It’s the best of times. It’s the worst of times.
Despite a strong economy, despite some good polls, people of goodwill are as depressed as we’ve ever been.
That’s because it’s now understood the world is in a Global Civil War. Whether democracy, capitalism, and liberty can survive is still up in the air at the end of 2023.
Calling it a Global Civil War is my way of putting things into context. Like World War II, it’s a violent conflict, with Asian autocrats (and wannabes everywhere) killing people for power. Russia is leading the way, but Iran is killing Israelis as well. (Unseen, in the background, African peoples are playing out the same themes.)
The whole point of fascism is to create enforced unity around a leader, a philosophy, or a religion. It’s what makes this a Civil War. This impulse exists everywhere. It can be a religious impulse, an ideological impulse, or merely a nationalist impulse. It exists in democracies as it exists in autocracies.
That means the pressure building on America combines that FDR faced in World War II and what Lincoln faced 80 years before that. This increases the complexity, and the danger. We could win in Ukraine but elect Trump. Every election, everywhere in the world, seems to pit this existential question of enforced unity or democratic pluralism at its center. Poland is won, Slovakia is lost. Brazil is won, Argentina is lost.
The Central Contradiction
In the face of this, how is it possible that we’re enjoying a strong economy, with low unemployment, and falling inflation? This too has a political element. World War II saw low unemployment. Autocrats are bad at capitalism. But it also has a non-political element. As I’ve written many times, the real gold in technology isn’t data, it’s talent. Educated, motivated, empowered people are what create economic growth. Democracy and liberty attract them. Autocracy and enforced conformity of any kind repel them.
That’s why I remain so hopeful about 2024. The economic forces that can save the world are squarely on the side of pluralism. Autocrats and fascist wannabes everywhere can only take us backward. The problem is that while most people don’t want to go backward, most want to send others backward.
The Israel-Gaza conflict puts this into sharp relief. Israel has the most resilient economy and the most vibrant democracy I know of. But many people are determined to create a religious-fascist state there, from the river to the sea.
I see little difference between people like Itamar Ben-Gvir (left) and those he is bent on killing. I can see in his story a lot of what motivates America’s Trump supporters. He has given up on pluralism, in the name of a higher authority. This is a temptation for anyone of high ideals, to make the world conform. Is House Speaker Mike Johnson (right) really any different, save for the religious ideals he stands for?
It’s hard to stand for the other guy’s right to be stupid, but that’s what the Enlightenment of the 18th century was all about. Our Constitution is a product of that enlightenment. Yet that Constitution held within it compromises with evil that led to great violence. That is always a danger.