The question posed at this point is: Is the collective West nearing the end of a cycle? Or are we still in mid-cycle? And is this a four-generational mini-cycle, or an epochal point of inflection?
Is Russo-Chinese Entente and the global tectonic discontent with the “Rules Order” – on the heels of a long trajectory of catastrophes from Viet Nam, through Iraq to Ukraine – sufficient to move the West on to the next stage of cyclical change from apex to disillusionment, retrenchment and eventual stabilisation? Or not?
A major inflection point is typically a period in history when all the negative components from the outgoing era “come into play” – all at once, and all together; and when an anxious ruling class resorts to widespread repression.
Elements of such crises of inflection are today everywhere present: Deep schism in the US; mass protest in France, and across Europe. A crisis in Israel. Faltering economies; and the threat of some, as yet undefined, financial crisis chilling the air.
Yet, anger erupts at the very suggestion that the West is in difficulties; that its “moment in the sun” must give place to others,and to other cultures’ ways of doing things. The consequence to such a moment of epochal “in-betweeness” has been characterised historically by the irruption of disorder, the breakdown of ethical norms, and the loss of a grip on what is real: Black becomes white; right becomes wrong; up becomes down.
That’s where we are – in the grip of western élite anxiety and a desperation to keep the “old machinery’s” wheels spinning; its ratchets loudly opening and closing, and its levers clanging into, and out of place – all to give the impression of forward motion when, in truth, practically all of western energy is consumed in simply keeping the mechanism noisily aloft, and not crashing to an irreversible, dysfunctional stop.
So, this is the paradigm that governs western politics today: Doubling-down on the Rules Order with no strategic blueprint of what it is supposed to achieve – in fact no blueprint at all, except for “fingers crossed” that something beneficial for the West will emerge, ex machina. The various foreign policy “narratives” (Taiwan, Ukraine, Iran, Israel) contain little of substance. They are all clever linguistics; appeals to emotion, and with no real substance.
All this is hard to assimilate for those living in the non-West. For they do not come face-to-face with western Europe’s repeat re-anactment of the French Revolution’s iconic secular, egalitarian reform of human society – with “the specific timbre, flavour and ideology” shifting, according to prevailing historic conditions.
Other nations unafflicted by this ideology (i.e., effectively the non-West) find it perplexing. The West’s culture war barely touches cultures outside its own. Yet, paradoxically, it dominates global geo-politics – for now.
Today’s “flavour” is termed ”our” liberal democracy – the ”our” signifying its link to a set of precepts that defies clear definition or nomenclature; but one, that from the 1970s, has drifted into a radical enmity towards the traditional European and American cultural legacy.
What is singular about the present re-enactment is that whereas the French Revolution was about achieving class equality;ending the division between aristocracy and their vassals, liberalism today represents a modification of ideology” that US writer Christopher Rufo suggests, “says that we want to categorize people based on group identity and then equalize outcomes across every axis – predominantly the economic axis, health axis, employment axis, criminal justice axis—and then formalize and enforce a general levelling.”
They want absolute democratic levelling of every societal discrepancy – reaching even, back into history, to historic discrimination and inequalities; and to have history re-written to highlight such ancient practice so that they can be routed out through enforced reverse discrimination.
What has this to do with foreign policy? Well, pretty well everything (so long as ”our” liberalism) retains its capture of the western institutional framework.
Bear this background in mind when thinking of the western political class’s reaction to events, say, in the Middle East, or in Ukraine. Although the cognitive élite contends that they are tolerant, inclusive, and pluralistic, they will not accept the moral legitimacy of their opponents. That is why in the US – where the Cultural War is most developed – the language deployed by its foreign policy practitioners is so intemperate and inflammatory towards non-compliant states.
The point here is that, as Professor Frank Furedi has emphasised, the contemporary “timbre” is one no longer merely adversarial, but unremittingly hegemonic. It is not a “turn.” It is a rupture: The determination to displace other sets of values by a western inspired “Rules-Based Order.”
Being a “liberal” (in this strictly narrow sense) isn’t something you “do”; it is what you “are.” You think “right thoughts” and utter “right speak.” Persuasion and compromise reflect only moral weakness in this vision. Ask the US neocons!
We are used to hearing western officials talk about the “Rules-Based Order” and the Multi-Polar System as rivals in a new global framework of intense “competition.” That however, would be to misconceive the nature of the “liberal” project. They are not rivals: There cannot be “rivals”; they can only be recalcitrant other societies that have refused the analysis and the need to root out all cultural and psychological structures of inequity from their own domains. (Hence, China is hounded on its alleged deficiency in respect to the Uyghurs).
The cognitive privilege of “awareness” is what lies behind the western “doubling-down” on imposing a global Rules-BasedOrder: No compromise. The moral enterprise is more intent on its elevated moral station than on coming to terms with or managing, say, a defeat in Ukraine.
Just yesterday, the Bank of America in London was forced to cut short a two-day, online conference on geopolitics; andapologised to attendees following the outrage expressed at a speaker’s comments that were deemed “pro-Russian” by some attendees.
What was said? Professor Nicolai Petro’s remarks at the session where he said: “Under any scenario, Ukraine would be the overwhelming loser in the war: Its industrial capacity devastated … and its population shrunk as people departed to look for employment abroad. If this is what is meant by removing Ukraine’s capacity to wage war against Russia, then it [Russia] will have won.” Professor Petro added that the US government had no interest in a ceasefire, as it had the most to gain from a prolonged conflict.
No compromise is allowed. To speak thus, to inhabit the western moral high ground creating “villains”, clearly is more important than coming to terms with reality. Professor Petro’s comments were condemned as “rolling through Moscow’s talking points.”
Yet, these cultural revolutionaries face a pitfall, Christopher Rufo writes,
Theirs is actually, not an easy task. This is very difficult, and, in fact, I think is somewhat impossible. If you look at even the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s … They had a program of economic and social levelling that was more totalitarian and more drastic than anything that had ever happened in the past. [Yet] after the Revolution collapsed, after the period of retrenchment, social scientists looked at the data and discovered that a generation later, those initial inequalities had stabilized … The point is that forced levelling is very elusive. It’s very difficult to achieve, even when you are doing it at the tip of a spear or at the point of a gun.
The levelling project being essentially nihilistic becomes captured by the destructive side of the revolution – its authors so absorbed with dismantling structures that they do not attend to the need to think policies through, before launching into them. The latter are not adept at doing politics: at making politics “work.”
Thus, discontent at the welling string of western foreign policy flops grows. Crises multiply, both in number and across different societal dimensions. Perhaps, we are closening to a point of beginning to move through the cycle – toward disillusionment, retrenchment, and stabilization; the prerequisite step to catharsis and ultimate renewal. Yet, it would be a mistake to underestimate the longevity and tenacity of the western revolutionary impulse.
“The revolution does not operate as an explicit political movement. It operates laterally through the bureaucracy and it filters its revolutionary language through the language of the therapeutic, the language of the pedagogical, or the language of the corporate HR department”, Professor Furedi writes. “And then, it establishes power anti-democratically, bypassing the democratic structure: using this manipulative and soft language – to continue the revolution from within the institutions.”
Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.