The invasion of Ukraine has exposed the West’s impotence

Putin’s invasion has exposed the West’s impotence

19 March 2022

9:00 AM

19 March 2022

9:00 AM

When the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, addressed the House of Commons recently, he was afforded two standing ovations from MPs, both lasting about 40 seconds, before and after he spoke. He was probably used to it, having received a similar reception when addressing the European Parliament a week before. On both occasions, then, he was engulfed by warm, moist waves of adulation and respect. On both occasions he also asked for important, difficult stuff from the people he was addressing and didn’t get any of it – just lots of applause and legislators delicately dabbing their eyes before quickly averting them.

If Le Creuset saucepans had been allowed into the House of Commons, I dare say our MPs would have carefully banged them together, making sure not to chip the edges. Zelensky may have mused to himself that these western politicians who have courted his country for so long and meddled in its affairs are second to none in their mastery of grandstanding and virtue signalling, of expressing vacuous emotion while saying, in essence: ‘Nice speech, sunshine. But you’re on your own. Good luck.’

I cannot think of a moment which more encapsulated the West’s utter impotence than those fulsome and painless ovations. But more than that, they also signalled a comprehensive defeat for an ideology which its proponents once thought would be irresistible to the rest of the world and that we were, therefore, approaching the ‘end of history’. You will remember the phrase with a degree of irony, I suspect – a phrase which in its blithe arrogance also recalls the Marxist notion of ‘historical inevitability’. The term sprang from an essay written by Francis Fukuyama in 1989 in which the author, calling upon Hegel to help him, expounded upon the ‘total exhaustion’ of all those ideologies which were not western liberalism. What we saw in the House of Commons chamber, however, was the total exhaustion of western liberalism, its ineffectuality, its abject failure and capitulation on so many crucial fronts. It was an epic and dangerous delusion.

For Fukuyama and many similar thinkers, globalisation was the mechanism by which western liberalism would spread, ineluctably, into every corner of the world. It could not but do so, given its obvious attractiveness. For the western liberals, globalisation wasn’t simply a commercial or economic process, but an ideological development which could but serve to diminish that thing they most hated, the nation state (and concomitantly nationalism) through the exchange of labour, multiculturalism and mutual interdependency. It would also serve to reduce inequality. These were all Good Things. But that’s not how it turned out, as the invasion of Ukraine reveals only too acutely.

The countries which have benefited most (for different reasons) from globalisation are Russia and China and neither felt remotely attracted by western liberal democracy. Russia is now exacting its ton of flesh for our naive dependence on its oil and gas, while remaining itself essentially self-sufficient. China meanwhile has used globalisation as a means of building up a network of dependent client states in Africa and beyond. Both countries have the West in hock and in China’s case that includes more than one trillion dollars of US securities.

Far from lending itself to western liberalism, globalisation has been a boon for the most tyrannical countries on the planet and they have exploited it cleverly. We have not. Meanwhile, although absolute poverty may have reduced over the past 30 years, income differentials have widened: according to the World Inequality Database, global inequalities are now ‘about as great today as they were at the peak of western imperialism in the early 20th century’.

Multiculturalism? Well, yes, we’ve had plenty of that. But it hasn’t noticeably made western Europe a happier continent. The UK’s commitment to that creed ensured we did little or nothing to inculcate in the in-comers a fondness for our way of life and so, reasonably enough, many failed to develop one. Nor have the supra-national organisations, in which the liberals place such faith, done much to advance the cause of liberal democracy. The United Nations abides by a creed of cultural relativism and spends the majority of its time railing against the very countries which pay for its existence – because of their affluence, penchant for welfare capitalism and imperialist past – and the rest laying down resolutions castigating the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel. It is worth noting too that while 141 countries signed a UN resolution condemning the Russian invasion, five countries voted against and 35 abstained. It is still the case that when the superpowers line up, it’s the US and Europe vs the rest. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Globalisation is just one example of the way in which the flawed and arguably deluded western liberal view of the world has led directly to our impotence. Money is another. It was affluence which, put crudely, enabled us to win the Cold War, by forcing the Soviet Union into ever more unsustainable levels of spending on weaponry and technology. But that affluence has all but gone. If we were forced to fight a war against Russia now, we couldn’t do it, such have been the cuts to our armed forces, gradually over the past 60 years. In the late 1950s we spent 8 per cent of our GDP on defence; now it is a little over 2 per cent and much lower in the likes of Spain, Italy, Germany and France.

It is still true that the US and western Europe’s GDP per capita outstrips that of almost all of the rest of the world; the problem, though, is that we spend it all lavishly on ourselves, on our comfort and our sensibilities, and then borrow to spend even more on ourselves again. The National Health Service, for example, has expanded way beyond what was originally envisaged and what was once expected of it and now easily takes up every penny we once spent on defence and then some. There is no end to its ravenous appetite, nor our expectation of it. At the same time we are heavily in debt: UK debt is now 103 per cent of GDP, Japan’s double that amount. The US’s national debt has quadrupled since the 1990s and is now at more than 130 per cent of GDP.

Nothing wrong with debt, the liberals always averred, and so the debt grows and grows… until someone calls time. The US dollar is already resting, increasingly precariously, on its laurels as a reserve currency. Debt cannot continue infinitely. Right now, we have nothing to reach for if we wish to fight a war: not a pot to piss in. But then why would we ever need to fight a war? That was the mindset of western liberalism, the mindset of a credulous 13-year-old, when we decided that – as John and Yoko put it so memorably – ‘War is over if you want it’. And the peace dividend? Spend it. Spend it now. Then borrow some more.

If we could find the money, who would fight? And why would they bother? Here is the real crux of the matter. The same ideology which predicted the end of history is the one which has set about, with great industry, besmirching or literally destroying every-thing about our culture and our history: for the western hip and with-it neoliberal, our culture and our history are not merely Bad, they are Uniquely Bad. Rip it all down and start again. Those things which Europeans and Americans once took as reasons for a certain proxied pride – our contributions to classical music, science, literature, fine art, philosophy, innovation, statesmanship, economics, discovery – are now seen simply as expressions of hideous, privileged, white supremacism: throw them in the river.

Our past, you see, is one of untrammelled wickedness, a wickedness unmatched by any other civilisation which existed. Everything about us is wretched – our present culture, our past. That these are wholly spurious and indeed stupid allegations does not matter: it is the viewpoint to which our liberal elite cleaves and so it is the view which we are supposed to have of our country, much as the liberals cleave to patent, obvious denials of reality. When nobody in the Labour party can tell you for sure what a ‘woman’ is, you know you are at the end time for a civilisation, a state of utter derangement in which western society is in danger of disappearing, with a shallow ppphutt, way up beyond its own sphincter muscle.

It is not so much that the centre cannot hold, it is that there is no centre at all. Nothing around which we can coalesce, nothing to unite us except for a weird all-consuming self-loathing. That has been western liberalism’s final gift: the creation of a society in which we are enjoined to hate everything we have ever done. The rest of the world looks on quite askance at our Year Zero self-flagellation. Political leaders beyond the Elbe still have a little respect for Shakespeare and Captain Cook – and they know what a woman is, too. If you were asked to fight for your country, what would you be fighting for, now? There is nothing left worth bothering about. They have done away with religion, with our history and with our present and left nothing to put in its place.

Western neoliberalism was an undoubtedly well-intentioned creed. But it involved a denial of realities. It is still doing it today. All we have been left with is the ability to emote, to sob, to emote, to whine, to emote, to clap and to clap and to bang saucepans together.

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