By Basil Okoh
At the dawn of the twentieth century, the world understood a different kind of power play from today and the alignments of power and technology across the world did not permit nations to seek domination of the world and it’s markets as the big nations presently do.
Europe was the home of imperialist predilections but it came quickly to shock in 1905, two decades after it divided up Africa in the Berlin conference of 1884, during which under the supervision of the strong willed German, Otto von Bismarck, Africa was shared out among European powers of Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and Belgium.
Japan had emerged from centuries of isolation and king worship to modernity during the Meiji Restoration 1850 to 1900. It managed to escape the colonizing forays of Britain and other powers, developing its economy and technology with a modern naval force of it’s own so quickly that it took on the Russian naval fleet in the North Pacific and inflicted a devastating defeat on it in 1905.
That signaled the first defeat of a European military power by a non-European force since Genghis Khan in 1227.
China was in thrall with an endless number of factions and warlords fighting over uncharted territories and bearing ancient grudges. Socialism had been planted by foreign influences but wouldn’t yet take root. The Japanese arrived as civilizing colonists to take over Manchuria and Mongolia.
The entire Korean Peninsular became a brutalized but pliant colony of Japan, the Japanese themselves having become cruel colonists in the fashion of King Leopold’s Belgians in the Congo.
The United States of America, an improbable melting pot and creation of descendants of drifters, Christian zealots and outlaws on the run from Europe together with slaves from Africa, had to come to terms with the native owners of the continent after orgies of gun fights, violent massacres and lethal gun sports. A nation, the United States of America was created from the power of a winning idea out of the chaos and brutality of the early comers and of course British imperialism.
At the dawn of the 20th century, the United States and the rest of the Americas were mostly emerging industrial and agricultural nations and the US had not then acquired the knowledge base or technological power that was to drive its ascent to world domination as happened after the Second World War.
Its diverse and deep resource base, particularly in fossil fuels, though growing, was yet to achieve the importance that characterizes its decisive dominance of the world economy and finances today.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, the United States was comforted by the Monroe Doctrine which offered it protection against European imperialist adventurism in the Americas.
America was for the Americans and the U.S. emerged from a devastating civil war in 1865 with a moral and military victory for the federalist forces whose defining ideology was the pursuit of freedom and liberty for all men. Freedom and liberty was the winning idea and it provided the ideological plank and guiding principle on which the American foreign and domestic policies were to be nailed down.
It is on this theme of freedom and liberty for all that America attempts to build a vision for a new world built on charity and public morality as encased in its Constitution and interpreted as its guiding principle to the world. It is noteworthy that the land of zealots and bandits, inspite of its violent internal contradictions, through a winning idea transmuted to the land of promise and charity.
America emerged from the World Wars as the strong do-good moral force of a new world order. The emergent world of ex-colonies wanted freedom and liberties and America as the triumphant power preached and upheld these ideals. Its films, songs, dance and technologies became treasures in the new globalized world, unwittingly creating its own form of imperialism. With the fusing of its global cultural power and its massive free giving works of charity around the world, America became the lovable dominant power in a new world.
Americas dominance of popular culture advanced its political ideology by no little means, leading to an unprecedented world supremacy, far beyond what was seen in previous civilizations. Through film, music, books, the media, America achieved a near total domination of world thoughts, learning and investments and achieved for Americans far beyond it’s fabled military and technological capabilities.
The first World War 1914 and the unexpected Russian Bolshevik Revolution 1918 devastated Europe and the world economy leading to the worldwide depression of the late twenties and early thirties which fallouts directly gave grounds for the rise of the villain Adolf Hitler in Germany and the second world war in 1939.
The world keeps speculating that as in Europe at the dawn of the twentieth century, the early years of the twenty-first century will witness the rise of Asia, particularly the upsurge in economic growth in China, leading to a dangerous supremacy in military balance of power and the projected domination of the world economy by China in the middle of the twenty first century. These historical projections refuse to take into account, the absence of strength and tenacity of the undergirding vision driving communist China.
Communism no longer holds any alluring attraction to the people’s of the world. The cataclysmic failure of communism in the Soviet Union reverberated all around Eastern Europe and across the world and destroyed in it’s march, nations and systems that took decades of sweat and propaganda to build.
A major reason why China cannot successfully overtake the West, particularly America, is because China does not have a compelling grundnorm and ideology to rally the world and bring it together for its domination. Communism is a system with no mirth and no humor and does not allow for the expression of human freedoms.
Also, communism is a system of human management that does not accept competing ideas and brooks no opposition. Much of the world would not accept the constricting ideology of communism in a new world of openness, globalization and freedom. So China has no alluring ideas to sell to the world. The world is fascinated by the Chinese language but no one wants to be ruled in Chinese or by Chinese communism.
China is already an ageing society even as it is just achieving economic parity with America. This suggests that all the features of an old society will begin to impact on productivity and competition going into the future.
Make no mistake, China will advance in technologies, create a rich society but the system and government built on the communist ideology which it upholds can never offer the openness and growing individualism which can draw the rest of the world. The communist ethos cannot provide the world a rallying vision as does the ideals of liberty and freedom.
China’s advancement and wealth expanded exponentially in recent decades because it subordinated its system to the West through the “One country Two Systems” policy, granting it unlimited access through Hong Kong and Macau to world markets.
China is not driven by an enduring vision for humanity. There is no institutional sense of charity as in America, no pop culture and no commitment to be friends with the rest of the world. There is no rallying philosophy for China to bring the world together to itself.
Communism is a failed ideology of the nineteenth and twentieth century and its egalitarian attraction is no longer fascinating even to the radical intellectuals of the world.
The adoption of the two systems policy to achieve symmetry with Hong Kong in 1997 was an acknowledgement of the failure of the communist ideology to nurture a home grown and credible platform to embrace a globalized world. China needed Hong Kong to provide a broader access to world markets and financial systems but its institutional thinking and systems were too local for an increasingly globalized world.
China cannot become the champion of the world with a losing ideology and vision, no matter how hard it tries. To become a champion of the world and provide leadership to it, China must loosen up to competing ideas of human management and must institute competition in it’s local political arrangements. To be a champion of the world, China must allow political competition within its own territory. Cronyism is not a system to bestow on an emancipated world.
Now afraid that economic growth is speeding out of bureaucratic control and that industrial captains are commanding influences in competition with the Chinese communist party and government, the leadership of China is implementing extraneous control over the captains of industry to diminish their growing influences in order to sustain communist party supremacy and avoid competing ideas and loyalties.
What the ideas of liberty and freedom America promises and offers to the world is not creature comfort. Many countries of the world provide better than America in that regard now. What America promises and offers is the enduring vision and power of the ideas of freedom and liberty.
It is that allure of freedom and liberty that would draw a Rupert Murdoch or an Elon Musk to America to create some of the greatest iconographies of the twenty first century, it is the pull of freedom that would draw the greatest scientists and creative persons to its shores to renew America and it’s many dreams, in every generation. This is the America that China or Asia cannot overwhelm or overcome, unless they imbibe these regenerating ideas of liberty and freedom into their guiding principles of nationhood.
The point of this essay is to show that all nations emerged from a violent and shameful past but it is the winning ideas of America that has set it apart and conferred it leadership over all others. And China does not have that winning idea.
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