We in the West also tend to interpret history to reflect positively on ourselves. Were the many centuries during which Europe or the United States were at the center of global events not inevitable? Were they not based on the Enlightenment and the Renaissance, on our engineering prowess, on our technological preeminence? Was it not based on our overall brilliance? After the collapse of communism in 1989, Francis Fukuyama wrote “The End of History,” by which he meant the triumph of Western values. Soon the entire world would be democratized, the victorious political order seemed clear.
How absurd that worldview seems now, in November 2017.
Since September 2001, the West has made a number of missteps. There were the aimless interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. There was the self-inflicted economic crisis of 2008, which was actually not a global disaster but a trans-Atlantic one, as China, Indonesia and India all continued to grow. For too many years we have clearly demonstrated to non-democratic states that democracy may no longer be reliable and is far too fragile: It installs incompetent leaders like Donald Trump in power and leads to blunders like Brexit. It has long been clear that democracy is slow, but now it’s obvious that it also makes terrible mistakes. What country would look to today’s United States as an example?
Which brings us to Germany, that stable center of Europe…
The idea that democracy was somehow the endpoint of development was megalomaniac. As long as there is something to redistribute, every system has it easy. But in the past 11 years, freedom around the world has receded. Of 195 states only 87 are still free, 59 are partially free and 49 are not free at all according to the NGO Freedom House. Turkey and Russia have turned their backs on the group of democracies while Poland and Hungary look to be not far behind. Meanwhile, the United States is foundering. One would hope that should be enough to focus minds in Berlin. There is, after all, a lot at stake.