Wednesday, July 04, 2018

The Twilight of Liberalism

This feels as good as any for this Fourth of July:
There’s an argument floating around that the evils of American hegemonic practice, especially during the Cold War, means that we should not be concerned about Trump’s efforts to dismantle the infrastructure of US power. There are a number of problems with this claim. One is that there are different ways to transition away from American hegemony. Washington can pursue a policy of judicious retrenchment. Another is to pursue a more progressive, multilateral order to address global commons problems and reduce the chances of great-power conflict. These, and other strategies for managing hegemonic decline are going to be much more difficult if Trump continues on his current path. 
A related problem also lies in the specifics of where Trumpism aims to take the United States: ethnonationalism, support for authoritarian regimes, and the like. America’s current human-rights violations against migrants and asylum seekers are indicative of a shift toward “illiberal hegemony“: one less concerned with generating international goods, trying to reduce civilian casualties during military operations, and so forth. You don’t have to have a pollyannaish view of American international affairs to recognize that US foreign policy can get much, much worse. We’ve been there and done that. 
Why am I talking about this? Because we need to also consider the alternatives. If domestic practice is any guide—and we have reasons to think that it is—then the wane of liberal order is unlikely to usher in a more benign world. It’s not only the concentration camps in the United States that should worry us.
We are witnessing a global decline of the liberal order. In the United States, in Europe, in India, in the Philippines, in Israel, in Turkey, and obviously in many more places where liberalism barely had a toehold to begin with.

I'm not sure how it can be reversed. I'm not sure if it can be reversed. I am sure that I do not trust any of the alternatives to "usher in a more benign world".

Richard Rorty once remarked that there is no knockout philosophical argument that can compel people to be liberal if we don't want to or don't agree to. It'd just be "sad" if we don't. We'd miss out on many occasions for human happiness and flourishing, and unnecessarily provide for much more suffering and misery than is necessary. But there's nothing written into the fabric of human history that demands that we avoid the sadder choices.

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