15 March 2019   Leave a comment

I do not often agree with Robert Kagan, but he has written an essay for The Washington Post that deserves a close read. The essay tries to explain the rise of authoritarianism in the world today, and the challenge it poses to liberal democracies. His analysis is pretty straightforward:

“Humans do not yearn only for freedom. They also seek security — not only physical security against attack but also the security that comes from family, tribe, race and culture. Often, people welcome a strong, charismatic leader who can provide that kind of protection.

“Liberalism has no particular answer to these needs. Though liberal nations have at times produced strong, charismatic leaders, liberalism’s main purpose was never to provide the kind of security that people find in tribe or family. It has been concerned with the security of the individual and with treating all individuals equally regardless of where they come from, what gods they worship, or who their parents are. And, to some extent, this has come at the expense of the traditional bonds that family, ethnicity and religion provide.

“To exalt the rights of the individual is to weaken the authority of the church and other authorities that presume to tell individuals what they must believe and how they must behave. It weakens the traditional hierarchies of birth and class, and even those of family and gender. Liberalism, therefore, cannot help but threaten ‘traditional values’ and cultures. Those are maintained either by the power of traditional authorities or by the pressures of the community and majority opinion. But in a liberal state, the rights of the few, once recognized, supersede the preferences of the many.

“In Europe and the United States, this has meant the breakdown of white, Christian cultural ascendancy as liberalism has progressively recognized the rights of people of color; of Jews and Muslims; of gays and others with sexual orientations frowned upon, if not forbidden, by the major religions; and, more recently, of refugees and migrants. Liberalism is a trade-off, and many have often been unhappy at what was lost and unappreciative of what was gained.”

The tension between the need for freedom and the need for security is not easily resolved in a liberal democracy, particularly when the economic situation is difficult. When the pie shrinks, people often look to scapegoats to explain their desperation.

Unfortunately, many of the pressures on liberal democracy stem from a sense of insecurity that can be stimulated by a fear of the “other”. We had a brutal manifestation of that fear today in New Zealand as a white supremacist killed 49 people praying in a mosque. I find our inability to treat this ideology as a serious threat incomprehensible. Far more people in the US have been killed by white supremacists than by Islamist-inspired extremists. US President Trump was asked by the threat today and The Washington Post reported his response:

“President Trump said Friday he does not believe white nationalism is a rising global danger after a gunman who espoused that ideology massacred 49 Muslims in New Zealand.

“When asked at the White House whether white nationalists were a growing threat around the world, Trump replied: ‘I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.’”

We need to focus on real, not imagined, threats.

Posted March 15, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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