Charles Kupchan on Western”democracy” versus state capitalism and Political Islam

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America’s Place in the New World – My thanks to a reader for this interesting article by Charles Kupchan for The New York Times Sunday Review. Here is a section:

The democratic, secular and free-market model that has become synonymous with the era of Western primacy is being challenged by state capitalism in China, Russia and the Persian Gulf sheikdoms. Political Islam is rising in step with democracy across the Middle East. And left-wing populism is taking hold from India to Brazil. Rather than following the West’s path of development and obediently accepting their place in the liberal international order, rising nations are fashioning their own versions of modernity and pushing back against the West’s ideological ambitions.

As this century unfolds, sustaining American power will be the easy part. The hard part will be adjusting to the loss of America’s ideological dominance and fashioning consensus and compromise in an increasingly diverse and unwieldy world.

If American leaders remain blind to this new reality and continue to expect conformity to Western values, they will not only misunderstand emerging powers, but also alienate the many countries tired of being herded toward Western standards of governance.

This transition won’t be easy. Since the founding era, the American elite and the public have believed in the universality of their model. The end of the cold war only deepened this conviction; after the collapse of the Soviet Union, democratic capitalism seemed the only game in town. But the supposed “end of history” didn’t last. Many developing nations have recently acquired the economic and political wherewithal to consolidate brands of modernity that present durable alternatives.

The last 30 years of Chinese development, for example, look nothing like the path followed by Europe and North America. The West’s ascent was led by its middle class, which overturned absolute monarchy, insisted on a separation of church and state and unleashed the entrepreneurial and technological potential vital to the Industrial Revolution. In contrast, the authoritarian Chinese state has won over its middle class, and with reason: its economy outperforms those of Western competitors, enriching its bourgeoisie and lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.

And in today’s fast and fluid global economy, the control afforded by state capitalism has its distinct advantages, which is precisely why Russia, Vietnam and others are following China’s lead.

The Middle East is similarly set to confound American expectations. Participatory politics may be arriving in the region, but most of the Muslim world recognizes no distinction between the realms of the sacred and the secular; mosque and state are inseparable, ensuring that political Islam is returning as coercive regimes fall. A poll last year revealed that nearly two-thirds of Egyptians want civil law to adhere strictly to the Koran, one of the main reasons Islamists recently prevailed in the country’s parliamentary elections.

And Egypt is the rule, not the exception. If nothing else, the Arab Spring has shown that democratization does not equal Westernization, and that it is past time for Washington to rethink its longstanding alignment with the region’s secular parties.



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