Last month, David Cameron was in Beijing making himself a target for Chinese leaders’ jokes.
The British prime minister was lecturing them on the supposed benefits of democracy. He tried to sell them on the joys and wonders of the political quarrels in parliament, of the schisms dividing the electorate, of the condemnations he routinely receives via Britain’s vociferously free press. You should try it, he told the Chinese. “These are constraints on the government, and at times they can be frustrating,” he said. “But ultimately we believe they make our government better and our country stronger.”
China’s leaders had to be amused. The new head of a washed-up, shriveling country of 60 million—squeaking out advice on how to be “great.” To them he must sound like a clueless tour guide praising the Titanic as it sinks.
This is reality of life on planet Earth today. The tenets of liberal Western governance are becoming passé. The nations that most embody them—Mr. Cameron’s Britain, and the United States, most notably—are losing relevance. Power is rapidly shifting toward regimes undemocratic, authoritarian, even repressive.
Get ready—this theme is going to get louder. And the ramifications are scary.
Perhaps one can view it as a natural response to anxious times. Economies teeter—trade wars loom—insurgencies threaten wobbly governments—ruinous weapons proliferate. In the face of such threats, fussiness over freedoms and rights apparently looks out of touch. Such things might be nice in prosperous, peaceful times, perhaps, but tougher times demand tougher measures.
Whatever their reasons, nations and bodies of nations are unquestionably redefining their priorities. They have tabled discussion about democratic reform in order to address more pressing matters.
Cameron’s recent comments aside, even the West has seriously backed off promoting democracy and backing opposition movements. It has given up demanding populist reforms as a condition for enjoying trade, receiving aid or arms, or joining multinational organizations or alliances.
In Egypt, the West has watched in near silence as the president has rigged elections—including one this past weekend—to remain in office. In Iraq, elections in March produced eight months of political gridlock; this ended last month in an arrangement that kept the incumbent prime minister in power despite his party winning fewer seats than its rival party. In Afghanistan, U.S. leaders are hoping to see a stable government emerge from a deal between a corrupt president and Muslim extremists who, they hope, have renounced terrorism. In case after case, idealism is simply giving way to pragmatism.
“When we deal with Sudan or Libya or China today, it is to make deals or to guarantee military support, not to demand elections in exchange for any of that,” wrote Doug Saunders in the Globe and Mail. “The more important goal is not democracy but stability.”
It’s a fascinating and ominous shift. Who really wants to be Britain, or America? Who wants the hassles and inefficiencies that competing political parties bring? In today’s world, the real success stories are autocracies. “The economic boom of autocratic powers such as China and Russia has reignited the competition of [political] systems,” said the lead editorial in Germany’s leading journal on global affairs, Internationale Politik, this past summer. “Have authoritarian systems refurbished their gloss—because they are quicker at making decisions than portly democracies?”
Judging by the way European leaders are conducting themselves, it seems they certainly believe so. They are brushing aside public protest in order to ramrod their vision of a federal Europe into reality. They are contemplating the uninvited imposition of federal taxes and federal police powers. To resolve the economic crisis, they are brutishly taking over formerly sovereign national economies. Last month the EU president, Herman van Rompuy, condemned the perfectly sensible desire to prioritize national interest over European federalism as “egoism” that leads to war. This is precisely the type of reasoning Eurocrats are using to justify their growing despotism.
The vast majority of the British absolutely hate what is happening, and their place within Europe is certain to reach a crisis point soon. (Just watch this speech, delivered last week to Mr. Rompuy and the rest of the European Parliament by mep Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party.) Nevertheless, the Telegraph’s Christopher Booker noted the irony of Prime Minister Cameron criticizing the Chinese, when Britain itself is being swallowed by the unapologetically undemocratic European Union. Just how democratic is Britain, he asked, “where almost everything our government does is either dictated or constrained by decisions taken at a higher level by our new system of government centered in Brussels?”
Watch this trend! The discrediting of the pillars of governance espoused by Anglo-America is laying the pavement for nothing less than—pardon the expression—a new world order.