Thirty three years ago, the Soviet Union fell apart. A Marxist-Leninist system that had stood in competition with the Western way of life for half a century was no more.
Unfortunately, in that moment of triumph, Western leaders made a grave error; they started to believe that there had been an inevitability about Western success.
If the Soviet Union had ditched communism in favor of free markets, everyone else would become more Western, too, right? Wrong – and nowhere more so than with regard to China.
At the turn of the century, when China was welcomed into the World Trade Organization, all the clever people at the State Department assumed it was only a matter of time before China’s emerging middle class would make the country more like us.
Under Deng Xiaoping and immediately after, China had permitted private enterprise, and the country’s communist rulers had imposed limits on their power. China’s provinces enjoyed a high degree of autonomy, with Hong Kong even having her own legal system, currency and democracy.
Deng’s leadership, we can now see, did not represent a new direction for China, but a brief interlude. Under Xi, China has reverted to the Ming tradition; authoritarian government, overzealous control, the targeting of anyone independently wealthy.
Rather than becoming part of the international system, China seems to be a threat to it. Democracy has been crushed in Hong Kong. Military bases have been built in the south China sea. Taiwan is at risk of invasion.
If China is behaving like she is in competition with the Western way it is because she is. We need to recognize this and act accordingly.
Just as there was never anything inevitable about the success of the West, nor is there anything inevitable now about the rise of China.
In fact, China faces serious demographic decline. Ruled by an innovation-sapping authoritarian regime, China may not be destined for global hegemony the way we have been told. But that may not make the Chinese government any easier to deal with.
At the same time, rather than becoming more Western, many parts of the world besides China – such as Turkey, Pakistan or Egypt - seem less Western than they were.
The West itself is becoming less Western, with Europe undergoing dramatic demographic change. Having prevailed against a Marxist-Leninist system in Russia, Western leaders allowed a Marxist-Identitarian system to incubate in our universities. Many US universities no longer teach Western Classics and have in effect abandoned the European Enlightenment.
The West needs leaders willing to set aside post-Cold War assumptions. Rather than presume Western success, we need leaders who recognize that it is tough and difficult to stand up for Western interests – but also essential.
Above all, we need leaders that appreciate that Western culture is the product of ideas and insights that did not arise in a vacuum. The Western way needs safeguarding not just aboard, but on college campuses here in the United States, too.