National Populism and the New World Order


Bullets Sign August 2019 IMAGE



Liberal democracy[1] is perhaps the most successful political ideology in history and has led to unprecedented global development, peace and prosperity.  While it has suffered numerous external shocks in the past two decades, it has until now stood firm and continued to underwrite the Western global order it gave rise to in the 20th century.  However, its natural dissolution appears to be inevitable in the face of major long-term forces that are reshaping the world.  Given the progress made by global society along so many fronts and the myriad transnational institutions it has established, there is an opportunity to manage an orderly transition to the next world order, using the levers created by the current one. 

However, liberal democracy is now facing an internal threat in the form of national populism that by its very nature it is not equipped to handle, and one that combined with external factors threatens the very existence of western civilisation as we know it.  Over the past three years national populism has grown from a fringe movement, supported by money, media and personalities into a powerful ideology, National Populism.  The resulting clash of ideologies between National Populism and liberal democracy is being fought not just between nation states and power blocs but primarily within them, and this clash threatens to weaken the West just as its dominance is being challenged by emerging superpowers that do not share its values.  This may be the first world order whose fate will be determined at the ballot box, where citizens in the West have the opportunity to choose which kind of world they wish to live in.  

This month’s Sign of the Times examines the world’s position at a crossroad, where the actions and choices of western industrialised countries will impact the trajectory of the world for potentially decades to come, determining whether the liberal world order can be reformed and rejuvenated or whether the world is facing a less prosperous, more fragmented and darker future.


The Dynamics and Mechanisms of the Rising Clash of Ideologies


The End of the End of History. The fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and the subsequent demise of the Soviet Union exposed the ideology of communism for what it was nearly a century and half after it was first defined by Karl Marx: the most effective ideology in history for genocide, with the death toll reaching nearly 100m dead in the 20th century.[2]  The speed of communism’s collapse around the world and the details of 50 years of totalitarian misrule in Central and Eastern Europe thoroughly discredited the ideology as an alternative to the liberal democracy prevailing in the West.  Following a century that saw absolute monarchies replaced in turn by democracies, fascism and communism, often within the same country and even decade, liberal democracy at the close of the last century was the last man standing, exultantly proclaimed as the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”[3]. 

Western style liberal democracy was the apotheosis of governance systems, ethically, politically, and economically, and America ruled supreme as the world’s hyperpower.  LearningAugust Quote The Triumph of the West lessons from the collapse of the Soviet model, China concluded that their way forward was adopting America’s model and implemented sweeping reforms to create a massive private sector and private wealth from privatisation, trade and capitalism.  The 1990s were the decade when the IMF and World Bank promoted the neoliberal Washington Consensus[4] across the world, when the US led the world in military action with the support of multinational institutions like the UN and NATO[5], and when its economy produced nearly a third of the world’s total economic output.  The correlation between liberal democracy and prosperity was also well understood, and not just by advanced countries: liberal societies tend to be rich and rich societies tend to be liberal, providing further incentives for developing countries around the world to adopt a liberalist agenda.[6]


Stepping on to August Quote There is also the so-called liberal ideathe world stage during the first half of the 20th century, liberal democracy replaced the older imperialist political and economic models that had prevailed since the Industrial Revolution and ushered in a more inclusive global capitalist model.  This model, based on the free movement of goods people and ideas, enabled more value to accumulate outside of imperial power centres, which had previously controlled the flow of trade with their dependent colonial bases.  Given America’s extremely successful, and relative to others, extreme model of economic liberalism, the promulgation of American led values replaced British imperial ones.  The success of liberal democracy was fuelled by advances in science and technology which enabled the mass spread of products, medicines, food, formal employment and other benefits.  These advances required the spread of education based on reasoning rather than faith and led to unprecedented levels of knowledge creation and innovation in the 20th Century, alongside increasing specialisation and expertise to develop the breakthroughs in medicines, energy, food sciences and everything else needed to sustain what has become  the greatest civilisation in history.[7]  The success of each of these liberal societies required more and more learned people, essentially knowledge workers, to develop the intellectual property to keep the system working.


The past two decades have shaken optimists’ certainty about the ‘End of History’.  9/11 and the subsequent ‘War on Terror’[8] began a new period of questioning of both America’s power and its political and economic system.  A further shock came in 2008 with the Global Financial Crisis, triggered by the collapse of American banks, revealing the risks of the unchecked capitalist financial systems that had become normal in America.  This shook the confidence of nations the world over in America’s model of capitalism.  China’s path, in an important policy reversal, began to diverge sharply from America’s, whose capitalism was now labelled among analysts and media, somewhat pejoratively, ‘Neoliberalism’.  China’s continued economic success and its apparent ability to grow without the adoption of liberal democracy put into doubt the link between liberal democracy and prosperity, particularly in the developing world.  As the world entered the second decade of the 21st century, China’s authoritarian system with its own brand of state capitalism, and Russia’s return, at least politically, to the world stage, provided two examples of alternative paths to wealth and power that other countries could follow to promote their own development.  As a result, both democracy and capitalism suffered globally, with 2018 marking the 13th year of consecutive decline of global freedom,[9] with both global economic and political freedom in the world trending downwards.[10]  However, despite these challenges in the developing world and the formation of powerful opponents, liberal democracy had never been successfully challenged in the West itself since the end of the Second World War, until now.


The Emergence of National Populism. The rise of national populism in western countries in the past decade represents a home-grown challenge to liberal democracy, a August Quote The geo-policitically critical shiftcompeting ideology that calls into question many of liberal democracy’s core tenants, including those that enabled its success against its former competitors, such as the Soviet Union.  The success of national populism has been rapid and comprehensive in a way that would have been impossible to predict even a decade ago.  National populism has spread from what appeared to be, at first, an isolated phenomena, the Brexit referendum in the UK and the 2016 US presidential election, to countries like Italy, Sweden, Austria and Hungary, in which populists have risen to form or join governments, and then on to the EU, where populists have won a sufficient number of parliamentary seats to have a voice in the Union.  In the West national populism, dedicated to the abandonment of liberal values, is now the leading ideology of the government of the current superpower, the US, of the last great empire, the UK, and is gaining traction in the European Union, the most significant peace and prosperity project of post-World War nations.


National populism, at its core, is partly a response to the unaddressed imbalances created under liberal democracy.  For all the progress and prosperity it has created, liberal democracy alone does not provide solutions to all of society’s problems, and how individual countries implement their democracies and capitalist systems matters to the outcomes that they achieve.  In many cases liberal democracy has also led to income inequality, social imbalances and increasingly unaffordable welfare systems.  Despite none of these inequities leaving citizens in the West anywhere near as impoverished as populations without liberal democracy in the developing world, they have stoked a level of protest and backlash that have created an existential challenge for the West.  The key dislocations that have paved the way for national populism include:

National populism is also a reaction to liberalism’s focus on the rights and value of individuals, which liberalism’s critics feel has loosened social bonds and undermined traditional sources of authority such as family, community and religion.  Importantly though, liberalism has also effectively muzzled the voices of the ignorant, prejudiced and isolationists within societies.  National populism appeals to a number of these voices – the poor, the uneducated and disadvantaged as well as the fearful, angry and hateful – who feel that their concerns are not being heard by incumbent leaders – and unites these distinct groups with different values under one banner.  The result is an ideology that is built around dissatisfaction and fear and is anti-globalist, anti-elite, anti-immigration, nativist and protectionist, subject to the vicissitudes of demagogues and strongmen offering appealing slogans and simple answers to complex issues.


Mechanisms Magnifying National Populism’s Rise.  Since traditional political and media institutions are clearly not sympathetic to the values of this new ideology, national populism has required new institutions to support and distribute its message.  Here, national populism has been able to benefit from the weakness of mainstream parties and politicians, the pervasiveness of social media, advances in data technologies and a rules-based democratic system of government that it could utilise to secure power.  In addition, established right-wing interests in the circles of media, money and society, the likes of which had sponsored the Tea Party in the US, have been seeking a new agenda to rally around.  The three main thrusts whereby national populism has been able to establish itself as mainstream are political, which involves subsuming a party and its mainstream trusted politicians; communication, which involves developing a new media platform, and; the democratic system itself, which provides the use of electoral systems and procedures to secure power.

With the leadership, ideology and infrastructure in place and in power, national populism has made the transition from fringe movement to a political force, National Populism.


Global Implications of National Populism.  Importantly, the ideological problem posed by National Populism is distinctly Western, and so while the West is consumed in an internal struggle over competing ideologies, other countries may find the opportunity to help it fall and/or to rise and take global power.  Asia is rising and is set to grow to over half the world’s population, middle class, and economic output within the next decade,[15] largely propelled by two major powers: China and, to a lesser degree, India.

The measure of policy effectiveness for any superpower, indeed for any civilisation in history, has been determined by how it responds to the rise of potential rivals.  In this regard two things seem clear: August Quote no matter how The first is that America has recognised the rise of China as a threat and the line of presidents from George W. Bush onward has labelled China as a strategic rival, as a country to keep in check with a ‘pivot’ to Asia, and as one to censure and tax through trade penalties, with full containment  likely to come next.[16]  The second is that the US is currently abandoning leadership and reform of the world order in pursuit of a policy that is a perfect example of national populism, ‘America First’.  Under this policy, many of the most vigorous initiatives to date have been inward looking ‘transactions’ (leaving the Paris Climate Accord, the executive order known as the ‘Muslims Ban’) designed to accrue a short term benefit domestically, while at the same time abandoning the balance of a power in key parts of the world such as the Middle East by taking sides, casting traditional allies as adversaries when it comes to trade or economic affairs, and actively promoting national populism among allied nations with the aim of disintegrating blocs such as the EU, which are seen as rivals.

Hence, the early part of the 21st century begins with a conflict between two opposing ideologies in liberal democracy and National Populism.  This conflict is more powerful than previous ideological conflicts in that they are not initially competitions between blocs of countries but are between constituencies within each state and are effective at dividing individuals within each unit, family, friends, workplaces, all the way to national institutions such as parliaments.  In this conflict, the liberal democratic world order is under threat of being disintegrated from the inside.  The values and institutions that have shaped the current order have failed to sufficiently address current pressing issues and allowed its own rival to grow from within.  They are likely incapable of addressing the issues facing the world tomorrow.  If this order and its institutions are not successfully reformed, and quickly, it may well be replaced in the coming years by something angrier.  Whether and how this happens will depend y on the outcome of the clash between these two competing ideologies.


The Clash of Ideologies in the Context of Long-term Cycles and Trajectories

Stepping back, the current divisions between and within societies across the globe are taking place in the ebb and flow of much larger currents impacting the long-term trajectory of world events.  These long-term cycles and mega-trends shaping the arc of history provide the backdrop against which the fight between liberal democracy and national populism will ultimate play out and within which the new world order will be embedded.  Five of these stand out as key to shaping humankind for now:

I. The Rise and Fall of Empires. Throughout history, the rise and fall of dominant powers have followed a repeating pattern of rapid expansion, a period of ‘stability’ marked by increasing overstretch, and finally decline, usually in the face of a new and rising power.  By most measures, the 20th century has been the American Century, which has ended with the US as the sole hyperpower following the demise of the Soviet Union.  While the 21st century may have started as an American one, history suggests that it will not end as one and the evidence is currently pointing to the inexorable rise of Asia to replace it.  While many factors influence the shape of the rise of and fall of empires, an extrapolation of historical precedents suggests that America will continue to be a superpower, and potentially The superpower at least until the middle of the 21st century, with some important challenges from the second quarter of the century onwards. [17]

II. Strategic Resource Superiority in the Transition of Superpowers. Great powers depend on their ability to exploit strategic resources, typically in the form of energy and materials, and resource superiority is critical to the rise of any new power.  The successful exploitation of a new resource allows rising nations to challenge established powers while incumbents struggle to transition away from older resource bases that underpinned own their rise, e.g. America’s exploitation of oil superseded the British Empire’s use of steam.  Superpowers themselves decline when their resource needs exceed their supply, when they lose access to their reserves, or when their resources are superseded by superior alternatives.  Today, developing any viable resource alternatives is likely to require significant technological innovation, and these alternatives have expanded beyond energy and materials to include information technology, form example such as A.I. and most recently exploration of space.  While the US has traditionally led the world in investments in innovation, China’s ongoing push in A.I. technology indicates that it has recognised its potential as a strategic resource underpinning the potential rise of a new power to rival America.

III. The Gap Years. As the world moves from a population of c.6.1 billion in 2000 to nearly 10 billion by 2050, the growth model of the current world order is clearly not sustainable without profound changes.  If the entire world were to live to the standard of the average American, it would need quadruple the current global natural resource base for them to do so, implying a significant impending gap in resources as expectations grow.  Growing demand for nearly everything will soon lead to shortages which can only be solved by technological breakthroughs that allow us to produce more while using less.  These fundamental breakthroughs will need to occur across a wide range of areas including energy, material sciences, manufacturing, healthcare, defence and information technology.  The risk that there is a gap before these breakthroughs are realised gives rise to the idea of the ‘Gap Years’, which will define the period between the limits of this era’s technical capabilities and the breakthrough or reset at the beginning of the next era.  During this gap, mankind will learn whether our species has progressed to a level where sharing prevails over conflict or whether the fear of scarcity drives to acquisition for oneself at the expense of others.

IV. Waves in Transition of Civilisations, The Shift to the Information Era. Overlaying the transitions above is a civilisational shift from the industrial to the information age, playing out in various stages across the world today.  Just like industrial societies, starting in Europe with the Industrial Revolution, replaced settled agricultural societies in a civilizational wave during the 19th century, post-industrial and knowledge-based societies today are replacing industrial ones in a new ‘third wave’.[18]  In each previous transition, reaching back to hunter gatherers resisting agriculturalists in the Neolithic Revolution, the old order despite efforts to the contrary, was unable to stand up to the superior technology, organisation and culture of the new societies.  Importantly, the creation and open sharing of knowledge that has characterised the current liberal world order has driven civilizational progress and the transition of the world to the information age, propagating a global ‘open society’ that values political freedom, transparency and human rights.  Within this framework, the rise of national populism appears to be an attempt, ultimately futile, of the older industrial and factional order to reassert itself in the face of the inevitable change brought about by the next wave of post-industrial societies.[19]

V. Potential Flow of Humanity into One Culture. Finally, it is worth considering the direction in which the ‘stream of humankind’ is flowing.  Having migrated out of Africa 200,000 years to cover the globe ago, human society has since expanded consistently, aided by increased communications, infrastructure and technology, and forming increasingly large and complex civilisations with a widening definition of ”us”.  In the progression from bands to tribes to chiefdoms to states, empires and civilisations, the logical endpoint would appear to be a borderless and fully globalised world, one that eliminates (or at least marginalises) the divisive impact of ethnic and cultural differences and creates a global community built on shared values.  While the long-term drivers and the telos of the flow to universalism remain unclear, history, particularly the 20th century however, shows that the flow can stop and even reverse through wars, catastrophes and civilizational collapse.  Current trends like nationalist populism and trade wars too appear to be impacting this flow on a lesser scale for the time being, slowing down further progress.

Today the world is at a fork in the road.  Given the long-term cycles at work underlying the movement of the world, the current liberal world order will dissolve anyway.  The question is will it be replaced by something better?  The current battle of ideologies is also partly a product of the intersection of these major cycles and trends: America’s natural decline as a hyperpower, the era of post-plentiful resources, the loss of traditional industrial jobs and the growing diversity of open societies.  It is inevitable that given the magnitude of these changes, fear would emerge as a powerful force and with it, exploitation of that fear by leaders.  However, the forces are unstoppable, and the question is only how the world chooses to deal with it: together (in an extension of the liberal world order) or separately (in a competition among players).


The Path to a New World Order – Determining What Kind of New Civilisation to Create

The complexity of the many forces at play can be reduced to three critical ones that challenge the peaceful continuation of global development and transition in the immediate term.  Firstly, the general rise of national populist and illiberal sentiments in the West, which has quickly established itself as the most destructive and divisive force facing these countries today.  It presents the conundrum that the very foundations of democracy – open information and open voice – create the platform for undoing the power underlying modern democracies; the interdependence between liberal freedoms and prosperity resting on a framework based on the advancement of knowledge and truth.  Secondly, the hazard of this divisiveness is made critical on an international level by China’s rise, the world’s most successful illiberal country and one that is overtaking the US economically and increasingly, politically.  And thirdly, America’s role in the world.  Ironically America’s own embrace of illiberalism at the highest levels of government, reverses the post-Cold War roles by making it potentially an aspirant to China’s model, rather than the reverse, lending further international credibility to the ideology.  America faces the important choice of whether it is a unifying force in the decade(s) to come or it sees its interests best served by becoming a predator, utilising its strengths to take what it can from others in terms of economics.  One can envisage these forces interacting and reinforcing each other to create two very different worlds over the medium term:


An Open Interconnected World Based on A New Liberal Order.  Any renewal or reinvention of liberalism to shape a new world order  would be based on the worldview that that the most important things on this planet are interconnected and interdependent and so our future opportunities are maximised and challenges addressed if we work together to create plenty and then share.  It recognises differences of effort and capability on the one hand and believes in the importance of initiative and risk taking on the other and so the fruits of labour may well differ while protecting the most vulnerable in society.  For such a renewed liberal order to be sustainable it will need to be universal, adaptive and inclusive, and it will further need to provide a stable transition path from the current strained system.  It will have to have superior propositions to firstly, marginalised groups within developed nations and secondly to developing countries, offering both better deals than they have on the table today.  The path to such an order would involve the West adopting a multi-step approach:   


While the basis for the political consensus in Western countries necessary to develop such a New Deal remains unclear, it is clear that without it a renewed liberal order cannot possible.  Such a consensus will inevitably require compromise, and while the “progressive” or “socialist” left wing backlash to National Populism may be emotionally satisfying to its supporters, it is further widening the wedge between political opponents and reducing the likelihood of working solutions being found.

A country with an open society that can manage change will also be well positioned not just to innovate the next breakthrough technology in strategic resources (as outlined above) but also to harness the technology effectively for its own and the world’s benefit, rather than trying to suppress or contain it out as a threat to existing incumbent technologies.

If the West can sufficiently reinvent itself, it can resume its position of leadership across major global governance initiatives to set the rules of engagement for the next era.  Moreover, it will have something to offer to the rest of the world that is distinct from the agenda being successfully spread by rising powers such as China, whose formula is attractive and simple: cash and investment for resources and market access, a de-emphasis of rights and values and the export of surveillance and censorship technologies to all takers.  The West’s current offer of free trade, open communication, the exchange of ideas and the creation of long-term win-win relationships needs to be augmented for it to beat something so simple and transactional.


A World of Islands in A New Illiberal Order.  An illiberal world order offers essentially a vision of societies defined in terms of various national, sub-national, ethnic, racial, sexual, or cultural units; a modern form of tribalism.  It believes in a world split between “us” and everybody else, “them”.  It would value the bonds between those defined as “us” at the expense of “them” and believe that sacrifices of opportunity and bearing of challenges are worth enduring to preserve one’s tribe.  It would believe that one can trade with others for all that one needs including goods, services, security and issues, without needing to form lasting connections or meaningfully engage with counterparties.  The world order resulting from this view is the natural endpoint of the National Populist movements of the West and one that the major autocracies of China and Russia have already been moving towards.

 The first steps of the West down the path to an illiberal world order has been paved by populist politicians’ easy answers that unite the disparate agendas of those actually “left behind” and those simply aggrieved by the status quo.  Given that, in itself, populism denigrates truth (and therefore knowledge), it does not inherently create the first-class infrastructure required to solve the complex questions it purports to address.  As such, it is unlikely to be sustainable, but for the time being it provides the opportunity for illiberals to promote an agenda which, while narrow in scope is internally coherent.  Such an agenda would define a society that is less prosperous but promises to be more distributive of the economics of its endeavours, and more local and more tribal, less open and so less diverse.  Its implementation and adoption on a global scale would follow a series of steps:


Conclusion: The Fight is for a Civilisation Based on the Pursuit of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom

Ideology provides the underpinning for civilisation.  From it springs the model for what is valued by society, how things work, the rules of engagement and the institutions that enforce them.  The winner of today’s battle of ideologies will determine what the next civilisation will look like, or it will try to.  The West is clearly struggling to work through its clash of ideologies.  As demonstrated by the Trump Administration’s conflict with both Democrat-led states and a Democrat-led Congress and the UK’s Brexit divide across cities and parliament, leading nations can be paralysed for years and embroiled in fear and hate that does little to resolve fundamental issues such as healthcare, crime, education, poverty and economic regeneration.  During this internal battle of the past few years (and it really has only been a few years!), the West also struggled to formulate a cohesive foreign policy in response to Russian interference in Western elections, genocide in Syria, Iran’s nuclear deal, Israel and Jerusalem, Saudi Arabia, China and Huawei, the Paris Climate Accord and much more.

Whereas, the Cold War was an ideological conflict between blocs, the fight between National Populism and the liberal world order is an ideological conflict within the West, and in each nation at the granular level of individual relationships.  But there is little reason to believe that the West will be left alone to work through this clash of ideologies.  The international opponents of an open society have the will and the weapons to tip the scales by taking sides.  Indeed, the intelligence services of the West, from the US, UK, France and Germany, report an unprecedented level of attacks on the elections in their countries.[23]  And while neither Russia nor China is likely driven by an ideological bent to propagate global illiberalism, the spread of National Populism in the West clearly works to their advantage.

In a future where illiberal countries are prevalent in the West, each favouring individual action over bloc action in the form of the EU or NATO, even beginning from the might of America, their clout will be significantly reduced in relative terms, no longer setting the rules of engagement on matters of geopolitics, geo-economics and finance, global trade and international military and security matters.  Given that China and Russia are highly effective at their global game and expanding their positions well, even with the benefit of sufficient time, few Western countries under “nation first” National Populist illiberal regimes can expect to be anything other than rule takers and will most likely become hosts to the goods, services, trade, peoples and security regimes that are imposed upon them.  Those few that rise to compete effectively with China’s and Russia will likely find themselves looking very much like their adversaries in the end.  America may be the only nation competent to compete effectively in this manner and so at most risk.

The nature of National Populism all but ensures not only the global scale of conflict, but its continued escalation as well.  National Populism at its core is based on outdated models of power that do not reflect the lessons of the last century’s history of war.  The imperial world order had land as its unit of measure.  This was based on wealth coming from land, which either provided direct resources or produced goods that could be taxed.  As a finite resource, landholdings could be increased only in a zero-sum exchange between winners and losers, and the most successful countries were those that conquered others to grow their powerbases.  This was the driving model of imperialism, land conquest enabled (some) nations to grow.

The key factor in the evolution away from this essentially static and predatory model for the world was trade.  Trade, particularly free trade, based on supply and demand and Auust Quote The confluencecomparative advantages creates growth by co-opting rather than conquering others, and creating an ever-widening group of countries that participate and benefit from it.  America grew into a superpower by leveraging its superior capitalist assets to effectively out-trade competitors and create superior value.  As part of this growth, it established rules and institutions that ensured that trade was largely fair and delivered win-win outcomes by and large.  Moreover, these rules and institutions were powerful enough to bind even countries like China that did not adopt liberal democratic models, limiting their ability to impose themselves on weaker countries but allowing them to create value from trade in return.  In this manner, these rules and institutions have underpinned the current liberal world order and trade has been a key source of its success in delivering global development, peace and prosperity.  It has enabled the world to grow.

National Populism focuses primarily on the interests of the lands of the nation state (which is its measure of unit).  It has this in common with the imperial model.  However, in current times, it clearly cannot grow through conquest of land and so in common with the Western liberal world order, it too relies on trade for growth.  In contrast though, given its unit is the nation, it is by design focused on “Nation First”.  So, if National Populism were to prevail and become universal, that is in a world where every nation is competing only for itself, the natural outcome would be to establish a hierarchy of predation,  in which the only rule is that the strong feed off the weak and the weak feed off the weaker, without the system as a whole growing.  The only way to change one’s position in the hierarchy and to grow is through conflict.  National Populism therefore, while it can become both global and pervasive, can never be universal or sustainable, a “Big Idea” that increases global peace, freedom and prosperity.  Its natural end point is a Predatory World Order.  The world has seen this mode of thinking and acting before: it underpinned the series of predatory competition for primacy that resulted in the Second World War.

Further, it’s recent adoption by the United States government increases the risk of real conflict between China and the US for global primacy, (as well as the risk of other regional struggles around the world), with both countries seeking to place their “Nation First” on similar ideological underpinnings.  The confluence of National Populism’s rise in the West, and the rapid rise of China, the world’s leading illiberal nation and on the verge of political superpower status,  therefore challenges not only the liberal world order but Western Civilisation itself, putting the peace and prosperity both have enabled at risk.

This realisation raises the fundamental question of what it will takes to protect Western Civilisation.  And what does it take to buy the time to migrate it to a global civilisation fit for the world being reshaped by historic forces?  The answerAugust quote having spent requires the proponents of open societies to reopen the minds of the people, exposing the faulty reasoning that has signed them up for or led them to make peace with National Populism, which are inadvertently betraying their nations and their way of life.  This will require a process of dialogue and alignment that bridges the divide of perspectives and assumptions between proponents of liberal democracy and populism.  Three potential ways in in which such a bridge could be built serve to illustrate how difficult this process is likely to be.  The first way entails a cataclysmic event, such as a war, a revolution, a new Great Depression or some other catastrophe that fundamentally resets society’s expectations at the shared lowest common denominator from which to rebuild.  In the second way, salvation lies in either in the form of a great leader (it would have to be one of nearly messianic proportions) to reach out across the divide with a universally compelling vision or a breakthrough in scientific discoveries that make solving many of the world’s hard problem’s easy, creating surpluses and riches beyond needs.  The third option would be for rationality to prevail in the face of fatal threats and external pressures – such as climate change, bioterrorism, cyber-security, resource shortages – which would compel opponents to unite and formulate shared responses.

The middle ground of the third scenario appears to have been lost; in placing “America First” one foregoes the high ground of positioning America at the top of a new civilisation that places the “World First”.  In placing “China First”, the Middle Kingdom also relives its own self-centred history and foregoes placing China at the top of a new civilisation, too.  In seeking a Brexit, the UK foregoes being the leader that helped save Europe.  In a time of dire ideological conflict, these are decisions that imperil the project of peace, prosperity and freedom that is the inheritance of history and can transform the Western world order into a sustainable global one.

In the final analysis, National Populism is the natural ideological enemy of America and the West, which in seeking to preserve old-fashioned American values is best positioned to destroy those values and way of life.  Therefore, the greatest clash ahead is not between ideologies or between liberals and conservatives, or between cultures, it is between future world orders and the civilisations they will give rise to.  Having defined courage over generations as speaking truth to power, responsible politicians in the West will now need to fundamentally change direction if their civilisation is to survive, for defeating populism will require speaking truth to the people.


National populism| Liberal democracy | Liberal world order| Information age | Superpower

1. Also called Western democracy, or a representative democracy that advocates civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on economic freedom
2. Source: The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, 1997, Stéphane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Andrzej Paczkowski et. Al. By comparison, colonialism is estimated to have caused half that number of deaths during the same period (source: RJ Rummel)
3. Francis Fukuyama, The National Interest: ‘The End of History?’, 1989
4. a set of economic policy prescriptions considered to constitute the “standard” reform package promoted for crisis-wracked developing countries by the multi-lateral institutions and the US Department of the Treasury.
5. The First Gulf War and the Kosovo War, respectively
6. See the November 2016 Sign of the Times: The Shape of the World to Come – Part I: How the World is Progressing
7. As measured by virtually any historically relevant indicator including economic output, population, human development indicators, technological output or geographic extent
8. First referenced September 16, 2011 by President George W Bush
9. according to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Index
10. The https://www.fraserinstitute.org/sites/default/files/human-freedom-index-2018.pdf
11. A far-right conspiracy theory detailing a supposed secret plot by an alleged “deep state” against U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters.
12. Source: The Financial Times
13. E.g. Twitter has identified over 50,000 automated bot accounts linked to Russia that posted material about the 2016 US election, as reported by the Guardian. Further afield, an estimated 13% of Twitter accounts engaging on Australia’s 2019 federal election were bots, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald
14. …and the self-interest of the electoral majority results in the despotic-like oppression of minorities, a position first formulated by John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty” 1859
15. See the July 2019 Sign of the Times: Asia Rising: Quantifying the Asian Century
16. See the August 2018 Sign of the Times: China’s Path to World Leadership
17. See the June 2012 Sign of the Times: American Power Patterns of Rise and Decline
18. See Toffler, Alvin: The Third Wave
19. A development predicted by philosopher Karl Popper in “The Open Society and its Enemies”, 1945
20. Source: The Heritage Foundation
21. Sources: OECD, Nationmaster, https://europa.eu/european-union/index_en, US Census data
22. i.e. the murder of any person or people by their government, including genocide, politicide and mass murder
23. Source: The Financial Times, The Washington Post, UK Parliament report, The Center for Strategic and International Studies