The Global Ideological Shift
The United States is taking the wrong side in a three-way standoff between democracy, illiberalism, and dictatorship.
With all the fervor regarding the rise of China, little has been paid attention to the ideological ramifications of a shift in the global power structure. The Chinese government has long placed a stranglehold on its own population, with tight controls on social norms and individual expression. Such practices run counter to the long-running paradigm of Western liberalism that has formed the bedrock of global progress for the past century. Western liberalism has its downsides; it played a crucial role in many of the atrocities committed in the name of capitalism and European hegemony. Nevertheless, the liberal ideology also propelled the rise of democratic regimes across the globe, along with the expansion of suffrage to disparate groups across the spectrum of ethnicity, religion, gender and sexuality. Much of the modern quality of life owes itself to the freedom of expression that liberal value systems have championed.
There is, of course, capitalist excess, and a slew of horrendous downsides that accompany it. Environmental degradation, rising inequality and economic instability continue to haunt western systems. Still, the liberal value system has managed not only to secure the freedom of the individual, but also provide a safe haven for those working towards solutions for these problems. Critics of western liberalism rightly point out its flaws, but imagine alternatives that do not presently exist. In the current paradigm, the rise of China threatens to erase the progress made and block off further opportunities for improvement. The Chinese Communist Party does not respect human rights and does not protect vulnerable minorities. A hegemonic CCP would wreak havoc on the values of self-expression that have become commonplace across the world.
At the present moment, China commands not only the world’s largest population and second-largest economy, but also an array of allied regimes in East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Cracks in the facade, namely in the separatist factions of Hong Kong and Macau, as well as the opposition regime in Taiwan, have proven incapable of challenging a regime as technologically advanced and economically powerful as the CCP. The power of the Chinese government can only be countered by a coalition of like-minded leaders to align themselves in ideological opposition.
Unfortunately, the current coalition of like-minded leaders attempted to counter China’s rise do not, in any way shape or form, protect liberal values. Instead, this coalition consists of populist leaders who seek to turn the clock back on the march of liberal values just as much as the CCP. Global populism represents a backlash against liberalism, globalization, and modernity, but it also serves as the only bulwark against the expansion of Chinese communism — the problem being that both of these ideologies are fundamentally anti-liberal, and oppose both the freedom of expression and universal human rights.
If the international community wishes to protect human rights, and the continued progress towards freedom of expression and protection of vulnerable communities, a coalition of liberally-minded groups must band together in opposition of both populism and the CCP.
The declining influence of the United States and Europe cannot necessarily be reversed. As the population share of the global south increases, it becomes imperative that western powers offer their support for liberally-minded, humanistic regimes. In the past, western powers have often bolstered dictatorships simply for their opposition to fascism, communism, or terrorism; this is not a viable long-term strategy, and has directly influenced the populist challenges to democracy.
A wide variety of countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have undertaken massive economic and population growth in recent decades; many such nations have shown amicability towards liberal democracy and human rights. Rather than carrot-and-stick approaches, the current hegemonic powers should seek friendly relationships with up-and-coming countries that uphold the values of liberalism. India, with a population on par with China’s, has volleyed back and forth between liberal and illiberal democracy; the current government, helmed by Narendra Modi, has embraced the global populist bloc.
Western liberals must face a reality that they are between a rock and a hard place; for the past century, western liberalism has attempted to enforce democracy at the point of a gun rather than engage in constructive partnerships. The increasing influence of developing countries, coupled with the rise of illiberal populism and the Chinese Communist Party necessitates a new approach.