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Voice of the Davos Crowd

In The Fate of the West, his ambitious survey of global affairs, former Economist editor-in-chief Bill Emmott confronts rising feelings of decline and resurgent nationalism. Reviewing the world economy region by region, he promises to provide alternatives to the West’s current gloom. Instead, he delivers globalism réchauffé.

The West is the world’s most successful political idea, Emmott declares at the start, locating the two “lodestars” of equality and openness within it. In his estimation, Western governments have fallen short in both departments, and as a result they are “in deep trouble.” The idea of the West is under attack for good reason, he says, since it has “failed to deliver fairness, prosperity, and security” that “citizens have come to expect of it.” The West’s biggest threats today come from Washington, D.C., Emmott suggests, not from China or militant Islam. The West’s jeopardy is self-induced.

This is a serious indictment, but is it even true?

A healthy society, Emmott insists, must be “open to new ideas, new elites, new circumstances and new opportunities whether of trade in goods and services or of culture and science,” but jingles like this don’t speak to crucial challenges facing the West. Emmott’s paeans to openness are repeatedly code for unrestricted immigration.


Emmott veers from topic to topic, and his review feels glued together. He never states exactly how the West can do much more than it has done to level the playing field or widen opportunity. While he is right to be alarmed by rising income inequality, he seems more than comfortable with the forces driving it. Indeed, Emmott is one of global capitalism’s leading exponents.

Since World War II, power has gradually shifted from sovereign governments to supra-national entities, multinational corporations, and international institutions. To globalists like Emmott, this state of affairs benefits all humankind. The Davos view shuns national identities, thinks of borders as obtrusive, and conceives of national governments as things of the past. No doubt, recent events and elections imperil reflexive internationalism. For Emmott, Brexit feels inconceivable. The collapse of the European Union is unthinkable. Trump’s presidential victory reflects deep social pessimism and self-destructiveness.

But the ruled are having second thoughts. In the Netherlands, France, and Austria, nationalist movements are robust. The United Kingdom seems intent on leaving the European Union. Russian, Turkish, Chinese, and Indian nationalism are on the rise. Focused on job losses and unemployment, globalists fail to grasp the moral psychology rooted in threats to the West’s traditional normative ideals, as New York University political scientist Jonathan Haidt has observed [1]. Nationalists think their countries and heritage are worth preserving. And is it surprising when established residents who don’t benefit from cheap labor grow politically upset?

In Emmott’s view, of course, migrants provide a welcome, indeed necessary injection of youth and fresh ideas. They face closed, fearful societies composed of aging citizens who want to protect their self-interests. Yet for tens of millions in the U.S. and Europe, uncontrolled immigration threatens safety, schools, livelihoods, and quality of life. Increasingly, those who pay the price resent globalism’s ruling class trying to shame and scorn them into submission.

The worldwide benefits of free-trade agreements and shared advantages of international collaboration are obvious and manifold, Emmott reminds us. They have assisted world order and wealth creation, and they have promoted global cooperation and peace. The benefits of NATO or the World Health Organization are widely appreciated. But in extolling international alliances and agencies uncritically, Emmott overlooks institutional degeneration and arrogation of power. The European Union’s failure to protect nations from a flood of Mideast migrants has reinforced continental disenchantment.

Global capitalism might someday give the entire world a noisy, charmless, crowded version of Southern California. Where Economist-style views are nearly universally held, master builders might call this progress, smiling all the way to the bank. But tribalism and clashing mores are likely to endure, along with uncountable global resentments. Ardent internationalists with the best intentions cannot always will civilizations, nations, and peoples to think and act in accord—or even get along.

Fatal to his analysis, Emmott leaves out cultural forces at the heart of the West’s malaise: religion; identity politics and multiculturalism; sexuality and pornography; courtship, marriage, and family formation; music and entertainment; and on top of this, retreat from nature into electronics.

Emmott offers plenty of facts and figures and concludes that an open, free, equal Western society is better than authoritarian rule. This is an estimable but unoriginal thought.

And with professed optimism, Emmott prescribes easy-to-swallow remedies to cure the West’s angst. When he lists guiding principles for the future, for instance, he simply elaborates slogans that inside-the-box internationalists have advanced for decades: recognizing human capital’s importance in the digital age, using education as the best means of achieving equality.

The Fate of the West is a mediocre book with a great title. Nonetheless, the volume comes at a time when civil society’s future and rising nationalism are on serious minds, and the fate of the West remains a subject worth exploring.

Gilbert T. Sewall is co-author of After Hiroshima: The United States since 1945 [2] and editor of The Eighties: A Reader [3].

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4 Comments To "Voice of the Davos Crowd"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 9, 2017 @ 12:42 pm

“Emmott offers plenty of facts and figures and concludes that an open, free, equal Western society is better than authoritarian rule. This is an estimable but unoriginal thought.”

I am thinking of Tienanmen Square. And what sticks out in my mind was this thought, and I hesitate to say it.

“It’s over and there’s no going back.” Once people get a real taste of playing a role in their own fate, of being able to feed their families, of intrapersonal interpersonal social and business communication on their own accord, its not easy if even possible to put that genie in the bottle.

Soon after that moment as teh Chinese government expressed it’s deep regret for its reaction (as I recall it). Some group or some advocate for The New American Century or Way arrived in my office. I simply said democracy is on the march, you could sense this presence of a renewed vigor for it. And it was in my “sense” born out of a nations internal self realization. So for me the idea of an ethic of spreading democracy under those conditions made sense. I think our actions after 9/11 killed it. And in truth the entire premise of forced democracy via regime change against states of no threat to the US or her allies has continued to put nails into that idea as sinks ever further from grasp.

No. What has held the joint together has been national identities and individual state identities and people loyal to the same. One could change their identity, but in doing so they had die to their previous. After all there’s a reason you are rejecting the clothes one once had. Akin new wine in old wineskins — it simply will not hold. And what every society needs is containers that remain intact. The resulting chaos, may neatly be labeled “creative destruction”. But that result is unpredictable. Human beings are infinitely unpredictable.

What the author seems to be offering is an idealyc view that doesn’t exist anywhere. One could predict chaos in over throwing Pres Hussein, but not ISIS/ISIL. Sure immigrants bring to the table all manner of “stuff” from their past lives. But how much of that is fruitful to the state they are bringing it to, is questionable. I may enjoy sauerkraut, that doesn’t by definition I that nationalized healthcare is beneficial merely because one like sauerkraut. I may be intrigued by asian mysticism, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy as a western practice. I may be aglow at Japanese conformity, but it’s hardly an ethic to be embraced by blacks still trying to prove their worth as individuals in the US. I may have a good deal of respect for Allah Mohammed, but that doesn’t mean I want to face west at the allotted time of the day as a national practice or even embrace him as “honorable” though he may well be.
Here’s an idea being exported for quite some time,

“The United States stole the Southwest from Mexico.”

I have not met a single youngster who doesn’t enter my space and doesn’t espouse it. It’s almost as fluid a thought as the United States invaded Vietnam and lost. Both are hardly reflected in the record, but the consequences of those untruths profoundly impact the manner in which the US citizens thinks of of themselves. They’ll leap over any lingering consequences of slavery to entreat both Vietnamese and Mexican complaint. The consequence is it has disrupted our foreign policy stability.

I am not opposed to Davos, I get it. But I am opposed to the notion that Davos dictate what happens in the US or determines what a US citizen should be doing in the US for the sake of a noble myth of global unity. Neither Vietnam nor Mexico is thinking about global kuhmbyaya, they seek to take advantage of the US to their benefit.

It takes a certain gall that states who could neither obey international expectations about border security or adhere to their treaty agreements concerning pace to demand anything from the country whose relations they have violated.

#2 Comment By Jon S On May 9, 2017 @ 12:56 pm

This book rehashes the core of modern economic conservatism. The United States is not the ascendant power, the global corporation (Apple, GE) is.

And what is good for the global corporation is good for us. Thus government must be small and weak to minimize interference. Regulation must be restricted. Corporations must be able to sue the state for actions which lead to lost profitability.

Humans must be fungible. Everyone must recognize each other as equals regardless of religion, gender, ethnicity or any other markers. If labor becomes expensive in one place, capital can move to another with no consequences. All consequences must fall on labor.

And the only solution to the inexorable slide into poverty is education. Regardless of the fact that 7 billion people can receive the same education, such that none stand out.

And, of course, There Is No Alternative!

#3 Comment By David Naas On May 9, 2017 @ 5:53 pm

What’s good for General Bullmoose is what’s good for the U.S.A.
And by Dow Jones and all their little averages,
Don’t you forget it!

#4 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 9, 2017 @ 8:39 pm

“And, of course, There Is No Alternative!”

This is not the US of Inc. Incorporated yet. And there’s no reason that it ever need be.