Yesterday, I was having dinner with a dear friend of mine, and the conversation moved to the topic of democracy, and inevitably China & U.S. relations. He told me: "If China moves to annex Taiwan, and the West does nothing to protect the island, it's the end of the world as we know it." My friend is not a geopolitical expert nor a national security adviser. He is a curious citizen that in his lifetime witnessed a steady decline in the power and willingness of the 'free world' to protect human rights & democracy, crippled by gross mistakes and self-centered interests (google "Afghanistan").
Amid the escalating confrontations between the democratic and autocratic blocs, now reaching space, we have to understand the past to deal with the future. As such, let's get a crystal clear picture of the decline of the U.S. & the model it championed in the world - with its negative (and positive!) consequences for us all.
So let's jump right in and continue the historical analysis for the Equitist Manifesto from where we stopped yesterday!
THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE
Throughout history, many civilizations have been credited for society-shaping advances, temporarily carrying the Torch of Civilization. From the Ancient Greeks, the Persians, and the Romans, to the Ottomans, British, and the Japanese. Typically, the one bearing the flame was positioned in a unique conjuncture of history, where cultural, monetary, and military hegemony converged, making them the kingmakers of their time.
Few would disagree that since the decline of the Soviet Union, if not since the capitulation of Nazi Germany and the British Empire during WW2, 'The Americans' have been those taking on the burden bestowed to the mightiest ones leading this planet. The United States essentially modeled large sways of today's society by defining cultural norms, establishing multilateral institutions (and handpicking those which ruling they would abide by), dispensing military protection in exchange for allegiance, and exporting with the power of trade and weapons their favorite model of governance.
However, few would also disagree that the "imperial scepter" has new contestants in this new millennium and is likely to abandon the shores of the American continent. Facts are clear, and money among all facts speak very clearly: while the U.S. represented 25% of global GDP in the year 2000, its share is now down to 20%. In the meantime, China's output moved from 3% to 15%, and economists foresee that by 2028 the country might overtake the United States and become the leading economy of the world. That's in 7 years. Countless indicators show the relative decline of power that the Star-and-striped Eagle suffered at the hands of the Red Dragon and the world being shaped accordingly. More and more countries are falling in line behind Beijing's economic might, trading investments & support against silence over massive human rights violations taking place in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and across mainland China. As the 'Western Bloc' largely followed the United States in its misshapen wars of terror, the newly shaped Eastern one mirrors such behavior.
When history turns, the fall of the Empire is indicative of the struggle between competing values and governance models. The United States, the People's Republic of China, the USSR, or the British Empire are just stewards of the ever-ongoing tension to define societal models, ranging from the type of governance, the economic structure, and the overall way of living for billions of humans. At this particular turn of history, governance is the battlefield: as the authoritarian, centralized, yet capitalistic Chinese society has brought a massive increase in quality of life to hundreds of millions of people at an unprecedented speed, can this replace the Western interpretation of democracy?
While the future of world governance is still to be written, it's no secret that this manifesto will make bold proposals on the topics, and it's no secret either that the authors reject any practice that nullifies individual differences and rights. With this spirit in mind, it's fundamental to call out the great contradiction of the last historical lapse: how could the United States impose itself as the champion of the 'free world' via military and economic might instead of being elevated by its partners? How can a single actor entrust itself with the leadership of a democratic front, especially when its democracy is all but perfect? By definition, undemocratic practices cannot champion democratic values.
Globally, democracy has been steadily declining, with the tipping point of having the global share of democratic countries moving under 50% of all nations in 2019. It would be a mistake to attribute this decline solely to the conflict between superpowers. As author Hallie Flanagan said in 1940, "Democracy is never won but always to be won"; domestic democratic standards in several countries have spiraled downward. From crackdowns on rights to protest in France to the insurgence of Capitol Hill, democracies are constantly stumbling on their own feet. Caught in between societal tensions and destabilizing factors like the polarizing power of social media, established democracies fail to keep each other and themselves accountable. In the meantime, a wealth of new, revolutionary practices to innovate democratic governance, such as digital participation practices, are limited to a few smaller countries and do not make inroads.
For the democratic model or its derivation to emerge as triumphant from this turn of history, it's not enough to win over the competition; it also has to confront its demons. Only an inclusive, decentralized, accountable coalition of democratic actors abiding by the principles they preach will have a chance to succeed. A Republic, not an Empire, can bring back the torch into the comforting embrace of democracy.
Thanks for reading this long reflection! I must say that yesterday's feedback from some of you kept me motivated to write even when, like today, I feel my output is sub-standard. If you enjoyed the topic of an inclusive democratic front, you should check out this event where Colombe impressed Foreign Ministers and experts by bringing it forward!
Tomorrow, we will dive into the second defining tension of our time: the epic surge of the Digital world and its competition for primacy with the physical one.
PS As you all know, English is not my first language. I want to reassure you that before assembling the Equitist Manifesto, some editors will review all this material and ensure it's correct and flows well together ;)
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