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Populism, nationalism have globalization on the rope

Political

Populism, nationalism have globalization on the rope

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In trying to take stock for 2021, given all of the seemingly contradicting trends of the past 12 months, it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions. The year began with the almost miraculous introduction of coronavirus vaccines, less than a year after the global pandemic that turned life around the world upside down. But it ends up with huge differences in access to these vaccines between nations and regions, and a small but significant proportion of people who reject them even in the affluent countries that have easy access to them.

Though it began with scenes of shocking violence in the U.S. Capitol, the year also heralded the inauguration of a U.S. president whose more conventional approach to U.S. foreign policy promised to prop up multilateralism and the international order. But it ends with an ongoing civil war in Ethiopia and one brewing in Myanmar, and the threat of interstate war in Europe on a scale not seen since World War II.

In terms of democracy and human rights, too, the year was equally disheartening with a series of military coups in Guinea, Mali, Sudan and Myanmar; a presidential coup in Tunisia; Sham elections in Nicaragua; and ongoing democratic relapse in El Salvador, Poland, Hungary and the United States. And it ends with a summit for democracy, which, despite its symbolic value, sounded hollow in its practical effect, as if it wanted to underline the challenges that liberalism and pluralistic societies face worldwide.

Meanwhile, the climate crisis appeared to be even more urgent this year, increasingly evident in extreme weather events and dramatic warnings from scientists studying climate patterns. But despite great declarative advances, in practice we are still marching towards a known turning point, after which there will be no turning back.

Of course, there were also positive developments this year. In the Middle East, for example, the cycle of total confrontation and proxy conflict that characterized the past decade has given way to a phase of diplomatic engagement. While hesitant and fragile, and possibly illusory in many ways, this engagement could open up avenues to make the region less volatile.

And while the defenders of democracy suffered many defeats that year, they remained undeterred, reversing the coup in Sudan and remaining defiant in Myanmar and Hong Kong. In the Gambia and Burkina Faso, those seeking to be held accountable for previous abuses under authoritarian regimes also made progress, albeit haltingly.

Nonetheless, the inevitable conclusion that in any series of measures we put all our hopes in 2021 – as a year in which we could reverse the pandemic, climate diplomacy, the subordination of multilateral cooperation to geopolitical competition – has been disappointed. Rather than a tipping point where the alarming trends of the past five years were reversed, the past year seemed more of a moment of fluctuation, where those trends might fluctuate, only to consolidate and get going again.

What is taking shape is a world in which seclusion instead of openness has become the basic attitude, a mindset that shapes reactions to everything from migration and trade to political dissent and the intercultural exchange of ideas. Equally alarming is this isolation within the politics of established democracies expressing itself increasingly in the form of isolated news and information ecosystems, which exclude the political dialogue across party lines, on which every democracy depends.

Like a stowaway, this closure accompanies the tendency to formulate everything in the language of war. The “gray area” in which nations now conduct their “politics by other means” has grown to such an extent that it encompasses almost all of our social, political and economic activities. And conflict was bred in so many different hybrid strains that it is now an invasive species that has taken over the ecosystem of human behavior.

As daunting as all of this may be, in many ways it is part of the normal pendulum oscillations in human history, where periods of expansive, outward-looking internationalism alternate with the impulse to contract, to turn inward, and to cling to more exclusive identities. And to be fair, politics is inherently conflictive, with very few actual cases of perfect win-win scenarios, be it national or international. Much more often, there are winners and losers for every decision made, and reducing the differences in outcome caused by those decisions is the hallmark of good policy.

When these disparities create tensions that cannot be alleviated, or when poorly crafted policies just don’t try, the pendulum begins to reverse – slowly at first, then faster, until things seem to begin to resolve all at once.

It is easy to feel that we are on the threshold of such a moment all at once. But pessimism, like optimism, is ahistorical. Although it may be based on inferences about the observable present, it is a projection onto an unknowable future. It is possible that last year’s trends could further solidify, ushering in a period of darkness similar to that of the last century that we thought we had left behind for good. But it’s not inevitable.

Even if the pendulum continues to swing towards greater isolation, more fragmented communities, and more conflict within and between nations, that process will ultimately create the tensions necessary to reverse it. In other words, like the calendar year, history doesn’t stop when we reach the end of a cycle. But it doesn’t unfold on its own either. If you want to change your course, you have to actively deal with it.

What does this then mean for those of us who see the current development as a dead end or worse? The answer, in my opinion, lies not only in finding practical ways to fairly distribute the benefits of openness and pluralism, but also in formulating a common narrative that reiterates those values ​​in a way that stimulates action.

In retrospect, it is easy to dismiss the utopian tales that accompanied the golden age of globalization in the first decade of this century. Still, the benefits of globalization, unevenly distributed, were real. It would not be appropriate to try now to revive the maximalist visions of a post-national, cooperative and liberal world society, as it has lost its inspirational power in the face of everything that has happened since then. But there is still a constituency within and between nations for openness, cooperation and exchange. Telling the right story can help shape the electorate – and take action.

As the New Year begins, we at WPR will continue to introduce you to all the major trends and developments that will help you understand the world. As we do this, we’ll be looking for the seeds of this new narrative. I expect that we will find it in the courage and resilience of those who, despite long adversity, continue to strive and struggle for values ​​that now seem threatened but can never be erased.

Judah Grunstein is the editor-in-chief of the World Politics Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @Judah_Grunstein.

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