Did we realize in the 1990s that it would be us who turned to shit? Here’s what neither political scientists nor geopolitical scholars sufficiently gamed out as it was happening: The wicked brew of trade globalization and outsourced manufacturing, industrial policy fueled technological innovation, and rent-seeking financial capitalism–and how those forces not only accelerated power diffusion globally but also deindustrialization and political polarization at home.
Fukuyama sought to marry rationalism and freedom, but even as he wrote, the great Anglo-American delegitimation was already underway. Reagan-Thatcherist privatization and deregulation were causing widening inequality, social degeneration, and the dismantling of the utilitarian meritocracy that had served as the bureaucratic backbone of postwar success. Whereas political scientists continue still to mistake the Western strategic community for a political one, the cleavage within the West has long been apparent. Weber’s ideal-type state remained alive and well in democratic technocratic states such as Germany, where the government share of the economy is high, the welfare state is robust, social protections are strong, and infrastructure is world-class. The deepening transatlantic divorce has played out over Iraq and Russia, financial and technological regulation, trade and climate change, and other areas. Even under the Biden administration, the United States and European Union may coordinate more on China and climate, but Europe won’t trust America to lead. Geopolitical allies will remain geoeconomic rivals, jointly pushing for reciprocal access to China’s markets, but competing vigorously for market share for their own firms.
The rise of Asia presents the strongest evidence for geopolitical entropy as the new arc of history, both material and ideational—and China, today’s going concern, is only half the story. First, let’s be clear where Fukuyama was right: China does not present a compelling ideology that other states wish to emulate—even if they could. China has managed economic ascent while clinging to political authoritarianism, reinforcing Huntington’s point that modernization does not mean Westernization. But much as today nobody visits America seeking to copy Washingtonian politics when all they want is to replicate West Coast tech giants, the “China model,” too, is not an off-the-shelf package. China is not exporting its ideology just because others are imitating its supply-led growth, industrial policy, and full-service digital apps. Corrupt regimes don’t need to hold up China as a role model to justify importing its surveillance technologies; they could buy these tools from American or Israeli firms as well.
2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results