Contested future: What next for the west?

What’s the matter with the west? Your answer will largely depend on what you mean by “the west”.

If you are Jeffrey Sachs, a distinguished but controversial Ivy League economist, the west has been a productivity machine that gave the world the industrial era and now the digital age. The west’s half a millennium of dominance is now closing. Sachs’ perspective, in other words, is technical and somewhat bloodless. If you are Pankaj Mishra, a London-based India-born writer, the response is very bloody indeed. Mishra’s west gave the world colonialism, destruction and slavery. It is now sinking under the weight of its greed and hypocrisy. He too sees western hegemony coming to an end. If you are Thomas Frank, a Washington-based journalist and historian, your horizons are essentially American. The heyday of America’s spirit came in the populist era of the 1890s and early 1900s, and during Franklin Roosevelt’s 1930s New Deal. America’s only hope is to recover the egalitarian temper of those times.

Whichever view you take, the fate of the west is also on the ballot in the coming US general election. One candidate, Joe Biden, promises to revive America’s western alliances. The other, Donald Trump, would continue to put “America first”. There are reasons to be sceptical of whether…

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