Bridges back to Babylon

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Interview with Liam Aran Barnes

In the past it was cities – not nation states – that wielded the heftiest geopolitical clout. And international relations expert Parag Khanna predicts that it is urban centres that will shape the new world order.

Recall some of the greatest empires to have ruled and conquered throughout history: Babylonian, Roman, Carthaginian, Angkor, and so on. Now, consider what they all have in common: each one carries the name of the eponymous cities that gave birth to them. And that is no coincidence.

For 8,500 years, beginning with Jericho in about 7,000 BC, cities dominated the economic, cultural, and political global landscape. It was only during the middle ages that cities — in Europe, at least — were gradually subsumed by the emergence of the modern nation states we see today. Parag Khanna believes, however, that after a 500-year hiatus the age of citiesis returning, albeit without the empirical undertones, and will dictate and reshape the narrative of the future like never before. “The history of diplomacy is not the history between sovereign governments, but rather the diplomacy between cities,” he says. “The geopolitical approach to cities goes way back in time and shows that they have always been more powerful.”


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