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Twenty-first Century Societies

Approaching the third decade of the 21stcentury, our world is divided (as it has been ever since the American and French revolutions) in terms of the kind of societies people choose to live in. Following World War II, the main division was between Western capitalistic democracy and Russian and Chinese Communist Totalitarianism. After the demise of the Soviet Union and the rise of China as an economic power, the Western “liberal democracy” model seemed to be dominant, at least outside of Russia and China, but with the renewed strength of Russia and the increasing power of China, plus the effects of unfettered capitalism on causing an increase in economic inequality, as well as the stressful influences of massive immigration on Western societies, we now have several models of society competing with one another on the world stage.

Liberal democracy remains the choice of most Western countries and their citizens. It is characterized by limited regulation of private enterprise, insurance of basic freedoms, such as speech and the press, global business supported by international treaties, and the imposition of Western values on recalcitrant countries. The virtues of this system  are its protection of basic rights through laws and the maintenance or development of a high quality of life because of the success of capitalistic economies. The downsides are the increasing concentration of wealth in the pockets of a few, the domination of corporate interests over government policies, and the tendency for those countries, such as the U.S., France, Germany, and the UK, who espouse liberal democracy to use force to impose their value systems on other countries, e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and the Balkans, leading to almost constant military conflicts.

As a reaction to the growing income inequality, which has left many citizens of capitalistic countries either without work or without sufficient wages to survive, and the fallout from wars and famines, which has caused massive migration from war-torn, poor countries to the more peaceful and prosperous Western democracies, there is a movement toward increased Nationalism in the U.S. and much of Europe. This movement emphasizes rejection of international agreements that limit individual countries’ economic choices (TPP, the European Union), and fear and rejection of immigration as  a threat to culture, freedom, and order. While such nationalism tends to embrace capitalism and sometimes less government regulation of business, it also favors imposition of laws that protect the traditional majority’s religious and cultural practices and restrict those of newly arrived immigrants (e.g. anti-hijab laws, anti-public prayer laws). In many countries, such as Germany, France, Italy and Poland, those who espouse this new nationalism, have aligned themselves with groups that are traditionally prejudiced against racial and ethnic minorities, sometimes because they share such views and sometimes because it is politically expedient.

The Nordic countries have to a greater or lesser extent, depending upon the country, embraced something usually called Social Democracy. The basic idea is that the goal of society is to insure a good quality of life for all of its members and it is the role of government to formulate policies and laws that do this, by regulating an otherwise capitalistic economy and the distribution of wealth within that economy. High taxes, especially on those above the median in income, extensive public support of such things as healthcare and education characterize these societies. At the same time, they are democratic, and leaders and policies can be changed when  they become unpopular with the electorate.  Although social democracies represent some of the most successful countries in term of health, education and life satisfaction, recent developments, such as the imposition of austerity programs in the wake of a world economic recession and pressure on public programs because of the burden of massive influxes of immigrants, has caused a resurgence of support for more private control of the economy and more stringent laws regarding use of public funds for those without means who are not citizens of the country. This has been combined with anti-Muslim and anti-ethnic prejudice favoring traditional cultural values and a turn toward Nationalism.  So far, political attempts for nationalistic parties to gain power have been defeated in countries such as the Netherlands and Finland. At the same time, these countries’ social successes have been lauded by some progressive politicians in the U.S., such as Bernie Sanders, who has held them up as a model for America.

While the Western world has been arguing about liberal democracy vs. nationalism, vs. social democracy, China has been expanding its world influence through a state-managed economy that encourages but controls capitalism, massive investment in underdeveloped countries in Asia and Africa, and massive export of goods manufactured with low-priced labor or whose costs have been partially subsidized by the government to bring them below the cost of goods produced elsewhere. This is the State-Managed Capitalism model and it has been particularly influential in Africa, where countries such as Ethiopia have benefitted from Chinese investment in infrastructure projects, while allowing Chinese companies to ship resources from their country, and have essentially copied the Chinese model of keeping  a tight rein on human rights, especially as they are related to challenging the government’s authority. China is becoming the largest investor in Africa as well as several Southeast Asian countries, and, while directing much of its efforts toward securing resources such as oil and cobalt, has also found a market for its own goods. But China has also opened its markets to African  and Asian goods and has figured out that promoting education, infrastructure modernization and other projects that raise the quality of life in African and Asian countries and bring more of their people into the middle class while modernizing their industries, has long-term benefits as these countries become economic partners, not just third world countries being plundered for resources. China now is highly regarded by many Africans. It has more peacekeepers in Africa than any other country, as it also prizes working with countries that are not at war either with other countries or within themselves, and in fact, seems to value peace and security in its economic partners more than individual freedoms and human rights—a policy China, itself, has followed  in its rise to economic dominance. This Chinese model, of strong  central government control but encouragement of capitalistic business practices and raising of living standards of its citizens as a first priority, is one that many developing countries may choose to adopt, especially if China is helping them through investments.

These are four models of how countries and inter-country cooperation should operate in the coming years. Each has its reasons for being and its upsides and downsides. As Americans, we should realize that we do not live in a vacuum, and our choices as to what kind of society we want are going to determine how we interact with the rest of the world. Both liberal democracy and the Chinese model presume that it is part of a dominant country’s obligation to extend its policies beyond its borders.  For Nationalism and Social Democracy, this is less true, although Nationalism tends to be highly defensive in terms of not allowing other nations’ policies to determine its own and favoring its own needs over those of the rest of the world in areas of trade and security. This may or may not lead to increased militarism on the part of highly nationalistic countries. As we have seen, worldwide events, such as Middle Eastern wars, African famines, and a global recession can affect how people feel about their form of government and economy and what appears to be satisfactory during times of peace and plenty, can appear to be highly flawed in times of stress. Since increasing climate change as a result of global warming is on the horizon, if not already here, bringing with it more immigration and infrastructure destruction, we can anticipate that what seems right at the moment may not appear so in the future for many people of the world.


Reader Comments (1)

What will cause WWIII, in my opinion, is the failure of our social tools to manage or resolve the problems and conflicts arising from our shared human experiences.

Our processes we use to make public policy decisions.
Our processes we use to manage and account for trade.

And in case you have not noticed there are an INCREASING number of us, we the people, that are getting damn sick and tired of the continuing stream of lies excuses and bullshit being spewed by those who insist the damn thing is working.

It's NOT working, it's FAILING.

The systems we use are failing, dismally to resolve the conflicts of modern society.
We need to fix the process we use to consider and enact resolutions, because what we use now ain't working.


May 5, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter45 Mike Anderson

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