We are almost halfway through 2016. India is the fastest-growing economy in the world. June 21, the mid-year solstice, is now celebrated as International Yoga Day. The Indian prime minister was just in the United States, cementing his country’s new role as America’s ally throughout the “Indo-Pacific region”. And a few hours from now, India’s former colonial ruler will vote on whether to extricate itself from the European Union.
This post is not about India, it is about the political turmoil roiling the US and the EU. But I led with India to put those events in perspective.
I am going to argue that North America and western Europe are experiencing a comprehensive systemic crisis, comparable in many ways to that which was experienced by Russia and eastern Europe several decades ago. But my first point is that life goes on for those countries outside the system. China, India, and postcommunist Russia, are making their own way in the world now. For them, the turmoil in the West is an external event. It affects them, but it does not define them.
So – what are the elements of the West’s crisis? Debt and economic stagnation, endless war with the Muslim world, societies riddled with surveillance, and an out-of-touch elite. When you put it like that, the similarities with the last years of the Soviet Union are obvious. In Russia, Gorbachev let the European satellite states slip away, and then Yeltsin pulled the plug on the Soviet Union itself, in the name of Russian national revival.
It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump will get the chance to do something similar, in the name of “America First” nationalism. But both the Trump movement and the Brexit campaign show the native working class of the US and the UK, grabbing at an unexpected chance to overturn a political order in which neither side of the “mainstream” really cares about them.
But this is about more than just politics. The system that is being challenged also encompasses the media, the universities, and the big banks and corporations. It includes the inculcation of progressive values at home, and the maintenance of a military hegemony far beyond its North Atlantic core.
The progressive values of open borders and open genders show the contradictions in the system most starkly. The West denigrates masculinity, and encourages mass immigration, yet also thinks it can keep the Middle East under control. But as we have recently seen, LGBT and ISIS cannot coexist within the same system. Their conflict is the outward manifestation of the cognitive dissonance within the elite.
It’s hard to say how far along the West is, in recapitulating the Russian experience. Do we have a further lost decade in front of us? Are we on the brink of change akin to 1989-1991? Or were the Obama years already akin to the Russian 1990s? Maybe the 2008 “financial crisis” and the 2011 “Arab spring” were already the collapse of the western system, and we just didn’t realize it.