A bit like a second-rate cover-band performing a version of an old hit single, it was common not so long ago for your average bog-standard pundit to construct an entire presentation or article from the following couple of verses:
End of the Cold War, triumph of liberal democracy, that American guy with a Japanese name, Kantian Universal peace
Chorus, Something went wrong, something went wrong, nothing to do with us.
Return of nationalism, conflict everywhere, ethnic cleansing, genocide, Islamic extremism, ISIS, guys whose name we can’t pronounce.
Chorus: Something went wrong, something went wrong, nothing to do with us.
Well, this isn’t entirely false (at least the second verse isn’t) although if you ever sang the first verse, you were an idiot. But of course it had everything to do with us, or at least those who claimed to act in our name. They encouraged nationalism and religious extremism as weapons against Communism and secular populist regimes in the Arab world, they cheered the fracturing of Yugoslavia, they made friends with anyone who claimed to dislike Putin. Oh, and they rotted up the international economic system with floating currencies, wildly gyrating raw material prices and abolition of trade “barriers”, all complemented by Structural Adjustment Programmes enforced by the IMF, which is the kind of organisation you would get if the Waffen SS had ever set up a satirical comedy troupe.
But the thing that always amazed me about these people was their failure to understand that conflict was not a bug, it was a feature. It’s not that liberal democracy was tried but unfortunately was sabotaged by malevolent foreigners. It’s that attempts to impose “liberal democracy” (as we called it, anyway) were more or less a guarantee of conflict. And not just conflict between others, caused by our own heavy-handed blundering either. What, after all, are the most violent and destructive wars of the last generation? Iraq (twice, plus the bombing throughout the 90s) Afghanistan, Libya….. In other words, wars launched by us. This is not a coincidence or an accident.
“Liberal democracy” (let’s keep the quotes) is normative ideology, and so must be adopted everywhere. It’s values are “universal” so they have to be applied everywhere, or they are not universal. Which makes it very uncomfortable if you don’t share these values, or don’t adopt them quickly enough. There’s a good argument, in fact, that liberal democracy is inherently aggressive, inherently violent, intolerant and hateful, and cannot abide difference. If you see it coming you should get out of the way. It doesn’t matter whether its ideas are attractive, or even sensible, but if a normative ideology is held by a bunch of rich and powerful states, determined to impose it on others, conflict is pretty much inevitable, and you are likely to come of worse.
I’ve noticed fewer cover versions of the song recently. maybe that’s not a coincidence.