Free societies can thrive by rediscovering and acting on their strengths. Values, including those of personal responsibility, must be at the core of a revival.
After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, it appeared that the United States and Europe had one clear policy toward Russia. NATO was again united and strong. Although military supplies for Kyiv were initially lackluster, unity prevailed on sanctions and support. The Ukrainians were defending themselves bravely and Russia faced a military and propaganda disaster. A Russian defeat was considered probable.
There was hope for improvement in the Middle East and the Abraham Accords allowed a rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world, starting with the United Arab Emirates and recently joined by Saudi Arabia.
Turkey brokered a grain export deal for Ukraine, normalized its relationship with Israel and worked toward resolving conflicts in the Caucasus and Caspian regions.
Although the theocratic regime in Iran brutally crushes any internal opposition, the mullahs managed to demonstrate a semblance of softer policy toward their enemy, Saudi Arabia, brokered by China.
These developments provided pleasant illusions of a West united against Russian expansionism, a more moderate Iranian regional policy and a silver lining of peace in the Middle East. But China and Russia remained elephants in the room. A utopian hope prevailed in Washington and the European capitals that a Sino-Russian alliance could be torpedoed and that third countries such as India and others – mainly in the southern hemisphere – could be convinced to take a stand, primarily against Russia. A victorious alliance of “good” democracies against “evil”’ autocracies was proclaimed. The G7 was revitalized to lead this crusade.
Fighting for freedom and independence
The Western response started promisingly. U.S. President Joe Biden and his European allies saw themselves as the saviors of liberal democracy and good in the world. Obviously, free and independent countries must fight to remain that way. Freedom is not granted, nor is the self-determination of countries. We must strongly support the independence of nations challenged by Russian imperialism and Chinese nationalism. It is also clear that we must resist the brutal systems prevailing in Iran, Russia and China.
But is the West willing and able to fight? In theory, the ability exists.
The beautiful but somewhat naive illusions nurtured over the last two years are starting to crack. The present crisis in the Middle East is a striking example. It is not only a regional conflict but also involves the major powers. This leads to patterns that mirror other existing or developing conflicts, such as Russia on Central Europe and the Indo-Pacific arena.
Geopolitically, we do not just have a conflict between free countries and aggressive tyrannies, as we had during the Cold War. We have increasingly assertive new and important players, not fitting any categories of the prevailing narrative of authoritarian vs. democracies. But this must not be the main problem.
Overcoming internal weaknesses
The West must recognize its internal weaknesses. There is first a certain arrogance and hypocrisy in the lecturing of Western values. It tends to ignore other cultures while condemning its colonial past. Ironically, this paternalism is frequently considered a new form of colonialism.
Worse still is the increasing denial of the cultural and traditional foundations of Europe. These are based on Judeo-Christian values framed by Greco-Roman philosophy and law. It is also true that these notions were and are misused. But they were the basis that allowed the development from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment to achieve today’s free societies. These traditions and developments allowed liberalism, democracy, separation of religion and state as well as the rule of law. The notion of personal responsibility was at its core. Freedom can only exist based on personal responsibility (a very strong notion in Christian teaching, however, one that is frequently ignored by churches and governments) and sheltered by the rule of law.
Mainly in Europe, this important basis is increasingly denied. Any mention of God or Christianity is abhorred in politics, as we have learned in numerous debates, including those on the acts of the European Union.
This loss of real values (not the prevailing political mantra of values) and personal responsibility reveals itself as a major weakness and threat to freedom, democracy and the rule of law. It is a political and institutional cancer. This loss of principles leads to overpowering technocratic structures. Institutions become ends in themselves. Political parties look for votes, rather than strive for the good of the res publica. The citizen becomes the subject of such institutions. Freedom is exchanged for an illusion of security.
The West is no longer persuasive.
The consequences are manifold. Advantageous standards that allowed the U.S. and Europe to become free and successful are overlooked. Other countries observe the decline. The West is not persuasive anymore. The biggest power, the U.S., is not able to put forth valid and convincing candidates for its highest office, while the situation in Europe is depressing and distressing. The political discussion becomes increasingly ideological as opposed to a positive debate of facts. It is also limited by the new creed of exaggerated political correctness, which, instead of avoiding hate speech, goes further and eliminates even the facts. This is a challenge to the freedom of expression. But it secures the success of new parties, frequently branded as populists. They are generally marginalized by the established parties, who should instead be seriously trying to understand why large parts of the population vote for these so-called populists. In general, most voters do not participate in elections, a bad sign for the political class.
Politics has become a profession. This leads to an increasing distance between the ruling class and the people. A better exchange between politics and other professions should be achieved. The real concern is that it is mainly career politicians who sit in parliaments. They are nominated by their parties and become dependent on them. Their livelihood depends on reelection and allegiance to party doctrine. This limits their independence. Here a system of citizen-legislators would be advantageous.
To prevail, the present political system relies on a strong technocratic basis. The consequence is an oversized state that claims increasing accountability from its citizens. Excessive control and a stifling regulatory framework are dangerous steps. In this situation, the democratic system is somewhat analogous to autocratic systems. (Fortunately, in Western democracies, we can still criticize without going to jail.)
We must hope that the regenerative potential of freedom will grow in its crisis.
But what is the result when looking at the geopolitical situation and the position of the West? It really shows two spectrums: weak leadership and populism, as reelection becomes more important than accomplishment.
This is the real dilemma. The West loses its ability to be an example to the developing world. And this is the real challenge. Certainly, most countries such as India and other, mainly southern nations do not want to become dependent on Chinese Marxism. However, the West no longer presents a credible alternative with its value proposals. Demographic trends mainly favor the Global South. It would be good to support prosperous development without trying to enforce changes in culture and tradition.
Let’s just take another example: the situation of Ukraine. This nation is fighting and suffering a huge toll in lives to preserve its self-determination. Rightfully, it is supported by NATO and the EU. The biggest risk for Kyiv, however, is to lose Western support. The possibility exists that weariness will grow, and weak Western leadership will feel compelled to force Ukraine into a dangerous cease-fire.
These weaknesses could result in a global loss of freedom. Autocracies and technocracies would rule globally. The Occidental culture has, however, outlived many challenges. We must hope that the regenerative potential of freedom will grow in its crisis.
For industry-specific scenarios and bespoke geopolitical intelligence, contact us and we will provide you with more information about our advisory services.