Not too long ago, Stratfor released one their usual forecasts on long term trends and possible events affecting the entire world. With regards to Europe, this is what they have to say:
“The diversity of systems and demographics that is Europe will put the European Union’s institutions under severe strain. We suspect the institutions will survive. We doubt that they will work very effectively. The main political tendency will be away from multinational solutions to a greater nationalism driven by divergent and diverging economic, social and cultural forces. The elites that have crafted the European Union will find themselves under increasing pressure from the broader population. The tension between economic interests and cultural stability will define Europe. Consequently, inter-European relations will be increasingly unpredictable and unstable.”
And then for the United States:
“The United States will continue to be the major economic, political and military power in the world but will be less engaged than in the past. Its low rate of exports, its increasing energy self-reliance and its experiences over the last decade will cause it to be increasingly cautious about economic and military involvement in the world. It has learned what happens to heavy exporters when customers cannot or will not buy their products. It has learned the limits of power in trying to pacify hostile countries. It has learned that North America is an arena in which it can prosper with selective engagements elsewhere. It will face major strategic threats with proportional power, but it will not serve the role of first responder as it has in recent years.”
Conclusions, like these, are certainly interesting, and may even be greeted with joy and enthusiasm by nationalists and dissidents from different races and backgrounds. However, it is important to remember that such predictions are also often associated with notions of Western decline by ordinary people. An increasingly isolationist Western World is usually interpreted as one that is stagnating or going downhill.
While such pessimistic interpretations may hold a certain amount of truth, it is also important to look at the development of a more “isolationist” Western World in an historical and metapolitical context, particularly in its implications for Modernity. On the surface, a weakened and highly isolationist Western World probably looks like the passing away of Western Man’s monopoly on Modernity, the greatest source of “butthurt” for professional victims all around the world, and the creation of a more egalitarian and “inclusive” world order.
After several centuries of dynamic growth and unparalleled hegemony, the Western World, which in the past had extended (some would say imposed) its civilizational DNA (Modernity) onto the rest of the world, is now in retreat, not only geopolitically, but also economically and demographically, much to the joy of many self-flagellating westerners and their professional victim rent seekers. Many of them believe that it is they who will inherit the modern mantle, with the modern world continuing onward, but with them as the new owners.
|“The West” beating “The Rest.”|
Such an interpretation, though gratifying to a lot of people, is, however, a shallow one. A weakened and isolationist Western World could mean a lot of other things besides the triumph of the “Rest” against the “West.” It may, for example, indicate Western frustration with the rest of the World. From an economic standpoint, it may represent the economic emancipation of non-Western countries from poverty and agrarian economies. From a geopolitical perspective, it could be read as a reaction against the over-extension of Western states and systems, and their replacement by more regional power blocs, like the SCO, ASEAN, or BRICS. And finally, from an historical perspective, it can be seen as the general long-term unraveling of Modernity, which has been built up over the course of centuries, a dying off of the old order, and the emergence of a new international dispensation.
In other words, a radically weakened Western World can be just as dangerous for world affairs as a strong and aggressive one. Whether it is caused by economic depression, demographic implosion, or simply long term stagnation, a geopolitically weaker (or at least isolationist) Western World will – in the short term – create power vacuums in the international stage that will alter global politics in very profound ways.
A good way to understand this trend is to look at it through the lens of a cost-benefit analysis. Presently, the Western World is driven by an internationalist ideology, an ideology that demands greater levels of integration. Like all other ideologies, however, internationalism requires power in order to work.
As the rest of the world achieves increasing parity with the West, the costs of maintaining such an ideological strategy will increasingly outpace its benefits, and will force the various parts of the West to reevaluate their roles in the world, mainly because the West will increasingly lack the will and the power to continue to play a prominent role in world affairs. Furthermore, as the West’s share of global GDP stagnates or even shrinks due to the developing world’s growing economy, it may seek to consolidate its markets in order to better protects its economic interests.
Such reexaminations will, in turn, most likely affect the way Westerners see themselves and their identity, particularly in relation to multiculturalism, which is essentially just another aspect of an internationalist worldview. Basically, the West will become less inclined towards multiculturalism as it becomes less internationalist, and it will become less internationalist because existing geopolitical and economic trends will not allow it to be so.
Presently, the global system in which we live is driven by imbalances, many of which are in the process of correcting themselves, either by the severity of their consequences or by simple necessity. Mass immigration from developing to developed countries is simply one component of this, as are the United States’ foreign policies. Such phenomena are now in the process of playing themselves out to their ineluctable and unsustainable conclusions, and once that has been finished, new systems and paradigms will have to be erected in their place.
The rise of Modernity was characterized by the Faustian urge to reorganize and change the world in its own image. It succeeded in this task and so much more, but now, this process is past its apogee. As the nations of the world achieve a tenuous parity with the Western World (or at least frustrate it to the point of exasperation), the latter will be forced to take a long, hard look at the cost of maintaining a global system, which in the past was (and to a large extent still is) based upon Western power.
As the cost of maintaining such a system becomes unfeasible, Western society will need to reconfigure itself, its resources, its people, and its thinking in order to reflect this new geopolitical reality, and its role in the new order. Such a reconfiguration will likely produce a renewed form of isolationism, wherein the Western World attempts to consolidate its interests and ambitions into a more realpolitik-based policy centered around a less global, but also more inward turning policy.
This possible new isolationism will not be the result of some grand geopolitical event or unforeseen disaster, but simply due to the logic of modernization itself. Modernization is a paradigm which seeks to establish a homogenized, consumer driven world order through standardization, whether that standardization is expressed through global trade, internationalist ideology or simple political expediency.
This homogenization, however, has a flip side, and that is power parity. As previously isolationist countries, like China and India modernize, they attain the necessary power to challenge Western dominance, and pursue their own geopolitical interests, many of which run contrary to Western ideological designs. A good example of this is the SCO, but we can also say the same about those crazy ninjas at ISIS. In short, modernization helps to gives power to Non-Western forces (or at least, make them more dangerous), thus allowing them to become even more Non-Western.
Thus, we have the existence of an interesting paradox. By attempting to establish an internationalist world order based on the Western liberal ideals, the Western World has assisted in the development of the rest of the world, but this development also allows the latter to achieve a relative parity, which in turn allows them to pursue their own geopolitical designs, many of which look like this:
Would this inward turning be a sign of weakness? I would argue: Yes and No. Yes, in the sense that it would be a radical departure from the traditional self-image that the West has of itself, and no, in the sense that – in many ways – the world needs the West more than the West needs the World.
A more isolationist Western World will more likely lead to a more nationalist Western World, and such a transformation may lead to a more self-sufficient and autarkic West, which in turn may lead to fewer Western investments, less access to Western know-how and educational institutions, less trade, less military support, and, of course, less immigration into Western countries.
A lot of people will probably have mixed feelings about such a transformation, but if present trends continue, the West (along with the Rest of the World) will eventually need to accept a less interventionist role as a matter of cold, hard reality. This withdrawal may trigger the start of a more profound phenomenon on global affairs: Dewesternization.
Modernity is the West’s grand organizing principle. It was started by Western Man, and it will end when Western Man decides to go back home, lock the doors, and then relax in his rocking chair with a loaded shotgun, as the world outside goes back to its default setting. Just as the Islamic World is reverting back to its theological roots, and the Orient embraces the nationalistic tendencies of its people, the Western World will eventually have to embrace what it actually is, as opposed to what it would like the world to be. The World – not ideology or force – may force Western Civilization into this position.
The decline of the Western World today is not really decline. It is merely a critical part of a much more complex transformation, a transformation that is already underway throughout much of the world. The great irony here, however, is that as the West becomes less and less visible on the global stage, it will become more and more powerful, as it will be able to focus its resources and knowledge base on itself. On the other hand, how such a newly reconfigured and more inward looking West will change the rest of the world is anyone’s guess.