political values are abstract and formal.
Rival states will often use an international system of rules and institutions against each other, while trying to place themselves in a position to shape it according to their own values.

The Chinese town of Khorgas, on the border with Kazakhstan, can’t be found on most maps.
Built from scratch over the past three years, it has quickly become a sprawling grid of broad avenues with the feel of a Californian town.
The Chinese conceive Khorgas as a city linking East and West, and a first taste of their global economic project, the Belt and Road.
Khorgos has signs in five different scripts: Chinese, Cyrillic, Roman, Georgian and Arabic.
China’s youngest city brims with ambition. This is the new Wild West.
Khorgos is very much inspired by the Dubai concept of having a port and an economic zone combined.
Because the economic zone developed, the port started developing, and because the port grew the zone grew.
The interaction is necessary when you want to create something this big practically from nothing.
Khorgas is becoming the border between China and Europe.
A new network of railways, roads, and energy and digital infrastructure linking Europe and China through the shortest and most direct route makes a lot of sense.
This is the world’s longest economic corridor.

In Khorgas, just a few hundred metres from the border post, on the Chinese side, there is a large hall: International Centre for Border Cooperation.
The concept is remarkably simple, but this is actually the first time it has been tried.
You are still in China, but good deals in duty-free goods.
One could see the idea being turned into a transnational city where people can live and work between two countries, having free access to everything they have to offer.
It is a model for what the region may hope to become.

India rejects the Belt and Road project and opposes Chinese plans.
One of its segments goes through the disputed areas of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

China’s plan envisages a deep and broad penetration of almost all sectors of Pakistan’s economy by Chinese companies.

Though the initial focus of the Belt and Road is naturally on China’s immediate periphery, Europe lies as its final goal and main justification.

Today very few products are manufactured in a single country.
A country’s manufacturing imports are actually more likely to be in intermediate goods, that is, commodities, parts and components or semi-finished products that it uses to make its own products.
With the emergence of global value chains, the mercantilist approach that views exports as good and imports as bad starts to look counterproductive and even self-contradictory.
If a country imposes high tariffs and obstacles on the imports of intermediate goods, its exports will be the first to suffer.

Europeans conceive an ideal model in their minds, which they then try to execute, transforming reality to make it resemble the planned model.
Chinese make the most of consequences.
While Europeans see in external circumstances obstacles capable of ruining the best laid-out plans, the Chinese want to profit from them, exploiting them constantly and allowing them to unfold.
China’s policy goals are obtained from the practical situation rather than an idealized picture, so their realization is seen as inevitable.

In China, ideas seem to move fast and to be taken seriously.
That is a welcome contrast to the generalized indifference I have so often met in universities and think-tanks in Europe or the United States.

The Chinese dream is to be accepted, appreciated and admired by every other country in the world.

Yiwu International Trade City, two hours by train from Shanghai – is rather rough at the edges. Traders mostly from Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa.
Some still prefer to deal in hard cash.
There is an Arab district and a Turkish district and an Indian district in Yiwu.
Here you get rich by helping everyone along the chain make money. You need the chain to be there tomorrow.
In India no one can afford to think about tomorrow and so no one thinks about the other people along the chain.

Kazakhstan still has a few million ethnic Russians among its population, but they are concentrated near the Russian border.
Economic influence is fast being transferred to China, made irreversible by the Silk Road.
Were Russia to attempt to reintegrate Kazakhstan, China would not stand on the sidelines. Kazakhstan has become too important.

The notion that Russia and China share similar political and economic ideas is a fallacy resulting from the traditional dualism between Western freedom and Eastern dictatorship, grouping together as instances of the latter everything not fitting with the former.

The border between Russia and China comes closer to our ideal concept of a border than any other contrasting case.
The simple act of crossing an arbitrary line is here equivalent to entering a separate cultural world, with no gradients or transition, and the fact that the border has neither an eventful nor a rich history is surely a result of the fact that both countries have so far lived with their backs turned to it.

The Volga delta region contains an extraordinary mixture of languages, races and religions.
The Russian poet Velimir Khlebnikov once described it as the triangle of Christ, Buddha and Mohammed.

Kalmykia, just west of Astrakhan Russia, is the only place in Europe where Buddhism is practised by a majority of the population.

Russia is built on strong organizational skills.
The infrastructure is crumbling or was never developed, but things work with clockwork efficiency.
Russian trains: they’re excruciatingly slow, but arrive on time.

The past and the future can not be left open to new discoveries. The stakes are too high.
History is seen by the state as a geopolitical weapon.
Whoever controls the past controls the future.
Whoever controls the present controls the past.
Distant historical events have been debated as fiercely as the most recent news.

At a time when royal marriages were the best gauge of a country’s place in the international system, the daughters of Grand Prince Yaroslav – who ruled Kyiv from 1019 to 1054 – became the queens of Norway and Denmark, Hungary and France.
His daughter Anna married Henry I of France, and later wrote back to her father that her new country was ‘a barbarous place where the houses are gloomy, the churches ugly and the customs revolting’.

History flows in circles rather than in a straight line.

An extraordinary essay penned by Dostoevsky in 1881 and suggestively titled ‘What is Asia to Us?’
There he makes the claim that had Russia been able to overcome its own fascination with Europe it could have reached a simple deal with Napoleon: Russia would have the East and he would have the West.
But we gave that all away for the sake becoming at long last European.
And what happened? Nothing; that is, Europeans continued to regard Russia with mistrust or even hatred, unable to participate in European civilization.
While Europe brings out the worst in Russians, he argues, Asia will embolden them: in Asia they are Europeans.
Paradoxically then it is not in Europe but in Asia that Russia can fulfil its European dream:
‘In Europe we were Tatars, while in Asia we are the Europeans.’

Three main schools of Russian cultural thought: Westernizers, Slavophiles and Eurasianists.
Westernizers regard Russia as part of the historical European community, even if delayed.
Slavophiles want to free Russia from Western influence, to a pure world of culture and spirit, opposed to modern rationalism, affirming the uniqueness of Russian culture.
Eurasianists look at Russian history and Russian psychology from the perspective of the East, as the descendant of Genghis Khan.

Pushkin famously called the Mongols ‘Arabs without Aristotle and algebra’.

Armenia’s close ties to Russia have allowed it to survive in the troubled security landscape of the region.
Watching Azerbaijan use its oil wealth to build the kind of military advantage that would leave Armenia in a desperate situation were Russia to step aside.

The Eurasian Economic Union made Russia better able to compete with the European Union and China.

Democracy is not possible in Russia because those in power would never survive being stripped of it.

In Russia, since power needs the latent presence of chaos as a source of legitimacy, chaos itself is legitimized and, ironically, may even be celebrated.
Conflicts increases the power of those states that alone can solve these issues.
Since disorder is created from Moscow, order can only be re-established by Moscow.
The level of conflict and chaos can be directly correlated with the power needed to manage them.
Every fast and unexpected action leaves the public stunned and reinforces the distinction between rulers and ruled - a distinction that European democracies have been trying to do away with.
In Russia those who make the rules would not survive if they were not allowed to break them – and if they did not survive there would be no rules at all.

Turkey and Britain are the two countries I know where class is somehow always present in everyone’s mind.

Turkish Islamic traditions differ very significantly from Arab ones.
In the great Eurasian chessboard no piece is as loose and mobile as Turkey.
It is able to move any number of squares vertically, horizontally or diagonally.
It can move west, east, south or north.
Nothing feels settled and new changes and revolutions are inevitable.

The greatness of European culture was bound to disappear because all its achievements had already been concluded.
People will dance, drink, work and fall in love, while spending time teaching their children to keep on with the same lifestyle.
A post-historical world where everyone is fully satisfied with things as they are and has abandoned the struggle to transform them.

The European Union is not meant to make political decisions.
What it tries to do is develop a system of rules to be applied more or less autonomously to a highly complex political and social reality.
Once in place, these rules can be left to operate without human intervention.
Repetitive and routine application of a system of rules will have replaced human decision.
Rules so perfectly developed they manage to take all circumstances into account.
Automation is the genuine core of the European Union.

Europe’s self-image, at least since the beginning of the modern age, was that of a continent of change and movement, in contrast to the rest of the world – Asia in particular – where everything stood more or less still.
Those positions now seem to have been reversed.
This is one reason for the malaise being felt in different degrees in every EU country.

Countries like Bosnia and Ukraine have to implement reforms so ‘perfect and shiny’ that Brussels will have no other alternative than to accept they are in fact just as European as France or Germany and ‘allow them in’.

Europeans still see their task as that of taking their way of life to the rest of the world, much as its navigators and explorers did more than five hundred years ago.
They are willing to leave their borders if they are convinced that the whole world will eventually be like Europe.
When the influence moves in the opposite direction, they prefer to retreat.
EU expects the world to be a mirror of itself, so welcoming and so congenial that leaving home never feels like leaving at all.