Living as neighbours
Living as neighbours
By K.C. Boey
THERE was a time in our bifurcated world when relations between nations and peoples were simple. The Cold War contest was confined to the Marxist-Leninist claim to a model for an equal society of the then Soviet Union and the free accumulation of capital and expression in a liberal democratic society of the West. And the extension of the struggle to their respective proxies.
The material development of the capitalist world persuaded Mikhail Gorbacev to seek détente. The chain of events led to the rapid dismantling of the Soviet satellite states, most dramatically captured in images of East and West Germans in 1989 taking pick-axes to the Berlin Wall and driving excavators to bring down the symbol of their divided world.
From the dichotomy of the Cold War, the world has fragmented into multipolar tensions drawing in an overnight economic powerhouse China increasingly seen to be a superpower menace to the United States and the rest of the democratic world, unleashing a “war on terror” that appears to have no end, and fanning conflagrations of protests against every phenomenon imaginable and unimagined.
One can string a thread through Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Britain’s hand-wringing over Brexit from the European Union, the war in Syria, sectarian violence in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio, the global tide of refugees and resurgence of Nazi and fascist sentiments, and attempts to put a stop to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. So, too, to domestic skirmishes in Hong Kong, and the assertions of people movements through Latin America.
As much as each has its political, economic and ideological impetus, there is much that are overlooked in cultural and social norms. For all people’s claims to rights and entitlements, little credence is given to the reciprocal returns of moral obligations and responsibilities.
The fall of the Berlin Wall just past 30 years ago this month on 9 November 1989 offers a signal moment for the world to reflect on the lesson of the time.
Liberal democracies then seized on the collapse of the Soviet Union as the triumph of the capitalist West over authoritarian regimes. American political scientist Francis Fukuyama emerged as the poster boy with his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992). The struggle between ideologies in human history was at an end, Fukuyama argued, with the global triumph of political and economic liberalism.
Fukuyama was to grow to become an important figure in the rise of neoconservatism, a political movement born in the United States in the 1960s among liberal hawks disenchanted with the increasingly pacifist foreign policy of the Democratic Party and the growing New Left and counterculture, in particular protestations against the Vietnam war. Neocons typically prescribe the promotion of democracy and interventionism in international affairs. They advocate peace through strength, by means of military force.
Fukuyama was to become disillusioned from 2003 with the neocons who prosecuted the invasion of Iraq, unleashing the “war on terror”. While retaining the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, Fukuyama recognised the limits of American power and hegemony to promote democracy in regime change.
He distanced himself from the neoconservative thrust of the Bush administration, citing its excessive militarism and embrace of unilateral armed intervention. In 2008, he endorsed Barack Obama for President.
Fukuyama remains committed to democracy on the executive board of the Inter-American Dialogue, a U.S.-based think tank on international affairs. Its work focuses on the rule of law, education, migration, remittances, energy, climate change and extractive industries across nations, fostering democratic governance, prosperity and social equity in Latin America and the Caribbean.
His experience bodes promise in the tradition of earlier compatriot public intellectual Richard Rorty (1931-2007), the “pragmatist philosopher” who advocated viewing the West -- as with all humanity -- as a work in progress.
Xi Jinping, President of China, on a state visit to Greece in 2014, told then Prime Minister Antonis Samara: “Your democracy is ancient Greek and Roman democracy. That is your tradition. We have our own tradition.” That is no barrier to a strategic partnership between the two nations, which Xi hailed and pledged to build on.
At the grassroots, the Chinese have long had ongoing dialogue with peoples of all nations, not least with Australia and Australians (see picture).