Again and again, one comes across authors (take, for example, Maxim Cantor’s recent article in Svoboda) who position themselves as both supporters of democracy and at the same time as supporters of a unipolar world with the U.S. as the single pole.
Allow me to point out that democracy — both logically and practically — is incompatible with a unipolar world. In Obama’s State of the Union address, this contradiction looks, generally speaking, wholly organic. But in the speeches of the “liberal activists” who reside a considerable distance from the pole, it’s simply preposterous.
Democracy is a system built on recognition of the fact that people are not virtuous. People are fallen creatures. They tend to pursue their own personal and group interests to the detriment of others and abuse their power whenever the opportunity arises. That’s why there are checks and balances built into democracy that are supposed to force people to take one another’s interests into consideration and force the authorities to act strictly within the law.
A belief in unipolarity, by way of contrast, involves a belief in the goodness of people, or at least of some people. It assumes that that very singular pole of power will look after the welfare of others and refrain from abuse without any checks and balances, simply on account of its inherent virtue.
You can’t be a supporter of democracy and a supporter of unipolarity at the same time. You can’t simultaneously demand elected, removable, limited, and accountable authorities on a national scale, and call down upon your own head a worldwide authority that is in no way governed by your vote, and in no way answerable to you on a global scale.
A single pole as the center of authority, located beyond a nation’s borders and in no way accountable to its people, is something fundamentally and on all counts incompatible with democracy.
The current global hegemon, the United States, might have within itself a democratic system that impels politicians to act in the interest of its citizens. Not everyone agrees with this, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that’s the case.
In no way does it follow from this that American politicians will act, or will even be able to act, in the interest of foreigners. There are no checks, no feedback system that would impel them to do so.
We have seen the results. The West’s interventions in Iraq and Libya and support of the revolution in Ukraine have only led to a significant deterioration of living standards. Why?
It’s not a question of malevolence as such; no one was seeking to plunge the region into chaos. It’s just that when the authorities of another country make decisions that determine the life and death of people, the people have no opportunity to influence them. And these will be very bad decisions — for several reasons.
First, the interests of a foreign master are in no way tied to your interests. He loses nothing if all of you die. That doesn’t mean he actively wishes for your death; not necessarily. It means that your life and interests are very low on his list of priorities, if they’re there at all.
The authors of the Middle East catastrophe haven’t suffered personally from it in any way. The people who made the decisions to overthrow Saddam, Gadhafi or Yanukovych and sold these decisions to the public have lost nothing.
By no means did they end up in prison. On the contrary, they remain in quite high positions and make the same lofty, deeply heart-touching speeches about freedom, dignity and advancing democracy.
Second, there emerges a phenomenon that could be called “sub-annexation.” Normally, when an empire (the Roman Empire, the British Empire or whichever others you like) annexed territory, it demolished or brought the local power structures under its complete control, but then ensured a certain governability; a viceroy gives orders, an administration makes sure they’re carried out, and any local official who tries not to carry them out at the very least loses his position.
The U.S. demolishes regimes that don’t suit it but can’t set up a full-fledged colonial administration, for both ideological and practical reasons. Ideologically, it has to insist that the people have been “liberated” and now decide their own fate themselves; practically speaking, a colonial administration would require paying expenses, training personnel, etc.
As a result, the ability of the U.S. to exercise control over the situation in the “liberated” countries proves extremely limited. Biden comes to Kiev and rails against corruption (Corruption, Joe! Who would have thought?). But he can’t simply drive out the corrupt officials (though he knows full well who they are) and put reliable, honest colonial officials in their place. He simply doesn’t have any, just like he doesn’t have colonial police to arrest thieves.
If you demolish one regime and don’t establish — with a strong hand — another one in its place, you inevitably get chaos of varying degrees of bloodiness, depending on the traditions of the region. And needless to say, you get unceasing corruption with essentially no one to tame it.
Third, problems arise with information, on whose basis the unipolar power’s representatives make decisions. As Iraqi Minister of Finance Ali Allawi once remarked, America, having begun the war with Iraq, invaded an “imaginary country” that those who had fled abroad from the regime painted from their own memories.
Indeed, intermediation between the U.S. and this or that country around the world is carried out by a team of local groups — “democratic activists,” “freedom fighters,” “the liberal opposition” — who are readily published in American newspapers as the voice of a people suffering under the heel of tyranny.
Moreover, the opposition itself understands more or less what it should say in order to please, and instead of enlightening the unipolar power regarding the real state of affairs, it simply rebroadcasts [America’s] own propaganda. And there’s nothing more pernicious, with respect to administrative decisions, than believing your own propaganda.
The unipolar world, in which one country makes decisions for everyone, will inevitably plunge into increasing chaos. Not because U.S. leadership is made up of some kind of particularly bad people. They’re just ordinary people.
Other people in their place would be faced with the very same problems and would do the same foolish things, simply because a unipolar scheme doesn’t work. Attempts at ruling the world from a single pole will inevitably be, first of all, extremely unsuccessful, and second of all, have nothing in common with democracy. Which is exactly what we are seeing.
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