Do you have your summer reading picked out already? Have you decided which books to take with you to the beach? Maybe we can help! As we head into June, it’s time for another Debating Europe book of the month. Each month, we pick a different book for our Book Club and interview the author, putting questions and comments to them from our readers.
Our book of the month for June is The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea by Bill Emmott, former Editor-in-Chief of The Economist. You can read our summary here, and check out some of the questions and comments from our audience.
So, what did our readers have to say? We had a comment sent in by Franz, wondering if the West is really declining or whether what we’re actually seeing is a rebalancing, as the East reassumes the kind of economic significance its population size demands. Franz points out that Western countries have only really been in the ascendant for a handful of centuries, whereas countries like India and China have been economic juggernauts for most of their long histories.
How would Bill Emmott, author of the Fate of the West, respond to Franz?
Well, I would say certainly Franz is correct that we are seeing a rebalancing of the world. This has been going on for many decades, with the rise of China, and of India, of Korea, of Tawain, of Singapore, of East Asia, and so on. It’s a very welcome rebalancing of the world. As he says, really until the 16th century, but perhaps more reasonably until the 19th century, China was the world’s dominant economy – the biggest economy – that is absolutely true. That was less true of the other countries of Asia, they were not well-developed…
Are we seeing the decline of the West? I would say we are, regardless of the rebalancing of the world economy. The rebalanicng of the world economy is happening, that’s important. But what I’m talking about in The Fate of the West is not a relative phenomenon, it’s an absolute phenomenon. It’s about the weakness – the internal weakness – of the European and American economies and societies as exemplified by and accelerated by the Great Crash of 2008, the worst financial crisis for eight decades, which has had profound consequences on living standards, on faith in capitalism, on faith in political systems…
This decline of the West is not inevitable. It can be reversed, and I hope it will be reversed, but it is essentially an internal problem. So, I think these are two separate phenomena; the rise of the East, the reemergence of the East is true, welcome, and important, obviously in historical terms. The weaknesses of the Western countries are internal phenomena, and they could go either way.
Next up, we had a comment come in from Zap, who argues the problem is that we still have a “West vs. the Rest” mentality, meaning we often sabotage relations with other parts of the world. He argues that Russia is the best example of this, and that there is no reason for the antagonism we see today. Why can’t the West accept that other parts of the world often do things differently, and that liberal democracy isn’t the only (nor necessarily the best) way of organising a society?
Finally, we had a comment sent in by James, who believes that the election of Donald Trump in the US and the vote for Brexit in the UK represent mere “blips” for the West. Trump will, James argues, be constrained by the constitutional limits of the presidency (serving at most eight years before being ejected from office), while Brexit will inevitably lead to some sort of almighty political fudge that nobody is entirely happy with. James is certain that liberal democracy is ultimately “self-correcting”, and we shouldn’t worry too much about its overall health or ultimate fate. Is he right?
Is the West really declining? Or is it just the East is rising? And is liberal democracy in peril, or is it self-correcting? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!