Which is happy news relative to where things stood in Europe as the Spanish Civil War was winding down. But if Syria is (probably) not a harbinger of a full-scale Third World War, it is a harbinger of a different set of evils — institutional collapse, permanent disorder, and the inability of global institutions to master the problems that they supposedly exist to solve.

If the war in Spain previewed an era of totalitarian aggrandizement, the war in Syria has exposed the essential hollowness of so-called nation-states, the ease with which ethnic and religious furies can take over when they crack…

If the war in Spain ushered in a decade of vast militaries on the march, the war in Syria is giving us civilians on the march — the movement of refugees as a geopolitical crisis.

If the war in Spain demonstrated that Hitler and Stalin were happy to step in when a liberal center failed to hold, the war in Syria demonstrates that the Pax Americana is cracking and no power or alliance is remotely prepared to take its place.