Four mega-trends that condemn the West to irreversible decline
So that’s it: the British troops will be out in a few days, and the Americans shortly thereafter. There will be no delay, no extra time to get more citizens or refugees out, no mercy. Why? Because the Taliban say so and they, rather than Joe Biden, are now in charge of Afghanistan, free to terrorize it until the Stone Age.
The Western moment of Kabul, unlike the fall of Saigon in 1975 or Jimmy Carter’s hostage crisis in Tehran in 1979, scenes of earlier humiliations, is not a false alarm. There will be no rebound, no miraculous rebirth: this time the North American-European-Australasian model is really in trouble, as the next stage of the great geopolitical and civilizational realignment of the 21st century begins in earnest.
In the years to come, there will be more Afghanistan: America can still boast of having the most powerful army in the world, but the 320-year-old Western hegemony, which began when England’s GDP per capita finally overtook that of the Yangtze River Delta in China around 1700, is complete. Other civilizations will become as rich and powerful, and sometimes more, than ours, just as they have been throughout history. They too will want their spheres of influence; they too will want their values to prevail.
At least four megatrends conspire to break the West’s grip on the world: the emergence of undemocratic capitalism; misuse of technology; the net zero revolution; and the ideological decadence of America and Europe.
It was once believed that the whole world would voluntarily converge towards a Western model. We would wear the same clothes, drive the same cars and eat at McDonald’s. Capitalism would lead to the universal adoption of democracy, human rights and secularism, supported by institutions such as the UN: this Hegelian version of history was as illusory as the Marxist nonsense that ‘she replaced.
It was based on a series of intellectual errors, including a denial of the peculiar Jewish and Christian history of the West, the latter told so brilliantly in Tom Holland’s Dominion, and a narcissistic, arrogant and anhistorical minimization of others. traditions. A corollary to this was the mistaken belief that embracing capitalism – a technology for generating economic growth – had to mean embracing individual freedom as well: one could not choose, as the two emerged together in England and the Netherlands. .
Terribly for libertarian conservatives like me, it was wrong. The Western model can be disaggregated, as the Chinese have proven. Capitalism can easily coexist with tyranny; free markets do not imply freedom of expression. This means that the 21st century will be defined by a series of clashing civilizational models. There will of course be China and India, but also Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil and Nigeria as regional powers. Thanks to capitalism, they will become rich; but they will not be Westerners. Some may be democracies, but in a very different sense from what we mean by this: India, for example, may well become much more explicitly Hindu nationalist.
The next big change is that the West no longer prioritizes economic growth, while emerging empires are still desperate to get rich. The adoption of net zero by the United States and Europe is driven largely by altruism: its proponents believe that poorer countries will suffer more damage from climate change than richer countries. Yet many of those same nations are planning to make the most of the West’s green shift to bolster their own rise.
China’s real agenda is to acquire new clean technologies developed at great expense by the West at low cost, allowing it to overtake America and Europe without crippling its own economy. Net zero will also trigger geopolitical chaos: how will Putin react to the collapse in gas demand? Could he push NATO and an unprepared semi-pacifist EU beyond destruction? The Gulf states are also likely to implode, creating a series of additional Afghanistan-like scenarios for America. Last but not least, by reinforcing the importance of rare earth metals such as lithium and cobalt necessary for new technologies, net zero will give China a dramatic boost. He has cleverly sought to corner supplies of these key 21st resources and hopes to capture abundant supplies from Afghanistan.
The third big paradigm shift is technology and its misuse. In the West, social media in particular has had a catastrophic and corrosive impact on attention span, the quality of speech and, paradoxically, the ability to think freely. Bullying and hate are the norm, eliminating reason, kindness and support for free speech. It has dramatically exacerbated tribalism and extremism.
At the same time, states now have more tools than ever before to control their populations. Privacy, the dissident’s best protection, is dying. Everything we buy, read and every trip we take can be recorded. For China, it’s a dream come true. When all cars are electric and networked, the state could simply shut down opponents’ vehicles. When all currencies are digital, dictators can track, control, tax, and confiscate as they see fit. Combine all of this with massive advancements in facial recognition and AI, and the result will be nightmarish. Authoritarian states will become increasingly difficult to overthrow, further tilting the balance of power in their favor.
What about the West? Are we going to adopt a Chinese style social credit system under the pretext of fighting obesity or saving the planet, and in fact converge with our authoritarian rivals?
All of this brings us to the fourth mega-trend behind the decline of the West: we are turning our backs on the values that made us great. Support for capitalism is waning just as all other societies have embraced it, and many would rather see mob rule than the rule of law. In the United States, young people are less likely to support democratic values than older people. There is growing skepticism towards reason and the search for truth. Universities are returning to their obscurantist roots, putting identity politics ahead of knowledge. Many believe that meritocracy has gone too far. We are even witnessing a resurgence of neo-Lysenkism, where politics takes precedence over science.
Awakened ideology is the greatest threat to freedom since communism, and it is gaining ground day by day, fragmenting and dividing society, and pitting group against group to further undermine the West. As Afghanistan burns, the rest of the world watches and laughs at our stupidity.