In ‘The end of history’, Francis Fukuyama naturalised the pillars of liberal hegemony, American-style democracy and capitalism, as the inevitable conclusion of global historical processes.
After the collapse of its main rival in the cold war, the superiority of American power resources—the dollar as the global reserve currency, the centrality of Wall Street, the supremacy of the United States military—ushered in a unipolar moment
Even today, when the relative decline of the west can no longer be overlooked, liberal beliefs (such as democratic peace theory, change through trade, the responsibility to protect) still inspire ‘value-based foreign policies’, including calls for regime change in authoritarian regimes which violate the human rights of their citizens
. In Jacques Derrida’s world made of text, cultural discourses about identities replaced the struggle over material distribution between classes.
Liberal post-materialism did though become hegemonic in academia, media and the cultural industries of north America and western Europe. Unsurprisingly, it was in those places where the return of history—the brutal Russian war against Ukraine, the struggle over energy resources, the migration flows, the pandemic and global heating—came as an epistemic shock. It turned out the world was not made of text, but of matter and power.
Globally, the rise of China has sealed the end of the unipolar moment and posed a challenge to the American-led world order.
The erosion of liberal hegemony does not necessarily mean the end of a rules-based multilateralism. While the multilateral order is mired in crisis, the vast majority of states, including China, still see value in a system of rules and institutions with the United Nations at its core.
The question is whether liberal hegemony can survive the end of the unipolar moment. For ‘realist’ international-relations thinkers, such as John Mearsheimer, in a bi- or multipolar world liberal hegemony is no longer an option, because great powers need to return to balance-of-power politics to manage the competition with rivals who could threaten their security.
But the ‘us versus them’ dichotomies are essentially a new version of the same old ‘good versus evil’ moral discourses. And some of the calls—such as to break up Russia, punish China or shame Qatar are dangerously out of touch with geopolitical realities after the end of western hegemony.
Europe must concentrate all its forces on defending its existential interest: a rules-based multilateral entity such as the European Union can only survive in a rules-based world order.
So abolish the counter-productive idea of pitting an ‘alliance of democracies’ against an ‘axis of autocracies’. Stop alienating potential allies though talk of ‘jungles and gardens’.
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