by Ed West
Wednesday, 1
January 2020
Idea
07:00

Will China end America’s culture wars?

Welcome to the roaring 20s and the Age of Aquarius. Predictions are a fool’s game, obviously, but one likely event in this coming decade will be China becoming the world’s largest economy, ending the century-and-a-bit period of US hegemony.

It may be as early as this year or perhaps at some point later in the decade.

I’m extremely pessimistic about Beijing’s growing power, but then I’m not Cheery McCheeryface at the best of times; I suspect a lot of people who have spent their lives in a state of adolescent rebellion against the United States and all its highly visible faults (and there are many) may finally come to appreciate that in terms of global top dogs we were quite lucky to have America in charge.

Ironically, the Anglophone commentariat has in the late 2010s gone through a period of Political Hypochondria, comparing the rise of a defensive and reactive national popularism with the expansive and violent Fascist movements of the 1930s; in reality they are only distantly related, certainly no closer than modern progressivism shares with Communism, but then Fascism is a cancer and lots of fairly harmless things resemble cancer.

And while this was all happening, the world’s soon-to-be largest power was actually putting people in concentration camps in an attempt to wipe out their culture.

There may be one upside to China’s rise, however, in that it could to some extent slow down America’s culture war and polarisation (which in turn has become Britain’s culture war and polarisation). Jonathan Haidt once listed all the factors pushing his country apart, which should be of interest to us since most of these factors are present in Britain, too.

Almost none of these drivers are going to reverse in the coming decade. America (and Britain) will continue to get more diverse, the number of graduates will continue to rise, increasing elite overproduction, and the media will continue to get more dispersed, partisan and shouty.

The one exception is the end of the Cold War, since the rise of China might provide the US with an enemy that cuts across the culture divisions. Hostility to Beijing is one thing that unites Democrats and Republicans, but I’ve also noticed on a personal level that China is one subject that doesn’t cause that sort of uncomfortable conversational divisions between people of different political views, unlike almost anything else since 2016.

Conservatives and liberals both really despair of what Communist China is doing, and what the Beijing government represents; there is a lot of gibberish spoken about “British values” and “what it means to be an American” but whatever one’s political stance, we’re all fairly united in our views of what that giant Black Mirror society means for us.

So, every cloud has a silver lining, then. Happy New Year!

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