In the past 30 years we’ve witnessed the end of the Soviet Union, the third wave of democratisation and extensive levels of globalisation. Mass flows of capital and mobility have become the norm. Francis Fukuyama predicted the ‘End of History’ with liberal democracies spreading around the planet and market capitalism enriching everyone.
To some extent this became a reality. Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now shows empirical studies of great benefits brought to the world by globalisation. We live in a richer, healthier and more peaceful era than ever before.
However, drastic changes to the global economy and mass migration resulted in a backlash against cosmopolitanism. 9/11, the global financial crisis of 2008, the Euro crisis of 2011, the failures of the Iraq War and the refugee crisis of 2015 cumulatively left Western liberal democracies politically precarious. The rise in domestic inequality, offshoring of low skilled work, and declining trust in political and financial institutions led to worsening social cohesion.
These unexpected circumstances of events led us to a world of increasing populist sentiment evidenced by Brexit and President Trump’s election — the revival of nationalism.
John Mearsheimer stated that “nationalism is the most powerful ideology on the planet”. Humans are tribal and we are social animals to the core. This explains the zealous dedication people exert towards national causes which seek to advance identity-based policies.
Contemporary populism is a symptom of the problem and not necessarily the solution. We have to defend the liberal world order, but future policy-makers should consider dealing with the side effects of globalisation.
To sustain an interconnected and a peaceful modern world, we must understand the causes of populism and continue to build towards a society where we embrace liberal democratic principles.