The Decline of the West

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By PAULO NOGUEIRA BATISTA JR.*

The West does not want the emergence of other peoples, but it will come anyway, whether you like it or not.

I propose, dear and patient reader, that we talk today about a vast and complex topic that has acquired urgency in recent years, especially in 2022. I am referring, as the title of this article indicates, to the decline of the West. It is an intricate question, which mobilizes affections, prejudices, interests. And that's why it's so fascinating.

The reader, like me, certainly likes challenges and doesn't want to restrict himself to beaten subjects, where a certain consensus reigns. Let's go ahead then.

First question: is this western decadence fact or myth? Note that it has already been proclaimed many times. The subject is still being beaten, therefore. The very expression “decline of the West” was the subject and title of a book by Oswald Spengler, published just over a hundred years ago, in 1918.

The twentieth century did not confirm Spengler's prediction. The West even allowed itself the luxury of promoting two civil wars, on a worldwide scale or almost, known Eurocentrically as the First and Second World Wars. These were unprecedented, bloody and costly wars. And even so, the West did not lose planetary hegemony. There was power left. The truth is that Western resilience was greater than detractors and adversaries imagined.

The forms of domination have changed, but the XNUMXth century ended without the domination actually being overcome. The axis of power shifted across the North Atlantic, but remained in western hands. It even increased towards the end of the century, with the surprising disintegration of the Soviet bloc and even of the Soviet Union itself.

There were many books and essays published in Spengler's wake over the last century. The frustration of these predictions of decadence led Western ideologues to refer disparagingly to a supposed “declinist” school, motivated more by ideologies or desires than by objective evaluations. And there was, of course, a very strong element of desire in these predictions.

After all, reader, the hegemony of Europeans and their North American descendants had been lasting and far from benevolent, to say the least. It thus aroused deep and widespread antipathy among colonized or dominated peoples, with echoes in the humanist segments of the most developed societies themselves. Human, all too human that the stumbles of the West are received with satisfaction Urbi et orbi.

Nothing lasts forever. And the West's dominance over the rest of the world has been going on for over two hundred years. It began, as is well known, with the industrial revolution that began in England at the end of the XNUMXth century. It was consolidated in the XNUMXth century and persisted, as I mentioned, throughout the XNUMXth century. had your indian summer after the Soviet collapse.

It now seems clear, however, that the twenty-first century will no longer be a century of unchallenged Western dominance. On the contrary, signs of decline are everywhere. In demographic, economic, cultural, political terms. Are the “declinists” finally right? There are many indications that now yes.

Beware though. Generally speaking, Western decline is relative, not absolute. In some areas, the decline can indeed be absolute, for example in the cultural area, where the regression seems accentuated. But what happens in general is relative weight loss vis-à-vis the rest of the world, especially in emerging Asia, with China at the forefront. The decline is more pronounced for Europe, but it is also felt in the United States.

The relative loss is still felt as real, painfully real. After all, the human being is so deficient, constituted in such a poor and imperfect way that he comes to see in the rise of the other a threat, a loss for himself. The mere peaceful ascent triggers the worst feelings and fears. In the case of Europeans and North Americans, this regrettable human trait is aggravated by the ingrained habit of two centuries of global dominance.

Whites on both sides of the North Atlantic do not get used to it, they simply do not get used to seeing previously dominated peoples – Asians, Latin Americans, Africans – wanting to emerge, be heard and participate in international decisions. Even though these pretensions of emerging countries are modest, cautious, even timid at times. Accustomed to dictating, teaching, preaching, white people are unable to dialogue and negotiate with what for them is an ignorant and even repugnant mass.

But the emergence of other peoples comes anyway, whether you like it or not. It is happening in population, economic and political terms. Westerners are left to conform or struggle. Until now, they preferred to kick. More than kicking, unfortunately. They react with violence and provocation to the inevitable formation of a multipolar world. Ultimately, it is these reactions that explain the war in Ukraine and the rising tensions with China. The most recent provocation was Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan.

What will the end of Western hegemony lead to? Judging by recent trends, what will come is not the replacement of the United States by China, or the North Atlantic by Asia. China will hardly have the hegemony in the world that Europe and the United States once had. For historical reasons and western intrigues, the Chinese do not command the trust of most of their neighbors. Japan, India, Vietnam, for example, have important differences with China and do not accept its hegemony. The Chinese will hardly be able to establish a solid zone of influence, even in East Asia, let alone in other regions. A similar observation can be made about Russia and India, which in any case have much lower weight than China.

The scenario that has been taking shape since the beginning of this century is that of a multipolar, fragmented world, without governance and globally accepted rules. Existing global entities, UN, IMF, World Bank, WTO etc., will continue to have their importance, but with declining influence, all the more so as Westerners refuse to reform them to fully reflect the reality of the XNUMXst century. In place of, or in partial replacement of, these multilateral institutions of global or near-global reach, new institutions have emerged and will arise, created by emerging countries in search of more space at the international level.

This multipolarization of the world is interesting for developing countries, as it opens up opportunities and can facilitate the consolidation of their national autonomy. On the other hand, the fragmentation of the multipolar world is also very dangerous, as we are seeing. With these dangers we will all be forced to deal, without useless nostalgia for situations of concentration of power that will never return.

And Brazil in all this? Good. After overcoming our recent misfortunes, we have much to do, for ourselves and for other countries. I believe our immense Brazil has a special role to play: bringing a word of solidarity, cooperation, peace and love to the world.

But this is already the subject of other and more daring speculative digressions.

*Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. he holds the Celso Furtado Chair at the College of High Studies at UFRJ. He was vice-president of the New Development Bank, established by the BRICS in Shanghai. Author, among other books, of Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard (LeYa).

Extended version of article published in the journal capital letter, on August 5, 2022.

 

 

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