The Onward March of Global Liberalism Stalled?

If the deepening and spread of a global liberalism was an outgrowth of Western hegemony, and a reflection of the peculiarities of the West, then the relative decline of the West, and the rise of the Rest, should mean a plateau for global liberalism.

Much depends on what is meant by “global liberalism.” By most accounts it would include:

  1. the spread of liberal-democratic states (a.k.a. “the end of history”);
  2. various liberal ideas and policies followed by them and by non-liberal states too such as open trade, open migration, war avoidance, and observing human rights; and
  3. cooperation to undertake global governance or deal with common problems.

How are these three parts of global liberalism faring?

Naazneen Barma, Ely Ratner, and Steven Weber writing in the National Interest think that liberal global governance has peaked.

international institutions picked off the low-hanging fruit of global cooperation decades ago and have since stalled in their attempts to respond to pressing international challenges. The 1990s served up the best possible set of conditions to advance global liberalism, but subsequent moves toward political and economic liberalization that came with the end of the Cold War were either surprisingly shallow or fragile and short-lived.

Why is it now bogged-down?

The root cause of stalled global governance is simpler and more straightforward. “Multipolarization” has come faster and more forcefully than expected. Relatively authoritarian and postcolonial emerging powers have become leading voices that undermine anything approaching international consensus and, with that, multilateral institutions.

More here. Their piece is called “The Mythical Liberal Order” but that is some journalistic hyperbole. Really, they are talking about a stalled or stagnant liberal order.

Overall, I would say:

  • The spread of liberal-democratic states has reached a plateau. The Arab Spring is not issuing in liberal democracies.
  • Liberal ideas and policies are various so some are doing well, others are stagnating. War aversion is continuing to spread. But a taste for free trade seems to have peaked.
  • Global governance is not on an ever increasing trajectory. It may have plateaued or somewhat declined. But it does seem to muddle through.

In sum, the onward march of global liberalism has stalled – although at a high-level plateau. It does not appear to be substantially decreasing. But given the relative decline of the West, it is unlikely to increase substantially.


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