Monday, January 26, 2009

"The need for liberal international order has never been greater"

Timothy Garton Ash:

For close to 500 years, modernity has come from the west. The historian Theodore von Laue called this The World Revolution of Westernisation. In 20th-century Europe, liberal democracy faced two powerful versions of modernity that were western but illiberal: fascism and communism. Part of these systems' appeal was precisely that they were modern. ("I have seen the future and it works," said one enthusiast, returning from Moscow.) Liberal democracy finally saw them both off, though not without a world war, a cold war, and a lot of help from the US.
It's also not the smartest idea to identify this vision of a concert of democracies too emphatically with the west, as in the former French prime minister Edouard Balladur's proposal for what he calls a Western Union. Historically, both modernity and liberalism have come from the west. But the future of freedom now depends on the possibility of new versions of modernity evolving - whether in India, China or the Muslim world, which are distinctly non-western yet also recognisably liberal, in the core sense of cherishing individual freedom.

Part of waging a campaign of ideas is fostering and embracing the emergence of non-Western versions of liberal modernity and creating an international order that any country can join. We need to be clear about what we are for (liberal modernity) and develop a strategic vision based upon this that can inform our persuasion operations. Anti-liberal adversaries will rise up from time to time and they will need to be dealt with, but we shouldn't allow them to distract us from pursuing the long term strategic vision. Real success in the campaign of ideas will come when the key champions of liberal modernity are countries like India, Brazil, and even Iraq.


Jay@Soob said...

I'd add that we grasp the concept that liberal democracy isn't enforced or induced but massaged from the bottom up and requires pre-existing social evolutions/conditions (state security, middle class, sexual, sectarian equality, etc.) It's a gradual process and it can't be exported like a crate of banana's.

phil said...

It's certainly true that countries need to modernize and liberalize in their own way. Whether or not that process is perceived to be "gradual" is subjective, with different people thinking it is too fast, too slow or just right. I certainly support "bottom up" approaches which is why I have been advocating entrepreneurial, civil society solutions. But there is a role for government as well, particularly in establishing and maintaining a liberal international trading system, which makes it possible for me to go the grocery store in the middle of winter and buy bananas. No one is in charge of modernization or globalization and countries don't have the choice to opt out. Waging a campaign of ideas for liberal modernity is about helping other countries adapt to the changes that they are dealing with in a way that is most likely to be successful.