Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Joseph Goebbels and the Nazi Foreign Minister Count Schwerin-Krosigk– not Churchill – coined the evocative phrase “iron curtain” in a last-ditch attempt to drive a wedge between the allies during World War II.

Today, a second iron curtain has descended between the West and the rest. The overwhelming majority of humanity – and the bulk of the world’s GDP – are on one side and beleaguered liberal democracy is on the other.

This is a startling turn of events. Only 30 years ago, the values of the West were winning everywhere. Communism crumbled like the house of cards that it has always been. What went wrong?

Three things: nationalism, instability, and inequality.

The long-suffering denizens of the USSR and its East European satellites loathed the moribund system they inhabited and sought to undermine it passive-aggressively. Nowadays, the likes of Putin enjoy stratospheric approval ratings among their subjects.

This counterintuitive reversal is due to a rise in the virulent kind of nationalism that we erroneously believed to have been extinct in the wake of Nazi horrors. It is a compensatory variant founded on reactance: defiance and contumaciousness.  

“Strong men” authoritarians provide the illusion of public safety and stability. It is illusory because, in the absence of power transition mechanisms, such regimes devolve into interregnum civil wars and rampant criminality. 

Growing inequality in the West, its divergence from traditional values, atomization, the baleful rejection of authority and expertise, and rampant anomie rendered the Occident an unappealing alternative. 

This unholy confluence of disillusionment and grandiosity among the disenfranchised and underprivileged led to the resurgence of ugly phenomena such as xenophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, misogynistic sexism, and state-sanctioned oppressive violence. 

The lurid tide of populist ochlocratic oligarchies is sweeping across the world and has reached into the USA, UK, and the EU. But it is not too late to stem it.

First, we need to deny the enemies of freedom access to our liberties and the ability to subvert and leverage them. Free speech is not the same as anarchic speech and should never be permitted to degenerate into an instrument of warfare against the truth and our most cherished values. The same applies to other rights such as the freedom of assembly and the free press.

It is a fine balancing act, but we need to realize that we are at war and that we are not on the winning side hitherto. At stake are exactly the very human rights that are being molested by our adversaries. 

Second, we must starve those who do not adhere to the values of liberal democracy: create a firewall to keep them out of our systems, first and foremost the financial and banking infrastructure. 

Third, we must aspire to autarky. We are way too dependent on tainted fossil fuels and bloodied minerals. Alternative energy sources are a good place to start as well as reviving our mining industries. We need to wean ourselves off our unseemly dependency on our axiological adversaries. 

Above all, we must redouble our efforts to gain minds and souls in the blighted territories of autocracy. 

It would be wrong to go about it by promoting our values over the local brands. To claim such superiority smacks of patronizing colonialism. 

We need to focus on unbridled access to information, on the plurality and diversity of voices, and on the freedom to make decisions as inalienable human rights. We also need to respect all choices once they are freely made, unencumbered by nescience, corruption, and intimidation by any party.

The transition from authoritarianism to democracy is never easy because it involves cultural and societal determinants which are often irrational or traditional or both. We need to respect such collective histories and predilections, not disparage or ridicule them. 

The West is highly suspect in many corners of the globe. A history of abusive imperialism and exploitative mercantilism left the majority of humanity resentful and cynical. 

At the same time, the divergence of Western values from beliefs and faiths held dear for millennia makes it onerous to settle on a lingua franca of cultural exchange. We need to overcome this legacy if we are to get anywhere in this quest for a better, liberated world.

Dear reader,

Opinions expressed in the op-ed section are solely those of the individual author and do not represent the official stance of our newspaper. We believe in providing a platform for a wide range of voices and perspectives, even those that may challenge or differ from our ownAs always, we remain committed to providing our readers with high-quality, fair, and balanced journalism. Thank you for your continued support.Sincerely, The Brussels Morning Team

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