Warnings of a crisis of liberalism have become commonplace, as it is assailed by an illiberal right on the one side and a socialist left on the other. The situation is plain, and it is at least partially self-inflicted. Liberalism has missed opportunity after opportunity. It is not merely the tepid response to the financial crisis. One critic warns that already in the ’80s there were “fresh and full disclosures of poverty” and “the decay of rural industry and population,” yet liberals made no serious proposals for reform.
Stalinism. The word conjures dozens of associations, and ‘funny’ isn’t usually one of them. The ‘S-word’ is now synonymous with brutal and all-encompassing state control that left no room for laughter or any form of dissent. And yet, countless diaries, memoirs and even the state’s own archives reveal that people continued to crack jokes about the often terrible lives they were forced to live in the shadow of the Gulag.
There is a specter haunting not just Europe but the whole globe, quaking the boots of established political parties, legacy media outlets, and transnational institutions of government and civil society. This creeping dread is gathered under the catch-all label of “populism.” Cosmopolitan elites are on alert for its “dangerous rise.” Unelected bureaucracies are being hollowed out in its wake, including this week at the World Trade Organization.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, open societies were triumphant and international cooperation became the dominant creed. Thirty years later, however, nationalism has turned out to be much more powerful and disruptive than internationalism.
For 40 years, elites in rich and poor countries alike promised that neoliberal policies would lead to faster economic growth, and that the benefits would trickle down so that everyone, including the poorest, would be better off. Now that the evidence is in, is it any wonder that trust in elites and confidence in democracy have plummeted?
The balance between capitalism and democracy has rarely been stable, but in recent decades it has tilted decidedly toward markets and the technocrats charged with regulating them. Against the background of an ascendant China, the question now is whether the eventual counter-movement will veer back toward democracy, or in a new direction entirely.
For most of human history, the world’s population grew so slowly that for most people alive, it would have felt static. Between the year 1 and 1700, the human population went from about 200 million to about 600 million; by 1800, it had barely hit one billion. Then, the population exploded, first in the United Kingdom and the United States, next in much of the rest of Europe, and eventually in Asia.
In the early 1980s, there was, of course, no internet, no e-mail, no cell phones (much less smartphones), and not even many fax machines. Rebellions against dictatorship depended on age-old mechanisms to communicate the word of the opposition: leaflets, word of mouth, and secret meetings in cellars.
Based on the latest figures from the United Nations, demographers’ best guess for when this will happen is about 2100. By then, the global population is projected to have risen to just shy of 11 billion.Africa will be the most populous continent. Islam will be the most popular religion. And there are going to be a lot more old people.