We are living, so we are told, through an ideological crisis. The United States is trapped in political deadlock and dysfunction, Europe is broke and breaking, authoritarian China is on the rise. Protesters take to the streets across the advanced industrial democracies; the high and mighty meet in Davos to search for “new models” as sober commentators ponder who and what will shape the future.
In historical perspective, however, the true narrative of the era is actually the reverse -- not ideological upheaval but stability. Today’s troubles are real enough, but they relate more to policies than to principles. The major battles about how to structure modern politics and economics were fought in the first half of the last century, and they ended with the emergence of the most successful system the world has ever seen.
Nine decades ago, in one of the first issues of this magazine, the political scientist Harold Laski noted that with “the mass of men” having come to political power, the challenge of modern democratic government was providing enough “solid benefit” to ordinary citizens “to make its preservation a matter of urgency to themselves.” A generation and a half later, with the creation of the postwar order of mutually supporting liberal democracies with mixed economies, that challenge was being met, and as a result, more people in more places have lived longer, richer, freer lives than ever before. In ideological terms, at least, all the rest is commentary.
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