In 1989-90 the Soviet led communist empire imploded. In hindsight, the writing had appeared on the wall [see Book of Daniel, chapter 5] more than ten years earlier but few bothered or dared to interpret it. The CIA predicted economic unsustainability of the Soviet Union already in the 1970’s but until the mid 1980’s the rotting empire led by paranoid old men was held together by the increased price of crude oil. Hardly anyone foresaw its collapse. No external crises or military enemies played significant roles when the huge communist empire which ruled over 440 million people fell like a house of cards. The avalanche of revolutions through Eastern Europe was unbelievable and for most of us a welcome, exhilarating chain of events. In that autumn and winter everyone I knew was keenly watching and debating the hottest reality TV of all time, the evening news.
For quite some time already the Soviet led communist empire had been societally outdated, militarily overstretched and economically bankrupt, had lost its appeal, moral justification and credibility. Western liberal democracy and capitalistic market economy, i.e., the Anglo-American order, prevailed. The fact that the most populous country of the world, communist China, had bailed out from the Soviet led empire already in the 1970’s went almost unnoticed. Fukuyama published his landmark book End of History.
But history did not end, it continued and continues.
Now, two decades into the new millennium, we are again looking at and hardly comprehending what we see – a collapse of similar magnitude, of the Anglo-America order.
Both the US and the United Kingdom are internally divided into two factions which see each other, not as fellow citizens, not even competitors but as existential risks, even bitter enemies that must be defeated at any cost. When President Donald Trump acts or reacts impulsively, tweets disrespect to his country’s constitution, democratic institutions and foreign allies, when he threatens his political rivals and critics by imprisonment, chooses friends from ruthless dictators and demands personal political services from foreign leaders, his adherents approve, because Democrats are worse. When he is caught red-handed, political analysts estimate that this will only increase his popularity.
Pro-Brexiters in the UK bear similarities to the Trumpists in the US – anti-elite, anti-immigration, pro white, rural and small-town rather than urban. The roles of the media, however, appear different in the US and the UK. While some UK newspapers rank among the finest in the world, the large distribution Murdoch tabloids peddled anti-European sentiment that resulted in the Brexit vote. These tabloids in the UK are indeed the fake media that Trump claims the US newspapers to be.
Today, the majority of the pro-Brexiters are prepared to sacrifice the economy and even witness the United Kingdom and their own party disintegrate because Brussels is worse. When the Supreme Court gave the verdict 11–0 that prime minister Boris Johnson had misled his Queen and illegally suspended Parliament to force through policies that Parliament would not approve, he openly disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision and intimated he would not respect the law. Again, political analysts estimate this will only increase his popularity.
The hottest reality TV has returned but is now viewed mostly on-line.
In both cases a large faction of the population appears to prefer one unchecked leader against their existing democratic institutions and legal order. This is high time to remind ourselves that Hitler got to power because after the Great Depression the German business elite and the middle class Christian citizens believed that communists are worse [when in fact they were just equally bad!].
In the meantime the world outside the US and the UK did not stop. Through the past 30 or even 70 years these two countries to a great extent had set and regulated the world order, global values and agenda. They have now turned inward and act both irrationally and unpredictably often against the values they preached to and enforced on others just a few years earlier. During the 75 post-WWII years the confidence in the leadership of the UK in Europe and the US in the world have never been as low as they are now – in stark contrast with the Making … great again slogans. Globally the approval of the US leadership now stands at 31%, an 18% drop since Obama. As a reference the global approval rate for Russia is 30% and for China 34% with Germany leading at 39% (Gallup survey in 134 countries, VOA 28.2.2019).
The EU, far too long dependent on US leadership, stands and watches, stunned and hoping that the nightmare goes away and the Anglo-Americans return to normality. Others, preferably outside of the spotlight [like the new Ukrainian president, Zelenskyi], have turned to uninhibited servility in hope of gaining something better or avoiding something worse in return. More independent and active powers, like Russia and China now expand their spheres of influence over the economic, political and military landscape left undefended by the dissolving Anglo-American leadership.
Just as with the implosion of the Soviet communist empire, the signs for the Anglo-American implosion have been there for years already. Still, hardly anyone could foresee the summer and autumn of 2016 and what followed. Again, no particular crises or military enemies were involved. Unlike the case of the Soviet empire, the Anglo-American world has remained economically not only viable, but strong – growing and still managing to retain its leadership position. So, what could have caused the simultaneous and irreconcilable political divisions that have emerged in both the US and the UK? Several reasons for this have been presented and debated. I will not review them but instead suggest a wild conspiracy theory.
Assume… just assume that Putin realised 20 years ago that Russia cannot beat the West in a war and not seriously compete in science, technology and economy, neither in the hearts and minds of people. As a former KGB operative he would know a thing or two about propaganda and the power of misinformation but the practical tools of the communists had lost their edges decades ago. Yet, if you cannot beat them, confuse them and to this end new advanced technologies were emerging. Putin would open a new front creating expert units to develop and feed doubts employing the tried and tested methods of American tobacco and oil industries. The units would hire a Western high-tech political consultant [something like Cambridge Analytica] and join the American social media giants’ networks with thousands of usernames. They would then precision target self-feeding misinformation and counter-information among a thousand million named, located, profiled and naïve citizens in the social media networks. As the knowledge of their capabilities would begin to seep into the West, some parties, instead of fighting back would begin to consider the benefits of collaboration … The rest would be history.
Just assume that I have hit the nail on the head. If this is the case, we would be witnessing the achievement of the cheapest ever defeat of a global superpower. In a zero-sum game, this equals victory for another one. Putin’s success must have exceeded his wildest expectations. He would be the mastermind but the winner will be China.
If what we now see is the end of the Anglo-American order, what will be the future of our European lingua franca, English?
In my first years of attending meetings of the CEC (Commission of the European Communities) DG Research in Brussels and Ispra, the delegates were nominated by national governments and three to four languages were used with simultaneous interpretations. In 1993, EEC became the EU and CEC became the EC (European Commission). Similar task force and working group meetings continued but members were now invited, only English was used and the work became much more business-like. We, Scandinavian newcomers, usually spoke better English than our Central and Southern European colleagues and we clearly benefited. Still, few missed the days of earphones and interpretations. Now, imagine the UK has gone, really gone the hard Brexit way. Will English remain our European lingua franca? My guess is that it will, even if no English-speaking Irish individuals were present. The ground level work of the EC needs the English language and ongoing involvement of both English and American experts much more than EU needs the United Kingdom.
Remember that Latin remained the language of higher learning in Europe from theology to medicine for 1300 years after the fall of the [West] Roman Empire.