The End of Western Hegemonies?
If we look at ‘the West’ as a group of states, we can say it has been globally hegemonic in many areas of life, such as scientific innovation, the economy and consumption, military force, medicine, technological development, press freedom, political regimes and ideology. In addition, there are views according to which the West has imposed its own vision of the world by having hegemony over the production of knowledge in intellectual domains, such as philosophy, political science, and sociology, the West has imposed its own vision of the world. This is how the ‘Western paradigm’ has been built. Adopting this paradigm has long been held as a global criterion of success. However, as long as there have been Western hegemonies, there have been contestations of them.
History did not end in the triumph of Western liberal democracy, and there are societal developments in the US and Europe that are seen as undermining (the unity of) the West. It is feared that the era of Donald Trump will disengage the US from the Western and global political arenas. The imminent separation of Britain from the European Union is raising concerns about the unity of Europe. The overall rise of right-wing populism is seen to jeopardize such core Western values as internationalism, liberalism and solidarity. Increasing individualism and identity politics, racism, toxic masculinity, unemployment or a lost sense of purpose are seen to erode Western society from the inside by dividing people into different sides of cultural wars.
Moreover, the so-called emerging countries, China in their lead, are often seen as a threat to Western geopolitical, economic and cultural hegemonies, if not to the contemporary world order. Western military ventures have been seen as the source of deep fractures, not only between the West and other countries, but also within non-Western societies, since they have helped to cause the rise of militant Islam and the unleashing of wars in these countries. This interventionism, however, has not been without consequences in the West as well, for these wars have caused flows of refugees, and brought crowds of immigrants into Western countries. This situation has fueled further political conflict within Western societies whose people debate about the nature of Western civilization and its role in helping others.
Will the ‘non-West’, the emerging countries, or China surpass the West? If so, in which areas of life? Can the West hold on to its hegemonies in science, liberal democracy, economy, civil liberties, and the military sphere? Or is it bound to become one of many equal players – or a relic – in a new multi-polar world order? At the same time, the West – and all of humankind – is developing further in terms of technology, health, human rights, democracy and peace, and many think there is no reason to believe the West would lose its hegemonies.