The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was supposed to mark both the "end of history" and the birth of an international community founded on the universal acceptance of Western values -- a world in which "market democracy" was the norm. Instead, the West has suffered a litany of disappointments -- from costly wars to financial crises to the rise of non-Western powers -- that has left it deeply disillusioned. Far from a cooperative, rule-based order, the contemporary world is a place of vast, permanent competition -- a muddled melee among regional poles, countries, governments, businesses, banks, financial funds, rating agencies, producers, consumers, individuals, international media, and criminal organizations, if not also between "civilizations." This competition continues even in the forums that are supposed to regulate it: the World Trade Organization, the G-20, and others.
After the end of the Cold War, those in the West with universalist sensibilities -- particularly in Europe -- strove to promote international exchange. Of course, this exchange was supposed to be unidirectional -- the projection of the values of freedom and progress and the market economy onto the rest of the world. But, to the consternation of the proselytizing West, the outside world is now being projected onto it. Just as colonized peoples turned colonizers' ideas -- liberté, égalité -- against them, the globalized peoples have begun to leverage the deregulated global economy to their advantage. As a result, we have seen the rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and dozens of other "emerging" countries that signal the end of Western control over global affairs.
Faced with this disorienting new reality, part of the Western elite has taken refuge in denial, insisting on ever more openness and globalization -- and falling further and further out of touch with public opinion. Meanwhile, the accumulation of these upheavals is producing a sense of vertigo and even panic among Western populations. All the world's flows -- trade, finance, migration, culture -- seem totally unchecked and uncontrollable, at least by the West and the international organizations that have, until now, served their interests. In the United States, the Republican Party is adrift. Unable to accept the end of a John Wayne-esque era, party leaders seek at once to isolate the United States and curb the threat of competition from the "rest." This reaction, no doubt, contributed to the GOP's defeat on Nov. 6.
In Europe, we are seeing the rise of utopian and protest votes, quasi-mutinies at the polls, a sharp increase in anti-incumbency, and, on the flip side, voter abstention and general distrust. These phenomena are linked not only to the economic crisis and the recession but also to a gnawing feeling of powerlessness that is undermining civic confidence. Nowhere is the psychological distress more acute than in France, where surveys have found that citizens are more worried about the future than in Afghanistan.
The anxiety that prevails in Europe about the emerging world order has created a new audience for catastrophic predictions. This intellectual current, fed by apocalyptic extrapolations of all kinds, seeks utopian panaceas in the form of rational world government, European federalism, international civil society, and international justice. Such ideals offer a substitute for confidence in the market and the veneration of multilateralism and the international "community." It is a mindset that stands in stark contrast with that of non-European peoples, who brim with optimism and regard the future with confidence and appetite.
Today, use of the phrase "win-win globalization" amounts to provocation, at least in Europe. Europeans have been especially disappointed by the current shifts because many desperately wanted to believe they were living in a post-tragic world that had evolved beyond history and identity. It was their age of innocence. But instead they got austerity and an almost post-democratic system of sanctions to ensure budgetary discipline.