The Battle of the World-orders

This war will answer the question of whether market democracies or market dictatorships are more effective.

The second half of the last century was an era of market competition and authoritarian planned systems. If 1991 managed to end it, it was only in terms of the efficiency of the administrative economy. Since then, everything has changed.

Dictatorships now prefer to be market-based. Autocracies have learned not to fight with business but to subordinate it to their goals. Human rights are no longer perceived as a pass to the world of consumerism. Democracy does not serve as a gateway to foreign cars and iPhones. The average person is no longer offered a choice between "jeans" and "state greatness." From now on, all this is available to them as part of a single package deal. Jeans are separate. Human rights are separate.

As a result, the new line of confrontation is between market democracies and market dictatorships. The war did not turn Russia toward nationalization and state distribution. China continues to be a competitor to the West not only in the military sphere but also in the economic sphere. Against this backdrop, North Korea remains a monument to the dead twentieth century, and it would be naive to judge modern dictatorships by it.

If we lose, the world will receive a signal that market democracies are doing worse than market dictatorships. That regime change and human rights are poor comfort in times of war. That freedom of speech and political competition lead to loss in times of crisis. The world will receive a signal that a firm hand is the best recipe for a country's victory. That the independence of the branches of government is a relic of the twentieth century. That party competition can work well in times of peace, but only leads to harm in times of military disasters.

Our struggle will also determine whether cynicism works as a foreign policy tool

Various countries will be able to draw conclusions from the Ukrainian experience. Supporters of marching in formation will have a powerful argument in their favor. The scenarios of "saving democracy" and "saving the nation" will be placed on opposite sides of the barricades, and each society will choose its own priority. If in 1991 freedom prevailed over tyrannies, now the renewed tyrannies will begin to prove that they have lost not to freedom, but only to the market. And that the market coexists perfectly in one package with a "strong hand."

Our struggle will also determine whether cynicism works as a foreign policy tool. Cynicism is more than just a lack of faith in ideals. It is also the belief that others do not believe in these ideals either, but are just pretending. That is why, right now, the world is getting an answer to the question of how promising it is to be a Viktor Orban in today's reality.

If Hungary's model of behavior during the war brings benefits, what will stop other countries from trying to copy this formula? If you engage in blackmail in a situation where your neighbor is bleeding to death, and this policy brings you profit, what will prevent the emergence of new adherents of this strategy? If it turns out that selfishness is more profitable than solidarity, and cynicism is more effective than values, why shouldn’t politicians in other countries adopt similar tactics?

If "being Europe" is about geography, not principles, many may decide that limiting ourselves to geography alone makes sense.

Our war is also a test of our ability to analyze. For many years, Europe has been used to living under the security umbrella of the United States. It used to believe that joining NATO was akin to setting up an alarm in your apartment. That in case of trouble, someone from the outside would restore order. We could cut military spending, close military plants, and turn our armed forces into bonsai armies.

Europe has done everything that Ukraine did before the war, and now it can see the consequences with its own eyes. But what will our Western neighbors do if the American electorate votes for isolationism tomorrow? What is their plan if they have to provide for their own defense a year from now? How will they react if a new global round of violence ceases to be the stuff of science fiction novels?

Our war is not only ours. It is a role model and a warning. Its outcome will allow the world to examine how it applies to themselves. If someone thinks the war's outcome will determine our fate alone, they are mistaken.

The text was published in the special issue of NV magazine, “The World Ahead 2024,” under the exclusive license of The Economist. Reproduction is prohibited.

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