We probably need to start getting used to new realities. The Munich Security Conference, the world’s leading forum for debate on international security policy, publishes a yearly report that is discussed extensively by officials and experts from different countries.
The title of this year’s Munich Security Report is striking, and rather alarmist. It refers to the phenomenon of “Westlessness” – or a less “Western” world.
This is certainly not a new debate. The New York Times described last year’s conference in Munich as a requiem for the West. Dozens of articles, lectures and books delve into the issue. Even those who brushed off skepticism as untimely or premature prophecy are beginning to doubt themselves.
So what is “Westlessness”? First of all, it is the idea that both the world and “Western” countries themselves are losing ground. The center of gravity, as well as capital, has shifted rapidly to the East. This is probably an unavoidable trend that cannot be reversed.
However, the paradox is that, at the same time, the West itself is becoming less “Western.” This has been observed in the United States under President Donald Trump as well as on the European continent. The leaders who have chosen to challenge the traditional Western model are those who are the most powerful at the moment.
Meanwhile, the influence of the rival camp is on the wane (German Chancellor Angela Merkel) or in a deep crisis of credibility and out of touch with the average citizen (President Emmanuel Macron in France or the Democrats in the US).
The West has gone through times of intense crisis and internal doubt before. But we were always convinced that it would ultimately find its way again, as history tends to go in cycles.
The factor which played a decisive role in establishing such – quasi-metaphysical – optimism was the premise that the American liberal establishment would always find a way to pull the West out of any deadlock.
But now this establishment is in disarray and, most importantly, it has lost the ability to understand and speak to its people. That is why we are beginning to come to terms with the unthinkable possibility of a second term for Trump.
Such a prospect would without doubt mean the end of the West as we know it. As the purportedly Chinese curse goes, “May you live in interesting times.” We certainly do.