Uprising Against Values And the Liberal World Order

Only someone completely apathetic would not agree that the modern world order is deep in crisis. The US, the main backer of global liberalism, is witnessing the decline of its prestige.

Various members of the world community are coming up with far greater numbers of claims against others. NATO allies – France, Italy, Greece and others – are grumbling. Former Warsaw Treaty members and current NATO allies in Eastern Europe are displeased as well. The United States’ relations with its traditional Middle East allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, have grown tense. Criticism is mounting in Russia, China, and a number of rising powers with the increased economic, political and military demands placed on them. This list can certainly go on indefinitely.

Nevertheless, it is still correct to describe the contemporary world order as liberal and dependent on American guidance. The United States has preserved its military, political, financial and economic domination. There is relative trade and investment openness and prevalence of liberal democratic and free market ideology (not to be confused with practices). It is also important that the main beneficiaries of the existing world order want not so much to radically reform it as they do want to upgrade and preserve a greater share of it all for themselves, that is, greater access to technologies, resources, markets, and organizations. They would also welcome more regard for their economic, military and political interests.

The “guarantor,” however, is not in the mood for power sharing, persisting in the belief that the disaffected will never be able to break free from the status quo. Liberalism is being manifested as a persistent imposition of things benefitting the US alone (unilateral solutions and orientation to absolute military, technological and economic superiority), rather than a search for new and more flexible forms of world order.

The growing trends towards a destabilization of the world order are in part linked to this US stance. The destabilization is clearly manifested in the explosive growth of terrorism, including in formerly most benign parts of the world; a new spiral of violence in the Middle East; Brexit-triggered EU disintegration; the smoldering Ukraine conflict ready to flare up with a renewed force; and the Russia-NATO and China-US confrontations threatening to get out of control.

A notable phenomenon related to the world order crisis is an uprising against values, where traditional values are favored over modern liberal values of the West. In a bid to respond to the United States, a country that only recently was able to lead and influence by example but that now is using powerful ideological pressure to persuade others, non-Western powers have been actively shaping and promoting their own value systems that include traditional family values, a strong state, patriotism and an independent foreign policy (sovereignty). These values have not yet been translated into ideology and are not irreconcilably opposed to Western liberal values. After all, there are numerous supporters of traditional values living in the West, where they are not divided by territorial and political borders. This is not a reference to a Cold War-like confrontation, in which one party proceeds from the inevitable disappearance of the other as a condition of its own development. What is happening is more reminiscent of a mobilization of national sentiment and a national populist reaction by semi-peripheral elites to the growing egoism of the global center. Despite liberal predictions, the world is heading toward nationalism.

Croatians demanding referendum to constitutionally define marriage as a union between a woman and a man, June 2013.
Croatians demanding referendum to constitutionally define marriage as a union between a woman and a man, June 2013.

In this connection, a number of important questions arise. What are the main springs of this uprising against values? Are the elites the main motivating force or has the movement been joined by the masses? How long could the revolt of traditional values last? And the main question: Will the current emasculated liberal world order survive the values surge?

There are two aspects of this uprising that are sometimes defined as constructive nationalism and destructive populism. The former involves a search for mechanisms of adaptation to global processes and ideally could lead to international cooperation on the basis of dialogue and political harmonization of interests. This adaptation implies a creative use of existing basic values. In Russia, for example, values such as respect for family, national dignity, fairness of authority, the right to be a world power and a supporting structure of the world order took shape and were formulated by the cultural elite a long time ago. Today, however, they should be reformulated anew, the aim being not so much to oppose the “rotten” West as to find a model for national development. The West for its part should focus on expanding the support base of its openness, national dignity and respect for basic human rights, even if liberalism will exist in opposition to the existing practice of kowtowing to the United States. The liberal world order has a chance to survive if the main world powers have a vested interest in keeping it afloat. The interest of this sort does exist and some analysts like Fareed Zakaria believe that the world order will persist as liberal even without US involvement.

The other aspect is less attractive and implies negative self-assertion on the basis of confrontation with the other. There are numerous examples of this self-assertion both in the Western and Russian media and political communities. Some tout the “universality” of their values, while others insist on their “uniqueness.” But both sides proceed from their superiority over others. There is ample room in this context for politicking and hysterics that turn the discussion of values into cheap slapstick.

Right now, the latter aspect is prevailing over the former. The discussion of values is replaced by the assertion of petty political agendas, which is fraught with the continued disintegration of the basic principles of the liberal world order. What the world elites really do behind the smokescreen of value talk is to fight for power. The current information war was launched by the emasculated Western elites. It has been picked up elsewhere in the world and continues to hamper a meaningful discussion of national values and opportunities for their interaction.

This confrontational verbiage has been gaining mass support. Populism is on the rise, not only outside of the Western world, but also in Europe and the United States. But the necessary conclusions have not been drawn. The unrealized Grexit was followed by Brexit. One country’s regime change policy spawned a civil war in Syria. The disdain for Russian interests has resulted in the Ukrainian conflict. Brexit may be followed by new outbursts of European nationalism. Instability in the Middle East and Ukraine is likely to entail a surge of asymmetrical violence in other areas and a political clash between major powers might lead to a military confrontation.

New political solutions are needed, ones inherently possessing the understanding of how important it is to preserve the foundations of the world order and to reciprocally respect its interests, historical values and spheres of influence. The egoism of the world elites that has led us to this impasse must become an expedient for finding a way out. After all, the survival instinct is no less powerful than the yearning for power and enrichment.

Prof. Andrey Tsygankov is the Professor at the Departments of Political Science and International Relations, San Francisco State University. A graduate of Moscow State University (Candidate of Sciences, 1991) and University of Southern California (Ph.D., 2000), he teaches Russian/post-Soviet, comparative and international politics.

Source: Valdai Discussion Club

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