‘Backlash to liberal democracy’ threatens Western order


In the aftermath of World War II, the victorious Western countries forged institutions — NATO, the European Union, and the World Trade Organization — that aimed to keep the peace through collective military might and shared prosperity. They promoted democratic ideals and international trade while investing in the notion that coalitions were the antidote to destructive nationalism, the New York Times reports:

But now the model that has dominated geopolitical affairs for more than 70 years appears increasingly fragile. Its tenets are being challenged by a surge of nationalism and its institutions under assault from some of the very powers that constructed them — not least, the United States under President Trump.

In place of shared approaches to societal problems — from trade disputes, to security, to climate change — national interests have captured primacy. The language of multilateral cooperation has been drowned out by angry appeals to tribal solidarity, tendencies that are heightened by economic anxieties.

“What we’ve seen is a kind of backlash to liberal democracy,” said Amandine Crespy, a political scientist at Free University Brussels (ULB) in Belgium. “Masses of people feel they have not been properly represented in liberal democracy.”

The liberal world order appeared to be more robust than ever with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. But today, a quarter-century later, its future is in doubt, argues Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations. Indeed, its three components – liberalism, universality, and the preservation of order itself – are being challenged as never before in its 70-year history, he wrote recently.

In the US, the Trump administration now dismisses the promotion of democracy as naive and many Europeans would quietly agree, the FT’s Gideon Rachman adds.

Last year, with Donald Trump assuming office, Britain leaving Europe, and nationalists on the march, Stanford University’s Francis Fukuyama suggested a new obituary might be required — for the “liberal world order.” More than a year into the Trump era, Mr. Fukuyama [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy] has only grown more alarmed, the Times adds.

“What you’re seeing now is really insidious, because it’s coming from within democracies,” he said in an interview. “It’s not just the U.S., but Hungary, Turkey, Poland and Russia, where you have a democratically elected leader who is trying to dismantle the liberal parts of liberal democracy. We are seeing a new type of threat that I don’t really think we’ve seen in my lifetime.”

As the 2017 National Security Strategy shows, Russia, China, and to a lesser extent Iran, are all countries that combine brutal governance at home with antipathy to the U.S.-led international order abroad. Accordingly, Trump’s representatives have sought to lock arms with more benign autocracies (as well as democratic actors) that can help hold the line, notes Hal Brands , the Henry A. Kissinger Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

New leaders may be capable of delivering policies that could restore faith in internationalism. Yet for now, the globalists who have long dominated are losing ground to a thriving nationalist insurgency, the Times suggests.

“Many people in Europe and the United States have not benefited very much from overall economic growth over the past few decades, and they are naturally skeptical of the policies and leaders in place,” said Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. “But the solution is not to throw out the liberal order. It is to complement it with government policies that allow people to share in the benefits.”

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