Are we witnessing the decline and fall of the West?
There has been no shortage of books in recent years predicting the decline of United States hegemony and the rise of a new world geopolitical order dominated by China, Russia, India and even Iran.
There was the ‘Rise and Decline of the American Empire’ in 2012 by M.Y. Demeri , a book of the same name by Gore Vidal, ‘America in Retreat’ by Michael Pembroke, ‘When China rules the World’ by Martin Jacques, and if you haven’t been depressed enough, there was ‘Has China Won’ by Kishore Mahbuban.
And as if Covid-19 and talk of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse through the recent alarming stories of polluted estuaries with dead shellfish nurseries, biblical floods in Germany and Belgium, wildfires in Australia and California (oh and in Portugal) were not enough, we have yet another cheery book to add to the list of gloom and doom in a tomb which argues that the West is losing not only its geopolitical and economic hegemony but also its cultural dominance too.
I admit that I haven’t actually read Francisco Manuel de Freitas Gomes’ book ‘The End of the West’ (O Fim do Ocidente?’, but leafing through the pages of this relatively concise work at a well-attended book launch last week, it seems well written and argued as it explores the changing relationship between Europe, the United States and the rest of the world.
The synopsis – and you can guess this — is basically that the world community (I am wondering here how much of a community we really are) is at an historic turning point, and that in recent decades we have seem the rise of a new world order in which the 200-year-old hegemony of the western world as the centre of politics and the world economy is being replaced by the affirmation of the new powers China and India.
I am not going to ruin it for potential books buyers by revealing the arguments, but the Madeiran author and academic argues that by the end of this decade, the Western civilisation will cease to be a cultural benchmark for world development, and that China will overtake the United States as the main economic driver on the planet alongside India, which in turn will supersede the United Kingdom as the third most productive state in the world. But will it really? And if so, for how long?
He might well be right if there isn’t a huge economic collapse within the same timeframe that makes our currencies worthless, or if China doesn’t spark a war by invading Taiwan or sinking the UK’s new aircraft carrier as it tries and fails to police the South China Seas.
Or perhaps climate disasters will become so urgent that the economic rivalries of the different power blocs will be set aside as we finally listen to the scientists who have been banging on about our own demise as a species on this planet since the 1970s at least, and unite to deal with a common threat — global warming and environmental catastrophe? A far more likely scenario to my mind.
Personally, I doubt the West is on its way out. There was a book written by a long-forgotten historian Oswald Spengler published between 1918 and 1923 called — surprise, surprise — ‘The Decline of the West’ in which he outlined his theory that the United States had reached a stage that was comparable to Ancient Rome, achieving a flowering of civilisation which was nothing more than a precursor to its own decline and fall as described in the great but largely outdated work ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ by Edward Gibbon in the 18th century.
Of course civilisations to decline but rather than end, they tend to morph and continue on in other ways. For example Rome became Christian and shifted its power base to Constantinople and a new Holy Roman Empire was born out of that, which extended to what’s now France and was then the Frankish Empire.
And we now know that the Dark Ages that supposedly followed the demise of the Roman Empire were not actually as dark as we had once imagined. It is simply that a lack of written records made it hard to shed much light on these surprisingly civilised times.
And of course we know that poor Mr. Spengler was wrong. The US achieved its greatest power both economically and geopolitically after World War II.
And I am not saying that the general arguments in Francisco Manuel de Freitas Gomes’ book, which will be translated into English, are necessarily wrong. What I am saying is that trying to work out future world events is a bit like reading tarot cards. They can be read, interpreted and misinterpreted in so many ways.
What we don’t need a crystal ball for, however, is to predict mankind’s destiny if all these powers involved (both those in ascension and those supposedly in decline) don’t set their differences aside and work together towards a much more pressing goal: Saving mankind itself from itself.
At the launch at El Corte Inglés on Thursday, the book itself was introduced by the respected lawyer, political commentator and retired politician, Luís Marques Mendes (and his insightful comments about Europe and Brexit will have to wait until Wednesday’s Essential Business newsletter) and the Chairman of the Sharing Foundation, Silvio Santos who runs the private school International Sharing School in Madeira at which the author was educated.
O Fim do Ocidente? A Europa, os Estados Unidos e o resto do mundo numa nova era global’ by Francisco Manuel Gomes is available from Fnac and all good bookstores from €13.46.
Gomes was born in Funchal in 1980 and has a PhD (Cum Lauder) in political science from Cadiz University and a masters in the same academic field from Oxford University. He also has a degree in political science and media from Denison and Harvard universities. Gomes also has a post-graduate qualification in Information Wars from the Portuguese Military Academy and was the revisor for the National Defence Course for the Institute of National Defence. Gomes is the author of 12 books and over 700 opinion articles published in the Portuguese and overseas press.