I do not believe that it is possible to find, in the history of mankind, a time when humanity as a whole has had the spectacle of the simultaneous fragility of the two most powerful and antagonistic systems of government of their time.
And yet, it is what the United States and China are showing us today.
In the first instance, the United States is showing a spectacle of a democracy that is being ridiculed by pathetic leaders: a president who has never left his real career, reality TV, and continues to show the world the most vulgar image that a president of this great country has ever given. An opposition party that is bogged down and unable to use simple vote-counting technology properly, and whose only memorable action is the senseless act of the Speaker of the House tearing apart, in the President’s presence and in front of the cameras of the world, the State of the Union speech that the President had just delivered to Congress. The United States is also a country where inequalities have never been so wide, debt so high, and the environment and international commitment so lacking in credibility and so little taken seriously. Can that type of democracy be a model for the rest of the world?
In the second instance, China is showing us a dictatorship entangled in its lies, allowing the emergence of an epidemic, which is partly caused by the lack of minimal hygiene practices in public places; and that China is incapable of controlling the spread of this epidemic (a pandemic — an ongoing epidemic on two or more continents) because of the secrecy it imposed on the first doctors confronted with the disease. A dictatorship that compensates for its shortcomings by building hospitals at loaded march and frenetically utilizing surveillance technology. A country unable to feed its population without massive imports, a virtually unique obsession with diplomacy, and where the slightest deviation from the norm is punished by being arbitrarily consigned to oblivion. Can this type of dictatorship serve as a model for the rest of the world?
A world where the two main powers are so fragile and weak becomes extremely dangerous. Even more so when the social policies of these main powers are discredited in this manner.
Geopolitics and ideology, like nature, abhor a vacuum. And vertigo, combined with the emptiness, can tip the planet toward catastrophe. For if these superpowers do not restore their harmony and trust as soon as possible, if they are not once again respectable and respected, new powers and ideologies will emerge in their place.
In a world in disarray, these new powers can become global entities, which could fascinate and dominate the planet with their efficiencies; these entities would provide both the ideology and the tools of control, no longer on behalf of governments, but for their own account. And each would be nothing more than a disloyal mercenary of nomadic and sprawling entities.
In a world where conditions are worse, the dominant ideology will be a religious totalitarianism, also nomadic (and the world is not short of it today), which will try to provide people with what other systems seem incapable of providing: empathy, ethics, and hope.
In a better world, however, other powers could put forward other models that are alternatives to the two shaky giants: in particular, Europe, with its long experience with the difficulties of democracy, sense of compromise, social institutions, and conception of human rights could seduce the rest of the world. Especially if Europe puts in place a project that takes into consideration the interests of future generations, based on a major programme that includes infrastructure investment in the respective fields of the environment, education, health, social justice and gender equity; and with governance that is even more democratic than it is today.
Perhaps Europe’s time has come. It is necessary for Europe, if it wants to keep its rank. It is necessary for the world, if it wants to avoid the vertigo of emptiness.