This is the second in a series of slightly longer posts drawing on some of my academic work. Following up on my last post, here I examine how post Cold War hubris has laid the groundwork for current Europe nationalism and xenophobia.
When the Berlin Wall fell, neoconservative policy makers in the West broke into jubilant euphoria. They had been right all along. Democracy and capitalism had won, and the inevitable teleological terminus of a global free market economy was guaranteed.
To the victors belong the spoils of the enemy, and the United States as the sole remaining global hegemon could freely propagate its unquestionably superior ethos of conservative morality and liberal democracy to an eagerly awaiting world. It was the dawn of a glorious new age. Francis Fukuyama even went as far as to triumphantly proclaim ‘the end of History.’
In the last three decades, however, this nascent euphoria has proven erroneous. In a more diffuse and volatile global political arena a new East/West binary is developing as a struggling America faces off against an emerging Oriental superpower with a radically different value system. The Kremlin has not forgotten the global reach it once had, and India and other evolving powers seek to carve out their place in the new world order. Against this backdrop the EU fretters timidly in the wings and has been regulated to little more than an aging cultural tourist destination for the rest of the world.
Economically, the repercussions of unbridled capitalism, reduced regulations, and slashed corporate taxes have wreaked even more havoc. While the economic growth promised by Reaganomics and Thatcherism has come true, the vaunted trickle-down effect has not materialized.
Over the last thirty years, supply-side economic policies coupled with technological changes and increasing globalization have led to a steady increase in income disparity, most noticeably in the United States but also in Europe. In 2013, underscoring the danger of this inequality, Barack Obama called these new economic barriers the ‘defining issue of our time.’
Humans have an inherent fear of the foreign and the unknown, and we define ourselves as much through those we include as through those we exclude. As Simone de Beauvoir so aptly observed: ‘It only takes three travelers brought together by chance in the same train compartment for the rest of the travelers to become vaguely hostile others.’
When faced with uncertainty, when economic prosperity erodes, we cocoon ourselves and erect walls, striving to still our primal need for security and safety. We fall prey to demagogues who deftly project our fears onto Others. We turn to those who offer simple messages. Those who offer a final solution … Those who promise to make us great again … Those who will build us a fortress …
30 years after a half century of division, after demolishing the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, Europe is again clamoring for walls, again fortifying boundaries.