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The Mises Review

Edited and written by David Gordon, senior fellow of the Mises Institute and author of four books and thousands of essays.


Creating A New Civilization: The Politics Of The Third Wave

Alvin Toffler and Heidi Toffler

2 1995
Volume 1, Number 2


Gingrich's Gurus

Summer 1995

CREATING A NEW CIVILIZATION: THE POLITICS OF THE THIRD WAVE
Alvin and Heidi Toffler
Foreword by Newt Gingrich
Turner Publishing, 1995, 112 pp.

Newt Gingrich claims that "Alvin and Heidi Toffler have given us the key to viewing current disarray within the positive framwork of a dynamic, exciting future" (p. 14). The book, he thinks, "is an effort to empower citizenslike yourself to truly take the leap and begin to invent a Third Wave civilization" (p. 17).

Though of course reluctant to disagree with so august a personage as the Speaker of the House, I cannot share his high opinion of this book. The Tofflers, like Karl Marx, think that technology determines history. But Marx got the details wrong. The Tofflers claim that industrial development does not inevitably pave the way to socialism, as he thought; instead, the growth of computers and other types of "open knowledge" will lead to a new type of society. "Third Wave" thinking has now superseded Second Wave industrialism, on which both old-fashioned capitalism and socialism are based. (First Wave or agricultural civilization is even more outmoded.)

In predicting the increased importance of computers, the Tofflers occupy the firm ground of those seers who prognosticate by projecting the immediate past into the future. But they nowhere show that growth in information has the revolutionary effects on society that they postulate. Why must changes in technology alter the structure of the family, make nationalism obsolete, and require us to abandon traditional morality?

They condemn those who "appeal to nostalgia in their rhetoric about culture and values, as though one could return to the values and morality of the 1950s—a time before universal television, before the birth-control pill, before commercial jet aviation, satellites and home computers—without also returning to the mass industrial society of the Second Wave" (p. 77). How do satellites change morality? The all-determining influence of technology operates in the Tofflers' system as an unquestioned axiom.

If their predictions are banal, and their social theory unfounded and simplistic, their recommendations for political change are more than a little sinister. Although constantly calling for decentralization, they also complain that we are "politically primitive and undeveloped" at the "transnational level." Decisions must be transferred "up" from the nation-state (p. 100). Translating the Tofflers' Third Wave argot into English, this is a call for global government. Not surprisingly, those who oppose Nafta are prisoners of the outmoded Second Wave.

Although our authors say some commendably harsh things about socialism, they by no means advocate the free market. Massive job retraining and new forms of collective bargaining are the order of the day: to think otherwise is of course to be enmeshed in Second Wave Thought (p. 53).

But what exactly the anticipatory democracy that they, and Newt Gingrich, see in store for us consists of, they mostly leave vague. To demand specifics is no doubt to fall victim to the discredited analytic approach, pioneered by Descartes (p. 60). These Third Wave thinkers, who take a "systemic or integrative view," have transcended old-fashioned logic.

Creating a New Civilization contains many more gems. We learn, e.g., that St. Augustine thought that those who could add or subtract had made a covenant with the Devil (p. 35). But enough. Readers will have no difficulty in gauging the quality of the Tofflers' intelligence, or the intelligence of those who recommend them. This is not a book, but a symptom.


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