Defending Western civilization – without democracy?


In his speech in Poland on Thursday, US president Donald Trump didn’t even mention democracy, note Brian Klaas, a fellow at the London School of Economics, and Marcel Dirsus, a researcher at the University of Kiel in Germany. Misguided optimists hope that a “temporary absence of American leadership” will prompt other Western powers to fill the vacuum. They won’t, they write for The Washington Post:

Angela Merkel has often been referred to as the new leader of the free world. But Germany’s economy and military might pale next to the United States. More importantly, Germany is not interested in taking on the burdens of global leadership. Without a liberal democracy to take its place, America’s retreat from the world will be a windfall to despots from Moscow to Manila.

The absence of any reference to democracy was also a cause for concern to Karen Donfried, special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. The speech also reflected “a dark view of a clash of civilizations,” she told PBS NewsHour.

But democratic considerations were implicit in the president’s references to freedom, to liberty, to captive nations escaping the embrace of communism and the importance of values, said Paula Dobriansky, under-secretary of state for democracy and global affairs during the George W. Bush administration.

The speech was unhelpful in its positioning of the West, indicating that the administration “has given up that leadership role that most American presidents have played,” said Ambassador Nicholas Burns, who played key foreign policy roles for both Democratic and Republican presidents.

“He is almost appearing as the critic of the West, of its major institutions, NATO and the EU, rather than as a uniter,” Burns told CNN. “It played well with this crowd in Poland, it is not going to play well with Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and all those leaders at the G20 summit who want a more pluralistic and want a more unified vision, an optimistic vision of the West.”

The speech reinforced the Polish government’s assault on democracy, said analyst Anne Applebaum (left), while others lamented that it failed to criticize Russia for its annexation of Ukraine and interference in elections.

Former Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski told Bloomberg the reference to Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” redefined the West’s ideological challenge along religious lines. “The Polish government had reasons to be very pleased with it, because it very much echoes their philosophy.”

Crisis in Western civilization

“For me, talking about Western civilization without mentioning rule of law, democracy and human rights isn’t possible,’’ said Jerzy Stępień, a former head of Poland’s constitutional court, adding that such attributes are “indispensable” to any definition of Western civilization.

But the crisis in Western civilization is real and six independent factors today are interacting to produce a period of unique geo-strategic danger, according to analyst Greg Sheridan:

  • First, there is the questioning of US leadership in strategic and economic matters. ….
  • The second new factor transforming all geo-strategic equations is the rise of a potential peer competitor to the US in China….
  • The fourth dynamic of destabilisation and strategic dislocation is the rise of rogue states pursing nuclear weapons….
  • The fifth dynamic of global destabilisation is the growth and adaptation of the international Islamist jihadist movement. …. Across the Middle East and North Africa tens of thousands of young men are pledged to this ideology. The populations of Western nations such as Britain and France furnish a seemingly endless supply of people prepared to engage in murderous terrorism.
  • Which leads to the sixth and final dynamic assaulting the strategic position of the West, and that is the growing distemper of Western electorates and populations generally….As Henry Kissinger has remarked, Western governments are no longer able to ask any sacrifice from their electorates. RTWT

Decline in civic virtue

The decline in our civic virtue is undisguised, respect for institutional authority has eroded, the idea of a common community purpose is undermined, trust is in retreat but the most important singular development is the transformed notion of the individual — the obsession about individual autonomy in every aspect of life: love, work, race, sex, culture and death. Put harshly but not inaccurately, it is narcissism presented as self-realization and human rights, The Australian’s Paul Kelly adds:

Confronting the US dilemma, American writer George Weigel [left, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy] said: “The first step is to recognise that American politics is in crisis because our public moral culture is in crisis. The second step is to recognise that American public moral culture is in crisis because of a false understanding of freedom. And the third step is to recognise that the false notion of freedom evident across the spectrum of American politics is based on a false anthropology: a distorted idea of the human person and human aspiration.”

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