Is a Grave New World the Fate of the West?


The system of economic and political openness that has obtained since the end of the second world war and extended since the collapse of the Soviet Union is now under unprecedented threat, according to Stephen King’s Grave New World and Bill Emmott’s The Fate of the West.

A severe shock to confidence in established political movements, resulting from the global financial crisis and exacerbated by economic inequality, has led to the rise of populism and a rejection of the liberal values underpinning globalisation and democracy, The FT’s Alan Beattie writes:

After years of moving towards openness and the rule of law, many countries in both the developing and advanced worlds have reversed course. Measures of liberty such as that maintained by the Freedom House watchdog organisation show many countries backsliding on civil liberties, democracy and a free press, prominent examples being Turkey, Hungary, Yemen and, of course, Syria. …In Emmott’s memorable summation, the west is often seen as being “demoralised, decadent, deflating, demographically challenged, divided, disintegrating, dysfunctional, declining”.

Populist authoritarianism is the principal threat to liberal democracy, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tells RealClearPolitics, discussing her new book, “Democracy: Stories From the Long Road to Freedom.”

A new Harvard report suggests that populism heightens the risk of electoral malpractice in three distinct ways, notes Pippa Norris, the McGuire Lecturer at Harvard University, the ARC Laureate Professor at the University of Sydney, and Founding Director of the Electoral Integrity Project:

  • Firstly, in terms of the consequences for democratic cultures, populism is likely to erode public faith and confidence in the fairness and integrity of the electoral process. My work with Ronald Inglehart found that populists characteristically attack ‘the establishment’ and fuel mistrust of the core institutions of liberal democracy, including elections as well as mainstream parties, parliaments, the media, and the judiciary. …. Where people lose faith in political institutions, this depresses turnout and catalyses protest politics. This does not imply that popular support for liberal democratic values has been greatly weakened by populists – since so far there is little evidence of this alarmist claim in Western societies. But in the longer-term, public trust of politicians, parties and parliaments, already at record lows in many countries, is likely to be further damaged by populist rhetoric…..
  • Populists also use practices directly violating international standards of electoral integrity and domestic laws. In the worst cases, populist authoritarians reinforce their power through fraud and corruption, undermine human rights, and restrict the playing field for party competition. …Thus Venezuelan elections under both Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro have been plagued by corruption, the misuse of state resources, and clientelism, triggering massive street protests. Venezuela ranks 118th worldwide in the Perception of Electoral Integrity index and ranks near the bottom of Transparency International Corruption Index. Meanwhile in the Philippines, the 2016 campaign of the populist Rodrigo Duterte saw observer reports of vote-buying, malfeasance, and election-related violence…..
  • Finally, authoritarian regimes (‘black knights’) have actively sought to undermine democratic forces abroad [as the National Endowment for Democracy has reported, right]. The clearest evidence concerns Russia, accused of using several techniques to put its thumb on the electoral scale in favour of populists. One is to supply resources: Russia has helped to fund populist parties; for example, Marine Le Pen borrowed 9 million euros from a Russian bank in the party’s 2014 campaign, and she visited Putin seeking further support during the 2017 election. The Dutch Freedom Party signed a “cooperation agreement” with Putin’s United Russia party. Other techniques use propaganda, misinformation, and cyberattacks.….RTWT

Has populism peaked? asks Philippe Legrain, a visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics’ European Institute and author of “European Spring: Why Our Economies and Politics are in a Mess – and How to Put Them Right”. He draws hope from Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election, but….

“If Germany is serious about making the single currency work, it should engage constructively with Macron. If it does not — or if Macron fails to reform France — liberal democracy might end up even worse off,” he writes for Project Syndicate. Populism may be an international phenomenon, but the solution to it begins at home, The FT’s Beattie adds:

King correctly takes aim at the very idea that there is a single international community with an agreed set of aims and ideas, or even a united west when it comes to important issues such as foreign policy and projecting “Western values” in the Middle East. After all, the imperial history of the European powers in the 19th century hardly suggest a consistency in western concepts of self-determination. “The West” as a shorthand for political and economic liberalism is an intellectual construct that stands at a considerable tangent to the actions of the US and western European countries down the centuries. Its use may in fact confuse rather than illuminate the underlying issues.

“As recent events in France have shown — and, to be fair, as King and Emmott both argue — the slide away from liberalism is not inevitable,” he notes. “Market economics and democracy have been written off many times, set back hugely by two world wars and a Great Depression, and yet have survived. Political courage and leadership may yet reverse what has until recently seemed like an unstoppable tide.”

Grave New World: The End of Globalization, the Return of History, by Stephen King, Yale University Press, RRP£20/$30, 304 pages

The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea, by Bill Emmott, Economist Books, RRP£20/$28, 272 pages

From Global to Local: The Making of Things and the End of Globalisation, by Finbarr Livesey, Profile, RRP£12.99, 224 pages.


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