About

The Center for Strategic Translation provide statesmen and scholars with the tools needed to interpret the Chinese party-state of today while training a new generation of China specialists with the skills needed to guide our relations with the China of tomorrow.

The Center meets this need through initiatives in translation and education. The Center locates, translates, and annotates documents of historic or strategic value that are currently only available in Chinese. Our introductory essays, glossaries, and commentaries are designed to make these materials accessible and understandable to statesmen and scholars with no special expertise in Chinese politics or the Chinese language.

Complementing the Center’s published translations are the Center’s training seminars. Starting in the summer of 2023 the Center will host a series of seminars to instruct young journalists, graduate students, and government analysts in the open-source analysis of Communist Party policy, introduce them to the distinctive lexicon and history of Party speak, and train them how to draw credible conclusions from conflicting or propagandistic documentary sources.
    
The Center is an initiative of the American Governance Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that studies and promotes the betterment of American public institutions and publishes the quarterly magazine Palladium. The Center is directed by Tanner Greer, a noted essayist, journalist, and researcher with expertise interpreting China in the context of American foreign policy.

Contact

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

From the Rise of Populism to the Return of History

从民粹主义的崛起到历史的回归

Introduction

Note: The following translation is one of six entries in a roundtable discussion convened by two state think tanks in the spring of 2019. Participants were all eminent Chinese academics. Their task was to analyze the slogan “Great Changes Unseen in a Century.” A general introduction to the seminar and the slogan it discusses can be found here.

All tides that rise must fall. All living men must age, sicken, and die. Therefore, the United States must accept that the day will come where it too will fall into decline.” 

So writes Xie Tao, dean of the School of International Relations and Diplomacy at Beijing Foreign Studies University. Xie knows America better than most. He received a PhD in American politics from Northwestern University in the late 2000s; his dissertation catalogs the ins and outs of Congressional activism on China between 1973 and 2006.1 After returning to China in the late aughts, Xie emerged as an “America expert” whose academic training allowed him to speak credibly on developments in Washington politics. The presence of a well-known America expert as one of the main participants in a seminar on “great changes unforeseen in a century” is telling.  Xie’s invitation to participate, much like the substance of Xie’s address itself, underscores how crucial perceptions of American power are to the Chinese understanding of the “great changes” of Xi’s new era. 

Not all changes occur once in a century: Xie begins his address by dividing the last century of Western history into three periods. The first, stretching from the 1930s to the 1960s, saw Western power and prosperity reach its zenith. Next came the age of neoliberalism, when Western governments “put economic freedom above all else… and attached significantly less importance to problems of social inequality.” The bill for neoliberal excess came due in 2008. The economic pain that followed set the stage for the third and current stage of Western politics, the age of right-wing populism. 

Xie admits that the West has seen populist movements of both “the right and the left,” but in his judgment “right-wing populism has completely overwhelmed left-wing populism” across the Western world. Xie blames the popularity of right wing populism partially on the priorities of the Western left. In the face of material deprivation, Western leftists have oriented their politics around conflicts over “post material values.”  This is the “tragedy of identity politics.” Ideology prevents Western leftists from seeing that “the reality is that the vast majority of average citizens care more about their economic interests than the right of a small minority to use a certain bathroom.” The strength of right wing populism, which Xie expects will define Western politics for “ten or twenty more years,” thus lies in the myopia of its opponents.

Throughout his address Xie shadowboxes with political scientists Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama, whose work on political development would have been assigned in his graduate studies.2 Huntington and Fukuyama associate stability and state capacity with mature liberal democracies, but to Xie it seems clear that “one of the key characteristics of China is an effective state…. While many of the challenges facing the West at present seem to stem from the lack of an effective state.” Contrary to the proclamations of liberal triumphalists and American exceptionalists everywhere, mature democracies turn out to be just as vulnerable to regime decay as every other sort of polity.

Unfortunately for China, “most of the American elite is unwilling to accept the realities of this historical cycle.” Decline denied breeds desperation. “This,” Xie concludes, “is the reason why the Sino-American relationship is at its lowest ebb since Richard Nixon's visit in 1972.”

 

—THE EDITORS

1 His dissertation was later published as a monograph: Tao Xie, US-China Relations: China Policy on Capitol Hill (New York: Routledge, 2008).
2 Xie references Huntington's book Who are We? and Fukuyama's article "The End of History" by name, but his entire piece is also clearly engaging with Huntington's earlier book Political Order in Changing Societies (1968) and Fukuyama's two volume revision to Huntington's thesis, The Origins of Political Order (2011) and Political Order and Political Decay (2014).
Author
Xie Tao
谢涛
original publication
Asia Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs
《亚太安全与海洋研究》
publication date
March 3, 2019
Translator
Dylan Levi King
Translation date
October 2022
Tags
Tag term
Tag term

(一)右翼民粹主义的兴起 

20世纪20年代末以来,西方民主国家的发展经历了三个阶段:第一个阶段是1929年大萧条之后一直到20世纪60年代,包括大萧条所带来的经济灾难以及第二次世界大战造成的巨大损失。这段时间西方各国重在发展经济,尤其是二战后的经济重建,但同时也强调经济平等,并通过社会福利等政策来减少社会不平等。 

第二个阶段从20世纪70年代开始,一直到2008年金融危机。这段时期所谓的新自由主义处于主导地位,它与罗斯福执政所代表的旧自由主义相反,把经济自由放在首位,主张减税和监管,对社会平等的重视度明显下降。 

 第三个阶段从2008年金融危机开始到现在。这个阶段也发生了一些重大政治事件,比如2009年爆发的茶党运动,美国2011年的“占领华尔街”运动,以及2016年英国“脱欧”和特朗普当选。这个阶段的一个重要特点,就是民粹主义政党在欧洲各国崛起,在本国的议会选举以及欧洲议会的选举中赢得了不民粹主义有左右之分,前者包括美国的桑德斯现象和占领华尔街运动,还有希腊和西班牙的左翼政党,后者包括法国的“国民阵线”以及特朗普现象。总的来说,当前是右翼民粹主义完全压倒了左翼民粹主义。我认为这个阶段还可能会持续一段时间,10年或者20年。 

 是什么原因造成了右翼民粹主义在当前西方民主国家盛行呢?这里很重要的一个原因与经济有关,也就是社会财富分配不平等的加剧。法国经济学家皮凯蒂2014年出版的《21世纪资本论》对西方国家的经济不平等有特别详细的描述。现在西方学界的基本共识是,贫富悬殊在很大程度上归咎于新自由主义,包括全球化和自由贸易,它给国内的工人阶级带来了巨大的冲击。 

(二)身份政治的悲剧 

 右翼民粹主义上升的另一个原因是身份政治的崛起,或者说,右翼民粹主义是对20世纪70年代开始在西方逐渐盛行的所谓“后物质主义价值观”的强烈反弹。简而言之,二战后20多年的经济繁荣,让西方社会很多年轻人更看重价值观的表达,而不是物质上的稳定。后物质主义价值观包括个人自由、性取向自由、平权运动、政治正确、环保、人权等等。在美国,民主党是身份政治的大本营,其支持者大多数是少数族裔和性取向方面的少数群体。

然而,身份政治的悲剧在于,它更多是一种自我表达和要求得到尊重的诉求,而不是传统意义上的经济再分配。现实却是,绝大多数普通老百姓还是更关注切身经济利益,而不是诸如某些极少数群体在上厕所的时候被公平对待的权利。经济上的日益不平等,再加上价值观上的冲突,造成了右翼民粹主义急剧盛行,这也是民主党在2016年失利的一个重要原因。 

 总之,西方所谓的“白左”倡导的身份政治,在美国国内和西方国家引起了强烈的反弹。再举个例子,特朗普政府现在开始倡导一个新的概念,就是民族国家。美国国务卿蓬皮奥前段时间有个讲话,说的就是美国要重新成为一个民族国家。美国的政治精英,不论是左派还是右派,很少用民族国家来描述美国,也很少用民族主义这个词来描述美国人的爱国热情。在他们眼中,美国人爱国是爱国主义,不是民族主义,也就是说这个词是带有一定贬义的。这中间的原因,是他们认为美国是例外的,因为美国是一个移民国家,不是一个传统意义上的民族国家。那么,现在开始说美国是一个民族国家,是什么意思呢? 

这其实回到了亨廷顿所说的“我们是谁?”这个身份问题。一个包含世界上所有文化的美国是不是美国?至少美国国内反对身份政治的很多人认为,答案是否定的。一个多元的美国根本不是美国;文化多元主义把美国变成了联合国,而不是美国。他们认为,美国的特殊性在于其西方性,也就是以盎格鲁-撒克逊文化为核心的价值观。 

(三)从历史的终结到历史的回归 

 人类历史进入21世纪以来,世界政治发生了三大重要事件:一是2008年的金融危机,二是中国的崛起,三是西方民粹主义的盛行。西方各国经济低迷的时候,中国的发展势头却很旺。这与福山提到的西方国家的政治衰败有密切关系。中国的特色之一是有效国家,而西方国家当前面临的一系列挑战,似乎正是由于有效国家的缺失。 

由此,我想到了另外一个问题。中国和西方国家面临的挑战是不一样的。有学者在研究南欧国家后提出了一个概念,叫做没有发展的现代化,大概意思就是,虽然实现了城市化,但是城里就业机会很少,缺乏稳定的工作。中国面临的挑战可能是相反的,也就是没有现代化的发展。为什么这么说呢?改革开放40年来,中国实现了经济腾飞,这是全世界有目共睹的,也是每个普通中国人都能感同身受的。中国现在到哪里都能看到发展,但是我们在国家治理的诸多方面还有不少欠缺,需要进一步现代化。 

 福山提出过“历史的终结”,我想提出一个“历史的回归”。什么意思呢?21世纪以来,四个国家在国际政治中的影响力明显增加,它们是中国、俄罗斯、印度、土耳其。这些国家都有着悠久的历史和文明,但是后来都衰落了,并且被西方国家殖民或者羞辱过。现在这四个国家又在世界舞台上崛起。用它们英文名字的第一个字母,这四个国家被我叫CRIT。

我觉得,这四个国家的崛起并不意味着“文明的冲突”,而是一种“历史的回归”,也就是历史发展的周期性。但是美国的大多数精英一直觉得,美国是一个自由民主国家,因此美国的霸权是跟以往的霸权都不一样(例外的),是不会衰落的。然而,既然自然界有四季变更、潮涨潮落,人有生老病死,那么美国也必须接受自己也有衰落的一天。但是现在大多数美国精英是不愿意接受这样的历史周期。这也是当前中美关系处于1972年尼克松访华以来最低点的一个重要原因。 

I. The rise of right-wing populism

The development process in Western democratic countries has progressed in three stages since the close of the 1920s. The first stage, beginning with the Great Depression in 1929 and continuing through the 1960s, encompasses the economic crisis that began the period and also the massive losses brought about by the Second World War. In this stage, all countries in the West threw their weight behind economic development, especially during the period of postwar economic recovery, but there was also an emphasis on economic equality, as well the reduction of social inequality through social welfare and other like policies.

The second development stage began in the 1970s and ended with the 2008 financial crisis. This stage was marked by the dominance of what we now refer to as neoliberalism. In contrast to the former conception of liberalism represented by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, neoliberal regimes placed economic freedom above all else, advocated tax cuts and deregulation, and attached significantly less importance to problems of social inequality.        

The third stage started with the 2008 financial crisis and continues to the present. This stage has seen a number of major political events, including the beginning of the Tea Party movement in 2009, Occupy Wall Street in 2011, and Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in 2016. One of the characteristics of this stage is the rise of populist parties in Europe and their victories in local legislative bodies and in the European Parliament. These movements are all populist, but they must be differentiated into left and right. The left includes the Bernie Sanders phenomenon, Occupy Wall Street, and left-wing parties in Greece and Spain; on the right, there is Front National in France, and the phenomenon of Donald Trump in the United States. Surveying the general situation at present, it appears that right-wing populism has completely overwhelmed left-wing populism. I believe this stage of development could continue for ten or twenty more years.

What accounts for the present popularity of right-wing populism in Western democratic countries? This has a lot to do with economics, specifically widening disparity in wealth distribution in these societies. French economist Thomas Picketty's 2014 Capital in the Twenty-First Century contains a detailed description of this phenomenon of economic inequality in Western countries.3 The present consensus in Western academia is that the wealth gap can be attributed in no small part to neoliberalism, which includes the assault on the domestic working classes of these countries by globalization and free trade.

II. The tragedy of identity politics

Another explanation for the appearance of right-wing populism is as a response to the rise of identity politics, or, perhaps more accurately, as a fierce revolt against the gradual shift since the 1970s toward what has been called "post-materialist values." To summarize this idea briefly, two decades of postwar economic prosperity led many young people in the West to place less importance on material stability than the expression of their values. These post-materialist values include personal liberty, freedom to choose one's own sexual orientation, civil rights crusades, political correctness, protecting the environment, promoting human rights, and so forth. In the United States, the Democratic Party has become a bastion for identity politics, with the majority of their supporters being drawn from ethnic and sexual minority groups.

The tragedy of identity politics is that it prioritizes calls for respect and self-expression over demands for more conventional economic redistribution. The reality is that the vast majority of average citizens care more about their economic interests than the right of a small minority to use a certain bathroom. A backlash against these values and rising economic inequality combined to cause a surge in right-wing populism, and it also contributed to the Democratic Party's electoral loss in 2016.

To put it simply, there has been an intense reaction in the United States and other Western countries against the brand of identity politics advocated by what has been called the "white left," or baizuo. Another example is the Trump administration’s promotion administration of a new concept: the nation-state. In a speech Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave some time ago, he advised that America must once again become a nation-state. The American political elite, whether left or right, rarely use the term "nation-state" to describe their country. The term “nationalism” is rarely used to describe attitudes in the United States, either. They would prefer to describe flag-waving as "patriotism." For them, "patriotism" is a positive description, while "nationalism" is a pejorative term. Americans view their country as exceptional: they don’t consider it a nation-state4 in the traditional sense of the term, but as a nation of immigrants. So, the question is, what does it mean to suddenly begin referring to America as a nation-state?

In fact, this goes back to Samuel Huntington's challenge to American identity: "Who are we?"5 If the United States can absorb all the cultures of the world, is it still America? For opponents of identity politics inside the United States, the answer is no. A pluralistic America is not America at all. [For them] multiculturalism has transformed the United States into the United Nations. The opponents of identity politics don't believe in abandoning the distinctly Western identity of the United States, or in replacing core Anglo-Saxon cultural values.

III. From the end of history to the return of history     

As human history entered the twenty-first century, three major events occurred in global politics: the financial crisis in 2008, the rise of China, and growth of populism in the West. While all Western economies are depressed, China’s development momentum is strong. This can be traced back to the idea of political decay proposed by Francis Fukuyama.6 One of the key characteristics of China is an effective state. Many of the challenges facing the West at present seem to stem from the lack of an effective state. 

This leads me to another issue. The challenges faced by China and the West are not the same. Some scholars focused on Southern Europe have come up with the concept of modernization without development. This means, basically, that even though these countries have urbanized,  employment opportunities in their urban areas are scarce or unstable. The challenge faced by China might be the opposite—development without modernization. Why do I say that? Forty years on from Reform and Opening, China's economy has soared. This is obvious to everyone in the world. [It is something which] every normal Chinese citizen has firsthand experience with. Wherever you go in China, you can see this development. But we have many deficiencies in national governance that require further modernization.

Fukuyama suggested "the end of history," and I would like to propose "the return of history."7 What does that mean? In the twenty-first century, there has been a significant increase in the political influence of China, Russia, India, and Turkey. These four countries possess both a long history and claims to a distinct civilization, but they all experienced decline. These countries were colonized or humiliated by Western powers.8 Now, they have returned to the world stage.

I don't believe the rise of CRIT—an acronym based on their English names—signifies a "clash of civilizations" but rather "the return of history." This represents its own stage in the cycle of historical development. The majority of the American elite, however, believe that the liberal democratic character of the United States means that its hegemony is completely different from past forms of hegemony (that it is exceptional, if you will)—they don’t believe it will ever decline. But to everything there is a season. All tides that rise must fall. All living men must age, sicken, and die. Therefore, the United States must accept that the day will come where it too will fall into decline. For now, most of the American elite is unwilling to accept the realities of this historical cycle. This is the reason why the Sino-American relationship is at its lowest ebb since Richard Nixon's visit in 1972.

3 The reference is to Thomas Picketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014) 
4 Xie references then Secretary of State Michael Pompeo' Dec 4th address at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels, "Restoring the Role of the Nation-State in the Liberal International Order." In this speech Pompeo spoke at length about the need to "reassert our [American] sovereignty." Pompeo argued that
Multilateralism has too often become viewed as an end unto itself.  The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done. Every nation – every nation – must honestly acknowledge its responsibilities to its citizens and ask if the current international order serves the good of its people as well as it could.... nothing can replace the nation-state as the guarantor of democratic freedoms and national interests.
5 The reference is to the title of Samuel Huntington's 2004 Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004). Huntington argued that the American cultural and political traditions were distinctive outgrowths of America's protestant heritage and the colonial English experience. Huntingon worried that immigration and globalization would dilute American identity and fracture American politics; his warnings about the perils posed by a denationalized economic elite both presaged Trump's electoral platform and is a clear inspiration for Xie's own argument.  
6 In his Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), Fukuyama characterizes the government of the United States as a "vetocracy" incapable of effective governance. Fukuyama postulates that a constitution of checks and balances, a heritage of small government distrust, the advent of adversarial legalism, and poor bureaucratic design keeps the U.S. political system in a permanent state of paralysis.
7 Fukuyama originally introduced this concept in his famous article "The End of History?," The National Interest, No. 16 (Summer 1989), pp. 3-18. Contrary to common misconceptions, Fukuyama did not argue that the end of the Cold War meant that nationalism, civil war, or strong man politics would be removed from the face of the Earth, or even the democratic portion of that Earth. Rather, he argued that with the collapse of Communism there was no other apsirational model for political life. Liberal democracy would remain the stick against which all polities would be measured, regardless of how well they measured up to them. Though Xie is clearly familiar with Fuuyama's work, he chooses to engage here with the Fukuyama of stereotype, not the more nuanced Fukuyama of reality.
8 In putting humiliation on par with colonization, Xie follows the standard interpretation of modern Chinese history current in mainland China, which laments the hundred years or so years between the Opium Wars and the founding of the People’s Republic of China as “a century of national humiliation.” China was never colonized in the fashion of the Indian Raj, but it was forced to allow foreign troops and gunships a permanent presence on its territory, concede extraterritorial rights to foreign citizens, and give away parts its territory (Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Outer Mongolia, and the Amur River Basin) in exchange for peace. For more on this, see the glossary entry CENTURY OF NATIONAL HUMILIATION.      

(一)右翼民粹主义的兴起 

20世纪20年代末以来,西方民主国家的发展经历了三个阶段:第一个阶段是1929年大萧条之后一直到20世纪60年代,包括大萧条所带来的经济灾难以及第二次世界大战造成的巨大损失。这段时间西方各国重在发展经济,尤其是二战后的经济重建,但同时也强调经济平等,并通过社会福利等政策来减少社会不平等。 

第二个阶段从20世纪70年代开始,一直到2008年金融危机。这段时期所谓的新自由主义处于主导地位,它与罗斯福执政所代表的旧自由主义相反,把经济自由放在首位,主张减税和监管,对社会平等的重视度明显下降。 

 第三个阶段从2008年金融危机开始到现在。这个阶段也发生了一些重大政治事件,比如2009年爆发的茶党运动,美国2011年的“占领华尔街”运动,以及2016年英国“脱欧”和特朗普当选。这个阶段的一个重要特点,就是民粹主义政党在欧洲各国崛起,在本国的议会选举以及欧洲议会的选举中赢得了不民粹主义有左右之分,前者包括美国的桑德斯现象和占领华尔街运动,还有希腊和西班牙的左翼政党,后者包括法国的“国民阵线”以及特朗普现象。总的来说,当前是右翼民粹主义完全压倒了左翼民粹主义。我认为这个阶段还可能会持续一段时间,10年或者20年。 

 是什么原因造成了右翼民粹主义在当前西方民主国家盛行呢?这里很重要的一个原因与经济有关,也就是社会财富分配不平等的加剧。法国经济学家皮凯蒂2014年出版的《21世纪资本论》对西方国家的经济不平等有特别详细的描述。现在西方学界的基本共识是,贫富悬殊在很大程度上归咎于新自由主义,包括全球化和自由贸易,它给国内的工人阶级带来了巨大的冲击。 

(二)身份政治的悲剧 

 右翼民粹主义上升的另一个原因是身份政治的崛起,或者说,右翼民粹主义是对20世纪70年代开始在西方逐渐盛行的所谓“后物质主义价值观”的强烈反弹。简而言之,二战后20多年的经济繁荣,让西方社会很多年轻人更看重价值观的表达,而不是物质上的稳定。后物质主义价值观包括个人自由、性取向自由、平权运动、政治正确、环保、人权等等。在美国,民主党是身份政治的大本营,其支持者大多数是少数族裔和性取向方面的少数群体。

然而,身份政治的悲剧在于,它更多是一种自我表达和要求得到尊重的诉求,而不是传统意义上的经济再分配。现实却是,绝大多数普通老百姓还是更关注切身经济利益,而不是诸如某些极少数群体在上厕所的时候被公平对待的权利。经济上的日益不平等,再加上价值观上的冲突,造成了右翼民粹主义急剧盛行,这也是民主党在2016年失利的一个重要原因。 

 总之,西方所谓的“白左”倡导的身份政治,在美国国内和西方国家引起了强烈的反弹。再举个例子,特朗普政府现在开始倡导一个新的概念,就是民族国家。美国国务卿蓬皮奥前段时间有个讲话,说的就是美国要重新成为一个民族国家。美国的政治精英,不论是左派还是右派,很少用民族国家来描述美国,也很少用民族主义这个词来描述美国人的爱国热情。在他们眼中,美国人爱国是爱国主义,不是民族主义,也就是说这个词是带有一定贬义的。这中间的原因,是他们认为美国是例外的,因为美国是一个移民国家,不是一个传统意义上的民族国家。那么,现在开始说美国是一个民族国家,是什么意思呢? 

这其实回到了亨廷顿所说的“我们是谁?”这个身份问题。一个包含世界上所有文化的美国是不是美国?至少美国国内反对身份政治的很多人认为,答案是否定的。一个多元的美国根本不是美国;文化多元主义把美国变成了联合国,而不是美国。他们认为,美国的特殊性在于其西方性,也就是以盎格鲁-撒克逊文化为核心的价值观。 

(三)从历史的终结到历史的回归 

 人类历史进入21世纪以来,世界政治发生了三大重要事件:一是2008年的金融危机,二是中国的崛起,三是西方民粹主义的盛行。西方各国经济低迷的时候,中国的发展势头却很旺。这与福山提到的西方国家的政治衰败有密切关系。中国的特色之一是有效国家,而西方国家当前面临的一系列挑战,似乎正是由于有效国家的缺失。 

由此,我想到了另外一个问题。中国和西方国家面临的挑战是不一样的。有学者在研究南欧国家后提出了一个概念,叫做没有发展的现代化,大概意思就是,虽然实现了城市化,但是城里就业机会很少,缺乏稳定的工作。中国面临的挑战可能是相反的,也就是没有现代化的发展。为什么这么说呢?改革开放40年来,中国实现了经济腾飞,这是全世界有目共睹的,也是每个普通中国人都能感同身受的。中国现在到哪里都能看到发展,但是我们在国家治理的诸多方面还有不少欠缺,需要进一步现代化。 

 福山提出过“历史的终结”,我想提出一个“历史的回归”。什么意思呢?21世纪以来,四个国家在国际政治中的影响力明显增加,它们是中国、俄罗斯、印度、土耳其。这些国家都有着悠久的历史和文明,但是后来都衰落了,并且被西方国家殖民或者羞辱过。现在这四个国家又在世界舞台上崛起。用它们英文名字的第一个字母,这四个国家被我叫CRIT。

我觉得,这四个国家的崛起并不意味着“文明的冲突”,而是一种“历史的回归”,也就是历史发展的周期性。但是美国的大多数精英一直觉得,美国是一个自由民主国家,因此美国的霸权是跟以往的霸权都不一样(例外的),是不会衰落的。然而,既然自然界有四季变更、潮涨潮落,人有生老病死,那么美国也必须接受自己也有衰落的一天。但是现在大多数美国精英是不愿意接受这样的历史周期。这也是当前中美关系处于1972年尼克松访华以来最低点的一个重要原因。 

I. The rise of right-wing populism

The development process in Western democratic countries has progressed in three stages since the close of the 1920s. The first stage, beginning with the Great Depression in 1929 and continuing through the 1960s, encompasses the economic crisis that began the period and also the massive losses brought about by the Second World War. In this stage, all countries in the West threw their weight behind economic development, especially during the period of postwar economic recovery, but there was also an emphasis on economic equality, as well the reduction of social inequality through social welfare and other like policies.

The second development stage began in the 1970s and ended with the 2008 financial crisis. This stage was marked by the dominance of what we now refer to as neoliberalism. In contrast to the former conception of liberalism represented by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, neoliberal regimes placed economic freedom above all else, advocated tax cuts and deregulation, and attached significantly less importance to problems of social inequality.        

The third stage started with the 2008 financial crisis and continues to the present. This stage has seen a number of major political events, including the beginning of the Tea Party movement in 2009, Occupy Wall Street in 2011, and Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in 2016. One of the characteristics of this stage is the rise of populist parties in Europe and their victories in local legislative bodies and in the European Parliament. These movements are all populist, but they must be differentiated into left and right. The left includes the Bernie Sanders phenomenon, Occupy Wall Street, and left-wing parties in Greece and Spain; on the right, there is Front National in France, and the phenomenon of Donald Trump in the United States. Surveying the general situation at present, it appears that right-wing populism has completely overwhelmed left-wing populism. I believe this stage of development could continue for ten or twenty more years.

What accounts for the present popularity of right-wing populism in Western democratic countries? This has a lot to do with economics, specifically widening disparity in wealth distribution in these societies. French economist Thomas Picketty's 2014 Capital in the Twenty-First Century contains a detailed description of this phenomenon of economic inequality in Western countries.3 The present consensus in Western academia is that the wealth gap can be attributed in no small part to neoliberalism, which includes the assault on the domestic working classes of these countries by globalization and free trade.

II. The tragedy of identity politics

Another explanation for the appearance of right-wing populism is as a response to the rise of identity politics, or, perhaps more accurately, as a fierce revolt against the gradual shift since the 1970s toward what has been called "post-materialist values." To summarize this idea briefly, two decades of postwar economic prosperity led many young people in the West to place less importance on material stability than the expression of their values. These post-materialist values include personal liberty, freedom to choose one's own sexual orientation, civil rights crusades, political correctness, protecting the environment, promoting human rights, and so forth. In the United States, the Democratic Party has become a bastion for identity politics, with the majority of their supporters being drawn from ethnic and sexual minority groups.

The tragedy of identity politics is that it prioritizes calls for respect and self-expression over demands for more conventional economic redistribution. The reality is that the vast majority of average citizens care more about their economic interests than the right of a small minority to use a certain bathroom. A backlash against these values and rising economic inequality combined to cause a surge in right-wing populism, and it also contributed to the Democratic Party's electoral loss in 2016.

To put it simply, there has been an intense reaction in the United States and other Western countries against the brand of identity politics advocated by what has been called the "white left," or baizuo. Another example is the Trump administration’s promotion administration of a new concept: the nation-state. In a speech Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave some time ago, he advised that America must once again become a nation-state. The American political elite, whether left or right, rarely use the term "nation-state" to describe their country. The term “nationalism” is rarely used to describe attitudes in the United States, either. They would prefer to describe flag-waving as "patriotism." For them, "patriotism" is a positive description, while "nationalism" is a pejorative term. Americans view their country as exceptional: they don’t consider it a nation-state4 in the traditional sense of the term, but as a nation of immigrants. So, the question is, what does it mean to suddenly begin referring to America as a nation-state?

In fact, this goes back to Samuel Huntington's challenge to American identity: "Who are we?"5 If the United States can absorb all the cultures of the world, is it still America? For opponents of identity politics inside the United States, the answer is no. A pluralistic America is not America at all. [For them] multiculturalism has transformed the United States into the United Nations. The opponents of identity politics don't believe in abandoning the distinctly Western identity of the United States, or in replacing core Anglo-Saxon cultural values.

III. From the end of history to the return of history     

As human history entered the twenty-first century, three major events occurred in global politics: the financial crisis in 2008, the rise of China, and growth of populism in the West. While all Western economies are depressed, China’s development momentum is strong. This can be traced back to the idea of political decay proposed by Francis Fukuyama.6 One of the key characteristics of China is an effective state. Many of the challenges facing the West at present seem to stem from the lack of an effective state. 

This leads me to another issue. The challenges faced by China and the West are not the same. Some scholars focused on Southern Europe have come up with the concept of modernization without development. This means, basically, that even though these countries have urbanized,  employment opportunities in their urban areas are scarce or unstable. The challenge faced by China might be the opposite—development without modernization. Why do I say that? Forty years on from Reform and Opening, China's economy has soared. This is obvious to everyone in the world. [It is something which] every normal Chinese citizen has firsthand experience with. Wherever you go in China, you can see this development. But we have many deficiencies in national governance that require further modernization.

Fukuyama suggested "the end of history," and I would like to propose "the return of history."7 What does that mean? In the twenty-first century, there has been a significant increase in the political influence of China, Russia, India, and Turkey. These four countries possess both a long history and claims to a distinct civilization, but they all experienced decline. These countries were colonized or humiliated by Western powers.8 Now, they have returned to the world stage.

I don't believe the rise of CRIT—an acronym based on their English names—signifies a "clash of civilizations" but rather "the return of history." This represents its own stage in the cycle of historical development. The majority of the American elite, however, believe that the liberal democratic character of the United States means that its hegemony is completely different from past forms of hegemony (that it is exceptional, if you will)—they don’t believe it will ever decline. But to everything there is a season. All tides that rise must fall. All living men must age, sicken, and die. Therefore, the United States must accept that the day will come where it too will fall into decline. For now, most of the American elite is unwilling to accept the realities of this historical cycle. This is the reason why the Sino-American relationship is at its lowest ebb since Richard Nixon's visit in 1972.

3 The reference is to Thomas Picketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014) 
4 Xie references then Secretary of State Michael Pompeo' Dec 4th address at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels, "Restoring the Role of the Nation-State in the Liberal International Order." In this speech Pompeo spoke at length about the need to "reassert our [American] sovereignty." Pompeo argued that
Multilateralism has too often become viewed as an end unto itself.  The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done. Every nation – every nation – must honestly acknowledge its responsibilities to its citizens and ask if the current international order serves the good of its people as well as it could.... nothing can replace the nation-state as the guarantor of democratic freedoms and national interests.
5 The reference is to the title of Samuel Huntington's 2004 Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004). Huntington argued that the American cultural and political traditions were distinctive outgrowths of America's protestant heritage and the colonial English experience. Huntingon worried that immigration and globalization would dilute American identity and fracture American politics; his warnings about the perils posed by a denationalized economic elite both presaged Trump's electoral platform and is a clear inspiration for Xie's own argument.  
6 In his Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), Fukuyama characterizes the government of the United States as a "vetocracy" incapable of effective governance. Fukuyama postulates that a constitution of checks and balances, a heritage of small government distrust, the advent of adversarial legalism, and poor bureaucratic design keeps the U.S. political system in a permanent state of paralysis.
7 Fukuyama originally introduced this concept in his famous article "The End of History?," The National Interest, No. 16 (Summer 1989), pp. 3-18. Contrary to common misconceptions, Fukuyama did not argue that the end of the Cold War meant that nationalism, civil war, or strong man politics would be removed from the face of the Earth, or even the democratic portion of that Earth. Rather, he argued that with the collapse of Communism there was no other apsirational model for political life. Liberal democracy would remain the stick against which all polities would be measured, regardless of how well they measured up to them. Though Xie is clearly familiar with Fuuyama's work, he chooses to engage here with the Fukuyama of stereotype, not the more nuanced Fukuyama of reality.
8 In putting humiliation on par with colonization, Xie follows the standard interpretation of modern Chinese history current in mainland China, which laments the hundred years or so years between the Opium Wars and the founding of the People’s Republic of China as “a century of national humiliation.” China was never colonized in the fashion of the Indian Raj, but it was forced to allow foreign troops and gunships a permanent presence on its territory, concede extraterritorial rights to foreign citizens, and give away parts its territory (Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Outer Mongolia, and the Amur River Basin) in exchange for peace. For more on this, see the glossary entry CENTURY OF NATIONAL HUMILIATION.      

Cite This Article

Xie Tao, “From the Rise of Populism to the Return of History.” Translated by Dylan Levi King. San Francisco: Center for Strategic Translation, 2022. 

Originally published in 张蕴岭,楊光斌,等 [Zhang Yunling, Yang Guangbin, et. al.],  “Ruhe lijie yu renshi bainian dabianju如何理解于認識百年大變局 [How to Understand and Recognize Great Changes of the Century]”,  Yatai Anquan Yu Haiyang Yanjiu 亚太安全与海洋研究 2, no. 24 (2019): 1-15.

Related Articles

Share this article