The Players Change, but the Game Remains
Today’s competition between China and the United States is a new twist on an old story. Until the onset of the nineteenth century, China was by far the world’s largest economy and most powerful country, with an estimated 40 percent share of global GDP. Then it entered a long decline, ravaged from without and within—around the same time the United States was born and began its long ascent to global dominance. The United States’ rise could not have occurred without China’s weakness, given how important U.S. dominance of Asia has been to American primacy. But nor could China’s revival have occurred without the United States’ provision of security and open markets.
So both countries have dominated the world, each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and for the first time, each confronts the other as a peer. It is too soon to tell how the innings ahead will play out. But we can be confident that the game will continue.
The Resilient Order
The recent rise of illiberal forces and leaders is certainly worrisome. Yet it is too soon to write the obituary of liberalism as a theory of international relations, liberal democracy as a system of government, or the liberal order as the overarching framework for global politics. The liberal vision of nation-states cooperating to achieve security and prosperity remains as vital today as at any time in the modern age. In the long course of history, liberal democracy has hit been hard times before, only to rebound and gain ground. It has done so thanks to the appeal of its basic values and its unique capacities to effectively grapple with the problems of modernity and globalization.
Group Identity Is All
Humans, like other primates, are tribal animals. We need to belong to groups, which is why we love clubs and teams. Once people connect with a group, their identities can become powerfully bound to it. They will seek to benefit members of their group even when they gain nothing personally. They will penalize outsiders, seemingly gratuitously. They will sacrifice, and even kill and die, for their group.
This may seem like common sense. And yet the power of tribalism rarely factors into high-level discussions of politics and international affairs, especially in the United States.
What Did You Expect From Capitalism?
After nearly every economic downturn, voices appear suggesting that Marx was right to predict that the system would eventually destroy itself. Today, however, the problem is not a sudden crisis of capitalism but its normal workings, which in recent decades have revived pathologies that the developed world seemed to have left behind.