In the immediate aftermath of World War II, after tens of millions had been killed and with much of Europe in ruins, some visionary European leaders understood the necessity of weaving the nations of Europe into a more whole order enabling its nations able to live together in peace, and to work together for their common good.
It is this project of creating such a more whole order -- among nations that for centuries had been struggling against each other for power -- to which last week's "Brexit" vote has dealt a serious blow.
That much is widely recognized.
It was possible for the nations of Europe to act on the need for a more ordered system after those two terrible world wars. But waiting for after another catastrophic war to demonstrate -- on the global scale -- the necessity of a better order that can keep the peace among the world's nations may well not work. Not in the world we have now, containing as it does a handful of major nuclear-armed powers among whom there is always the possibility for major-power confrontation to escalate into nuclear war.
Whereas, enough of European civilization survived WW II to rebuild and reorder their part of the world (with American help), it cannot be assumed that enough would remain in the aftermath of an all-out nuclear war to enable humankind to start constructing a more whole global order.
And how can we deny that such a possibility is very real, and perhaps -- unless we work toward the necessary destination, even likely?
We already had one crisis, during the cold war, that came alarmingly close to being such a planetary cataclysm: the Cuban Missile Crisis. We were fortunate, in that crisis, that the two nuclear superpowers succeeded in navigating to a peaceful resolution. But it could have gone otherwise.
Should we not imagine that, in the next century or two, other crises of such gravity would arise? And is it not only reasonable to imagine that, in such a sequence of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations, at some point our luck would run out?
What is the life-expectancy of someone who plays Russian roulette on a regular basis?
Even in today's world, events spinning out of control into nuclear war cannot be ruled out. At this moment, two areas of military tensions between major nuclear powers roil the international scene: 1) in the region of the Ukraine, between Putin's Russia and the United States (and the West), where the Russians have already seized Crimea by force and 2) in the South China Sea, between the United States and China, over the Chinese assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea where other, smaller nations also have legitimate claims.
And when one adds to that the possibility that soon the president and commander-in-chief empowered to deal with such tensions might be Donald Trump, the reality that there is no guarantee our civilization can survive its current disordered state indefinitely becomes still clearer.
(The possibility of war is not the only powerful and urgent reason it is necessary to create a more whole global order. Another is revealed by the growing crisis over climate change. In a better ordered civilization, perhaps the world would have been able to respond a quarter century ago -- at the time of the international conference in Rio over climate change -- instead of continuing to lose precious ground while various major sovereign powers -- and major consumers of fossil fuels -- dithered. In the larger picture, the long-term viability of human civilization depends upon humankind's ordering its activities to live in harmony with the only planet we've got.)
What this means is that if future generations are to have a decent future -- or perhaps any future at all -- human civilization as a whole will have to meet something of the same challenge as Europe first began to meet nearly 70 years ago.