Authoritarian Capitalism versus Democracy

By Krastev, Ivan | Policy Review, April-May 2012 | Go to article overview

Authoritarian Capitalism versus Democracy


Krastev, Ivan, Policy Review


"America is a power, Europe is an experience"

-- Joschka Fischer

IN 2002 ROBERT KAGAN, a leading neoconservative intellectual temporarily "exiled" in Brussels, wrote a brilliant essay, "Power and Weakness," arguing that the political personality of European power as we know it today is the product of America's Cold War policies and the universalization of Europe's post-World War II political experience. But more than anything else, it is the product of Europe's current military weakness.

In his analysis, post-9/11 America should naturally have cooperated with Europe, but Washington could not rely on the European Union as a strategic partner in managing the world because "on the all-important question of power-- the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power-- American and European perspectives are diverging."

A decade later American and European perspectives diverge on the all-important question of the decline of Western power. While American elites view the very discussion of "decline" as "pre-emptive superpower suicide," Europeans are busy learning how to live in a world where the EU is not a leading actor and the European continent is not the center of the world but simply the wealthiest province.

Could it be that the clash between Washington's denial of the very possibility of America's decline and Europe's excessive readiness to adjust to it can damage the Western alliance more than the controversy over the use of power did? Could it be that at the heart of the current troubles in the transatlantic relationship is a crisis of the political imagination of the West?

I want to argue that the paradox of the new world order emerging out of the ongoing recession is that the global spread of democracy and capitalism, instead of signaling "the end of history," marked "the end of the West" as a political actor constructed in the days of the Cold War. In the decades to come the nature of the political regimes will be an unreliable predictor for the geopolitical alliances to emerge; and it is the blurring borders between democracies and authoritarian capitalism, rather than the triumph of democracy or the resurgence of authoritarianism, that defines the global political landscape.

Kagan's "Long Telegram

IN "POWER AND WEAKNESS" Robert Kagan eschewed political correctness, insisting that after the end of the Cold War Americans and Europeans no longer shared a common view of the world. They no longer shared a common strategic culture. The divergence between America and Europe can be best explained not by differences in "national character" or value systems but by the asymmetry of power. It is Europe's relative military weakness that determines Europeans' rejection of power as an instrument in international relations. And it is America's strength that defines Americans' readiness to use military power. In short, capabilities shape intentions. Forced to choose between increasing their military budgets and becoming second-rate powers, Europeans most likely will choose marginality.

Contrary to the opinion of its critics, Kagan's essay was not a dismissal of the eu's relevance in the world. Paradoxically Kagan's dispatch from Brussels was reaffirmation of the importance of the transatlantic alliance. Arguing with the prevailing consensus in Washington at the time, he asserted that it was true that Europe had lost its geostrategic and military significance for the U.S. But Europe had retained its critical ideological relevance for the American foreign policy, he believed, because the split between America and Europe meant the end of the post-Cold War world. And in Kagan's strategic vision it is the post-Cold War world-- a world without Soviet power but defined by the ideological confrontation between free nations and tyrannical regimes-- that best suits American interests.

Re-reading Kagan's article a decade later, we face three critical questions. …

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