In 1989 the American economics professor Francis Fukuyama wrote an article entitled ’The End of History?’ in which he predicted the eventual victory of market economy and liberal democracy over totalitarianism. The ideal conditions of a free world had been achieved and would spread worldwide as the paragon of how its people truly wanted to live.
At that time there was a reason for optimism. The formerly enslaved Eastern Europe had just freed itself from communism. The part of the world where millions of people had died under the rule of red and brown tyrants would soon be united in a larger union of peace and freedom: the European Union. The Soviet Union’s ’evil empire’ had fallen, while the USA in the post-Reagan years stood at the summit of world power and influence.
Only a few years later, the American political science professor Samuel Huntington presented a similarly attention-grabbing and controversial portrait of the world’s current state in his essay ’The Clash of Civilizations’. According to Huntington, the new frontline would be drawn between Christianity and Islam in a battle for souls as well as global power.
At that time there was a reason for pessimism. Huntington’s thesis is thought to be confirmed with the rise of Islamic terrorism, especially after the events of September 11, 2001. Continued acts of terror and the West’s response in the form of ’the war against terror’ came with good reason to shake up countries and bring about decreases in citizens’ freedoms and integrity that otherwise never would have come up. New wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were derived from this ideological fault line.
But reality has shown itself to be more multifaceted than Fukuyama’s and Huntington’s predictions. In Europe’s old and new democracies, liberal politics and economics had never won any special victories; on the contrary, threats from populist and extremist streams have increased. The EU has not been able to bridge a united European nationalism with its internal splits. The USA has weakened politically and economically, and therefore NATO as a result, while Russia under Putin has armed itself and resurrected its imperialism. Super dictator China is stepping forward onto the global scene as an actor with powerful ambitions, and not only in Africa.
On the positive side of the scale, the global economy with the help of economic development is continuing to spread prosperity to more and more societies and contribute to their modernization in spite of the financial crisis. Billions are still oppressed due to a lack of individual strength to improve their living situations. But as the World Bank showed in its recently published Global Monitoring Report for 2011, development is proceeding in the right direction. Prognoses for 2015 appreciate that the number of those living in extreme poverty decreased by 35 million people, mostly in the new BRIC-countries, and that the proportion has almost been halved since 2005, when the number was over 20 percent of the world’s population.
The citizen-driven developments in the Arab world have also paved the way for new steps forward. After brown and red socialism’s demise in Europe it is ’Arab socialism’s’ turn to be transformed. In country after country grassroots revolutions against the old world authoritarians, which were unthinkable a few years ago, are spreading in what were then thought of as ’stable’ states. But oppression in a developed world can never lead to stable relations between citizens or states.
As the recent years’ fast-paced foreign policy changes and economic crises show, a broad all-encompassing global analysis is necessary to ground citizen participation in political life and understanding of the conditions that comprise decision-making. Among the governing parties and within the opposition, the discussion of long-term foreign and security policy risks being ignored in the daily conversation. Maintaining free rights and ideas is becoming more and more important, and we want to contribute to that by establishing Frivärld/Free World Forum, supported by the association Fritt Näringsliv/Association for Free Enterprise.
It is not just only on the international stage where smaller actors like Sweden have the need for many personal global networks in a more multipolar world. We want to contribute to building contacts in the corporate, political parties’ and state agencies’ worlds. Another important assignment is to stimulate political engagement among a younger generation who we believe formulate their values from the question ‘In what world will my future generations and I grow up?” They reside in another dimension than the social insurance conditions and tax investments that Swedish daily politics tend to focus on.
A good political tradition exists to be developed, using experiences from those who have been politically engaged in the fight for freedom against communism and socialism, racism and colonialism. We will not waste the legacy from the generation of Swedes who for decades worked to promote Europe’s expansion in our country, an engagement that captured and formed many of today’s highest-ranking decision makers and finally resulted in EU membership.
The challenges are many. Freedom’s ideas risk going against Fukuyama’s statement that set aside the exception in a time when real political considerations dominate in the tracks of the economic crisis, especially in a world where authoritarian or totalitarian capitalistic systems are receiving a more central position. Such a development does not support Sweden’s national interests, much less a more long-term development of a free society.
On our home territory there needs to be more voices for freedom in the foreign policy debate. Even if the left’s opinion has declined since the globalization debate’s and EU battle’s high points, in spite of changes in governing power their grip remains within ideology-creating institutions such as universities, the media, nonprofit organizations and agencies, and not least the foreign aid industry and the Swedish church.
This does not bode well for the battle of the simultaneous global description and the understanding of totalitarian lessons’ threat towards free societies. Certainly, occasional conservative debates have achieved recognition if they fit with the media’s dramaturgy. Government representatives are heard by virtue of their formal positions but are limited by formalities, political concessions and EU obligations. What is missing is an independent foreign policy forum for long-term analysis and opinion building on an unrestricted platform.
Therefore, with Frivärld we want to try to bring together a broad group of researchers, students, politicians, business owners, diplomats and opinion-makers with an arsenal of reports, seminars, conferences and publications. Our focus is on three areas:
- The battle for the global order. How will market economy and open society overcome the challenge from authoritarian regimes and totalitarian threats?
- Security policy in the Baltic. What is happening that affects Sweden and the Baltic states in light of Russia’s increasing capabilities and expansion?
- The future of Europe. What reforms are needed for more effective European cooperation?
These are large tasks. We are not alone, but hope to collaborate with other like-minded thinkers in Sweden and abroad. There are no borders limiting work that contributes to what the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper called ”the open society” that mobilizes one’s creative power. The opposite we know all too well.
Mats Johansson och Markus Uvell
This platform for Frivärld was published on the debate web site Newsmill (now taken down) on May 9, 2011. The current themes can be found under Program Areas (Programområden on the Swedish home page).