Friday, October 10, 2008

The end of the West

The FT puts its finger on the larger, long-term political implications of the current crisis:

Owning up to the geopolitical implications will be as painful for the rich nations as paying the domestic price for the profligacy. The erosion of the west’s moral authority that began with the Iraq war has been greatly accelerated. The west’s debtors cannot any longer expect their creditors to listen to their lectures. Here lies the broader lesson. The shift eastwards in global economic power has become a commonplace of political discourse. Almost everyone in the west now speaks with awe of the pace of China’s rise, of India’s emergence as a geopolitical player, of the growing roles in international relations of Brazil and South Africa. 

Yet the rich nations have yet to face up properly to the implications. They can imagine sharing power, but they assume the bargain will be struck on their terms: that the emerging nations will be absorbed – at a pace, mind you, of the west’s choosing – into familiar international forums and institutions.

When American and European diplomats talk about the rising powers becoming responsible stakeholders in the global system, what they really mean is that China, India and the rest must not be allowed to challenge existing standards and norms.

This is the frame of mind that sees the Benelux countries still holding a bigger share than China of the votes at the IMF; and the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations presuming this weekend that it remains the right forum to redesign the global financial system.

I have no inhibitions about promoting the values of the west – of preaching the virtues of the rule of law, pluralist politics and fundamental human rights. Nor of asserting that, for all the financial storms, a liberal market system is the worst option except for all the others. The case for global rules – that open markets need multilateral governance – could not have been made more forcefully than by the present crisis.

Yet the big lesson is that the west can no longer assume the global order will be remade in its own image. For more than two centuries, the US and Europe have exercised an effortless economic, political and cultural hegemony. That era is ending. 

If in fact this mentality changes, then really, truly, we are at an end of the era of modernization theory.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Ever since this crisis started, I have been haunted by a line from one of the hard core house tunes I danced to at Burning Man:
"They know what is what, but they don't know what.
They just strut...what the fuck?"