The Decline of Liberalism

How the Globalists react to Donald Trump, China’s Rise, and the Future of the World Political System

Donald Trump’s victory in the US elections, Britain’s decision to exit the EU, as well as the ongoing political crisis in many European countries clearly demonstrates a serious decline of (neo)liberal ideas. These ideas (including their various derivatives) have been the cause of many of the current problems which have led to the growth of populism, disappointment in globalization, and the first attempts to change the existing course of international relations.

For us, conservatives, the events currently unfolding are a logical process insofar as liberalism itself is a destructive phenomenon. Whether sooner or later, the collapse of liberalism is inevitable. The question is rather how much or for how long the basic liberal institutions around the world can be repressive, non-transparent, and unaccountable, and how people in different countries - primarily those in the West - will be able to change the status quo and develop an alternative way that corresponds to their own aspirations and based on their own cultures, traditions, and identities. 

It will become all the more extremely important to follow the further actions of the liberal lobby, especially its ideologues, in order to understand their intentions and possible actions. Most likely, they will bet not only on the reorganization of their structures, but also on re-branding liberalism as such. Just as the liberals once distorted (and continue to distort) the economic ideas of Adam Smith while continuing to call him their guru and one of the founding fathers of liberalism, so will the globalists give every effort to maintain their influence, power, and tools for international intervention. 

“The order, in short, is facing its greatest challenges in generations. Can it survive, and will it?”, Joseph Samuel Nye, Jr. posed the question in his recent article “Will the Liberal Order Survive?”.

Nye suggests that only the United States can be the leader of the international order. Even the growth of Chinese power cannot replace the US according to Joseph Nye.

“China is unlikely to surpass the United States in power anytime soon and because it understands and appreciates the order more than is commonly realized. Contrary to the current conventional wisdom, China is not about to replace the United States as the world’s dominant country. Power involves the ability to get what you want from others, and it can involve payment, coercion, or attraction,” Nye explains. 

Earlier, Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth said in Foreign Policy that China would not become a superpower despite the modernization of its armed forces, economic growth, and its aggressive defense of its national interests in the periphery. In their view, China has the raw potential to become the only global rival of the United States, but the country has more serious challenges than the previous countries that have become powerful. Even if the US’ economic peak has passed, no one doubts the military superiority of the country or the structure of the existing liberal order in which Washington is the core of the global alliance.

Elizabeth C. Economy has also noted: “Yet whatever path Washington elects moving forward, anointing China as the world’s ‘champion of globalization’ would be a mistake.”

But in this case, what is interesting is not that China is refused the status of a future superpower, but that these reassuring words concerning China are coming from the lips of liberal globalists. Donald Trump’s rhetoric, on the other hand, has a different character.

Joseph Nye Jr. generally says that globalization was beneficial to China (and there is much truth to this, hence why Beijing aims to keep its previously specified pace), but now the United States need a different approach to global processes.

“Maintaining networks, working with other countries and international institutions, and helping establish norms to deal with new transnational issues are crucial. It is a mistake to equate globalization with trade agreements. Even if economic globalization were to slow, technology is creating ecological, political, and social globalization that will all require cooperative responses,” Joseph Nye writes.

This “apologist” of soft and smart power focuses on the network approach to international relations. This mechanism has been used by the US to one degree or another since the 1970’s with the advent of network theory. However, this tool could be also used against the liberal lobby. What could prevent the conservatives of various countries from applying appropriate technologies for the benefit of their ideas?

Richard Nathan Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, undertakes an operation to frame political discourse. He even begins with a kind of “flirting” with the notion of sovereignty in his article “World Order 2.0. The Case for Sovereign Obligation”, in which he tries to update a portion of the liberal doctrine of hegemony by giving it a new shade:

“But an approach to international order premised solely on respect for sovereignty, together with the maintenance of the balance of power necessary to secure it, is no longer sufficient. The globe’s traditional operating system—call it World Order 1.0 — has been built around the protection and prerogatives of states. It is increasingly inadequate in today’s globalized world. Little now stays local; just about anyone and anything, from tourists, terrorists, and refugees to e-mails, diseases, dollars, and greenhouse gases, can reach almost anywhere. The result is that what goes on inside a country can no longer be considered the concern of that country alone. Today’s circumstances call for an updated operating system—call it World Order 2.0 — that includes not only the rights of sovereign states but also those states’ obligations to others. Such a concept of “sovereign obligation,” it is worth pointing out, differs from the notion of “sovereignty as responsibility,” which lies at the heart of the legal doctrine known as “the responsibility to protect,” or R2P.”

What is significant is that Haass acknowledges the failure of the US to offer an agenda to the world which would have been acceptable to other players and capable of spurring other countries to work together to develop new solutions.

“Promoting World Order 2.0 will require extensive consultations. In some areas, such as global health, the conversation is already far advanced, and the main challenge is building national capacity in countries that lack it. In other areas, such as cyberspace, the world is still far from agreement on what obligations should be required. And in still other areas, such as proliferation, norms are agreed on, but enforcement is highly controversial. As a rule, the United States can and should put forward ideas, but it is not in a position either intellectually or politically to present a blueprint for others to sign on to. To the contrary, others must participate in fleshing out the concept as much as its implementation,” Haass suggests. 

Attention should be paid here to the fact that this invitation to collaborate could be merely a clever gimmick. Most likely, taking into consideration the role of the Council on Foreign Relations, the rather old project of “world government” is its center of attention. Richard Haass merely paraphrases the engagement mechanism that the West applies to recruit political elites around the world to serve the interests of the globalist club. 

The director of the British Chatham House, Robin Niblett, is more pessimistic in his forecasts in relation to reality that is confronting the strongholds of liberal ideas in the faces of the UK and the US.

He writes: "British and American voters have rejected the logical evolution of the Anglo-Saxon model, which had progressed from breaking down barriers to trade at national borders, to tackling the thicket of non-tariff regulations that often limit trade and investment behind the border. National governments generally use these to pursue domestic political priorities, such as improving energy efficiency or ensuring the health and safety of consumers. But they can also use them to protect sectors of the economy from external competition.

...In fact, we may witness a period of more intense transatlantic regulatory competition. In addition to ongoing disputes on the use of genetically-modified organisms in agriculture, the EU has already challenged US companies on their standards for data protection and approaches to tax avoidance. The Trump administration is likely to take a combative stance in response.

This would pose a dilemma for Britain. As it explores a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, it may find that it has to decide between regulatory convergence across the Atlantic or with its main market in the EU.

It is ironic that the two champions of the liberal economic order are about to step back from deepening liberal economics in their own regions, choosing instead to return to an era of more selective and transactional trade deals.

Perhaps doing so will give politicians and citizens in both countries the time to adjust to the disruptions caused by past liberalization. But America and Britain are stepping back at a time when the WTO is paralyzed and when competing powers can use the vacuum to promote their own economic models in their regions – whether the economic state-centrism favored in Beijing or the political state-centrism promoted from the Kremlin.”

His compatriot, Emile Simpson (now research fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows), takes another direction, although offering no less than a globalist point of view on the current processes.

“Brexit and Trump were not anomalies, accidents of political history that can be explained away to maintain the integrity of the inherited notion that “normal” politics involves competition between a center-left party and a center-right party. Rather, in my view, they are symptomatic of a paradigm shift in the configuration of Western political life, one which has only just started,” he writes.

For Emile Simpson, there are the following dismantling risks of the global liberal system:

“The first is that as the traditional left-right framework of distributive justice type arguments is broken up, there is little to stop identity politics from infecting political discussion.

The second risk is that politicians end up promising all things to all people, but end up pleasing nobody, fueling political frustration. We’ll see in four years if Trump can bring home low-skilled jobs through protectionist tariffs and boost the U.S. economy at the same time. That assumes Trump is even serious about protectionism. If it turns out to have been a bait and switch move, stand by for rust belt rage in four years’ time.

Likewise, we’ll see if Theresa May can manage to keep foreign companies in the U.K. if the country prioritizes immigration controls over access to Europe’s single market. The people who will lose out most, should foreign companies relocate to the continent, are the working-class voters who were told Brexit would boost the economy.

Left and right is no longer an adequate categorization of political difference: it is a trophy of political stability handed over from the industrial age, where it made sense, to the postindustrial age, where it doesn’t. It is no accident that political movements which defy this categorization are winning. A paradigm shift has started.

But it has not ended: We are just in the turbulent transitional phase. Until the West organizes itself around a new political categorization that treats globalization as the fundamental factor of political life — as industrialization was in the last century — we will have a hotchpotch of left and right policy mixed together by all parties, with little to differentiate themselves except identity.”

But it should be borne in mind that the above authorities of liberal opinion are ideologists, and their interests are in maintaining their influence, reassuring partners, and finding impressive arguments for their future work.

Therefore, for a more objective assessment, it is necessary to refer to analytical reports and forecasts. One such document is the progress report of the National Intelligence Community: "GLOBAL TRENDS. Paradox of Progress ". The authors suggest several scenarios up to 2030. It is clearly stated that liberal ideology is in crisis and faced with new ideological forms that might still come. 

For example, in the section “How People Think” it is said: 

“It is not clear that economic ideologies, such as socialism and neoliberalism, which had dominated much of the 20th Century until challenged by the collapse of communism and the 2008 financial crisis, will remain relevant in a world in which both low-growth and high levels of inequality dominate political agendas. Other forms of political thought remain viable alternatives — in particular, nationalism, political liberalism, and religiously-based political thought.

Geopolitical Competition Will Take a Stronger Ideological Turn... Many developing countries will strive for modernization more or less along Western lines, but the allure of liberalism has taken some strong hits over the years as political polarization, financial volatility, and economic inequality in western countries have stoked populism and caused doubts about the price of political and economic openness.

Governments having trouble meeting the needs of their citizens will be strongly tempted to turn to nationalism or nativism to transfer blame to external enemies and distract from problems at home, while publics fearful of loss of jobs to immigrants or economic hardship, are likely to be increasingly receptive to more exclusive ideologies and identities.

Exclusionary Ideas and Identities in Democracies Threaten Liberalism. Without a return to secure and more-evenly- distributed living standards, economic and social pressures are likely to fuel nativism and populism in the West, risking a narrowing of political communities and exclusionary policies. A weakening of the rule of law, political tolerance, and political freedoms in the United States and Western Europe—the traditional strongholds of democracy —could delegitimize democratic ideas around the world… Without a strong response from other stable democracies, this trend is likely to accelerate.”

The call to maintain “liberal stability” is relevant. But whether the West will be able to balance the global current turbulence and maintain its influence is still in question. 

The problem facing the US, UK, and EU is that the post-Cold War, unipolar moment has passed and the international order between states based on the post-1945 rules may be fading too.

This means that a completely different approach is necessary. In these circumstances, conservatives have to overcome those arguments on which liberals constantly rely and which populists actively use. This is essentially an obsession with the economy. People need to return to the true understanding of politics with economic management as its part, the conception of Domostroy (Οἰκονομικός), and material values being in their permanent connection with spiritual values ​​and ideological archetypes.