We are constantly being told that China will become the world’s most powerful country, and there are good reasons to believe that this is possible: China is asserting its ambitions everywhere, through its leaders and intellectuals; it is emerging from this pandemic ahead of the rest of the world; its GDP will surpass that of the United States well before 2030; it already has a navy in the China Sea that is equal to that of the United States; its foreign exchange reserves are gigantic, and the Chinese government is using them to pursue a conquering, if not arrogant, diplomacy.

However, China also has major weaknesses, economic, demographic, social, ecological and democratic: its victory against the pandemic, which it has created, remains uncertain; the income of each Chinese is only a third of that of a European or an American; and, at the current rate, it will take more than half a century before it catches up with the Western standard of living; moreover, China will grow old before it becomes rich, which will make it very difficult for it to put in place the social protection necessary for its elderly; Finally, the market economy is producing a bourgeoisie, and with it the demand for respect for the rule of law, freedom of expression, the right to initiative, and ultimately a demand for democracy. The Chinese Communist Party is well aware of this and for the moment is effectively repressing any attempt to do so, which will eventually undermine its economic efficiency. In the end, either China will join the Western way of life or it will collapse; in both cases, it will be a triumph of the Western development model.

The West, on the other hand, remains a very great power, economically, technologically and militarily; and the recent recovery plans in the United States and in the European countries give the impression that neither of them has given up on holding its own, for a very long time. Although lagging behind China, their growth rates will soon return to very high levels. And China may never be in a position to overtake the West.

However, the Chinese discourse is bearing fruit; in the West, there is concern, and it is well-founded: we have seen giants defeated by dwarfs; we have seen superpowers that were overextended, too sure of themselves, disappear. History is full of examples of civilisations that committed suicide at the height of their power.

And it can happen to the West. Under the blows of a Chinese superpower? I don’t think so. From a conquering Islam? Not much chance of that.

So, what? The West may in fact disappear under the blows of its worst enemy: itself.

For a nation, as for an individual, it’s all about self-confidence: Too much confidence and you’re deadly blind. Too little confidence and it is fatal resignation.

America is threatened with decline because it thinks it is superpowerful; Europe is threatened with decline because it thinks it is powerless.

And in both cases, they fail to see that what threatens them is their internal divisions, the rivalries between groups, the deepening of inequalities, the enclosure of each community within imaginary borders, the bunkering of juxtaposed cultures; simmering hatreds, settling of scores between neighbours and revenge taken on irresponsible generations. More particularly, in America as in Europe, the rediscovery of the crimes of the past is part of a slow deconstruction of the dominant elites, without a new one appearing to take over, around a new project for a society common to all.

This suicide of the West is underway: self-hatred will produce the worst.

To avoid it, it would be necessary in both cases to understand that revenge cannot overcome the demons of the past; it would be necessary to build a project for society that goes beyond these absurd divisions, that makes everyone understand that it is in their interest to claim their full rights to the benefits that a great nation can bring them, rather than to close themselves off in a cultural, religious, social, or ethnic selfishness that can only be destructive; that it is necessary to tear down the walls that separate and not to lock themselves behind them.

It is the role of politics to provide such dreams, such projects, such opportunities to unite. Will it be able to do so? Or will it participate, through demagogy, through submission to the most powerful or the most vocal, in the suicide of nations at the source of a triumphant civilisation? We will know very soon.

j@attali.com