"Things fall apart," wrote the poet William Butler Yeats in The Second Coming, "the center cannot hold."
We live in a frightening age of anarchy as large swaths of the entire world seem to be falling apart. The center cannot hold in our own country where moderation has become rare. The extremes of left and right have our government tied up in knots unable to respond pressing national needs. Partisanship reigns supreme.
In the Islamic world extremists are waging war against the modern age and even more with each other. A growing number of governments of Islamic nations -- governments in name only -- are unable to control events in their own domains. I recently listened to The New Yorker writer Robin Wright offer a sobering assessment of the implications of the effort of ISIS to wrest leadership of Islamic fundamentalism from the Taliban. She said this augurs a sectarian war among the various factions of Islam that threatens the integrity of nation states in the region. The breakdown of order in the Mideast is epidemic. In Gaza, Hamas places rocket launchers in civilian areas to invite Israeli strikes, sacrificing their own people to score points in world opinion. Everywhere terrorists thrive on bloodshed and no one can curb their excesses.
The same disturbing trend is evident among the former states of the once proud Soviet Union. The separatists of Ukraine have become a law unto themselves, unresponsive even to Russia to which they claim allegiance. They exist in a vacuum. There is apparently no power sufficient to impose limits on their random acts of violence.
In Latin America, many governments are governments in name only as the streets and countryside are ruled by criminal gangs making life unlivable for ordinary citizens. Even Mexico struggles to restrain violent drug cartels fueled by our demand for illegal drugs and armed with advanced weaponry made possible by our irrationally permissive gun laws.
In Africa too many nations are unable to rein in outlaw gangs that thrive on terror and violence. The government of Nigeria is powerless to retrieve those kidnapped young women. Somalia cannot curb piracy along its coasts. Even in South Africa random crime is epidemic. As columnist Thomas Friedman recently noted, "It's not easy being a country anymore."
We condemn repressive governments such as China and Egypt but at least they impose order. That has always been the first order of business for any government. There is one thing in this world worse than bad government -- as Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld learned the hard way in Iraq -- and that is no government. Where anarchy reigns, human civilization itself is in peril.
The catastrophe of 9/11 made clear that we are not immune to the forces of anarchy. Americans who think it a great game to foster dissension and government gridlock in our own country would do well to take a look at what happens when government cannot perform its most basic functions. They will not have to look far.
Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements.