"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a time of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality." -- Dante, The Inferno
January seems to be the time of year when journalists catch up with strategic changes in the world. Much has been written in the first two weeks of the year on certain ideas that are themes of the blog.
The Wall Street Journal this week has a front page lead on the growing challenge of Russia. The breakdown of the rule of law and the corruption of the Putin regime are things that exercised Cicero for some time. Meanwhile, the growing strength of China is attracting attention too. The People's Republic of China (sic) will probably overtake The United Kingdom as the world's fourth largest economy during the course of 2006. The almost unlimited demand for global resources that a resurgent PRC requires represents the biggest environmental challenge facing the planet at this time.
Politically the rise of authoritarian states within the international system represents a huge challenge to the West. The Chinese continue to maintain the full panoply of the Police state- the slave camps of the "Reeducation through Labour" -Laogai- system continue to provide a significant contribution to the Chinese economy, dominated as it is by the army and security services. Russia, restricting the rights of any group that is independent on the Putin clique, may prove to be an increasingly willing partner in a coalition of the authoritarian.
Yet in challenging this growing authoritarian axis, the West increasingly faces the consequences of its own compromises. The egregious corruption of Burlesconi, Chirac and Schroder, not to mention the scandals that may yet reach even higher in Washington, are undercutting the moral force of Western Democracy. The prosecution of an illegal war in Iraq, makes it even harder to criticise the authoritarian axis. Thus it is the leaders of the West themselves who are destroying our economic and political security. As further challenges emerge from across Asia, and perhaps in the future from Brazil, the increasing weakness of the West- demographically, then economically and politically, will undermine our own security. If we are dependent on Russian resources and Chinese manufacturing, at what point will our energy supplies be curtailed- like Ukraine- should we choose to disagree with the regime of a KGB colonel?
Thus I return to the primary question- our leaders must show integrity above all- and the shallow compromises that our system seems to force upon our political leaders undermines the moral authority of our system. In the TV adaptation of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" John Le Carre (and Arthur Hopcraft) allows the villain, Bill Haydon, some of the best lines:
"Do you know what is killing Western democracy, George?" "Greed! Greed and constipation, moral, political, ascetic".
The Roman Republic allowed its leaders to be corrupt. The decline of the Republic into decadence, brutality and tyranny rapidly followed. Almost 200 years ago Wendell Phillips said "Eternal vigilance is the Price of Liberty". As I survey the international scene in early 2006, I see challenges to democracy and Liberal values that are stronger than ever. Internally our political systems are being undermined by corruption and greed, externally we remain beset by Communist China and authoritarian Russia. Our social fabric has eroded during our years of comfort. Now the pensions shortfall threatens the prosperity of future generations. Our education levels and awareness of the rest of the world are no longer as strong as the explosion of education in Asia releases a whole generation there from poverty and ignorance.
Politics is not a branch of celebrity culture- if we choose a leader for their good looks instead of their integrity, then we have become a decadent society. Cicero will be watching the Liberal Democrat leadership race with more than passing interest. I want to hear a call to arms on fundamental challenges, I sense that time is running out for our whole system of democratic values unless we can re-energize and re-engage all members of our society:
"God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it." -- Daniel Webster