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The Rise of Strong Political Leaders

The beginning of this century is marked by the emergence of strong, authoritarian leaders all over the world, despite major political and ideological differences between the countries concerned. It seems that the world needs leaders who have the power and the courage to make the necessary decisions. In the 21st century, do we face challenges that cannot be solved democratically? Is a pandemic such a challenge, or mass immigration, or climate change?

In his recently published book 'The Age of the Strongman: How the cult of the leader threatens democracy around the world' British journalist Gideon Rachman analyzes the recent emergence of strongmen in world politics. Rachman is head of the foreign affairs department of the Financial Times. 'Strongmen' as he calls those leaders are characterized by a cult of personality, authoritarianism, nationalism, traditionalism and sometimes they are violent.

Wrong expectations in the West

The curious thing is that virtually all strong leaders in this century were first praised by the West. People had great expectations. When Putin came to power on December 31, 1999, he was seen as someone who would bring democracy to Russia. US President Clinton literally said: ’Putin is turning Russia into a democracy'. Putin also spoke that language. In 2007, during a lecture in Munich, he changed his rhetoric and expressed his dissatisfaction with the developments after the Cold War. Merkel whitewashed this, saying of Putin that he was still alive in the 19th century and found it difficult to find his place in the 21st century.

Even when Erdogan came to power in 2003, he was seen as a liberal, democratic reformer. In 2012, Xi Jinping came to power in China and had high hopes for him in the West, until proved otherwise when Xi emerged as an authoritarian leader who can remain in power indefinitely and has his ideas enshrined in the constitution. Modi in India is a special case, because in 2002 this leader had not prevented Hindus from killing more than a thousand Muslims during the Gujarat riots. When he became Prime Minister of India in 2014, Western leaders stopped talking about it.

These false expectations are a result of the assumption in the West that if the market opens up to globalization, political reform will follow. However, economic processes are not the same as political ones. Countries such as Russia, China and India are resisting the dominance of Western powers who want to impose their values. According to them, there is no set of universal values. They want to go their own way.

What was unimaginable in the West happened in 2016 when Trump was elected president. He immediately showed his willingness to break the rules, he accused the globalists of not being loyal to the country and Trump even considered illegal measures such as banning Muslims to be necessary.

The cult of personality is inherent in strong leaders. They make it clear that only they can save the country. They make clever use of short and powerful slogans such as 'Make America great again', 'Get Brexit done' or 'Shoot the drug dealers' in the Philippines. In addition, creating an enemy image is useful. Erdogan believes the West is plotting against Turkey. The enemy of the anti-globalists is Georges Soros, a wealthy Jew, banker, liberal internationalist who subsidizes NGOs through funds. According to China and Russia, the US sponsors counter-revolutions to overthrow their governments. Social media plays a crucial role in the emergence of these leaders, according to Rachman

A new colonial era has arrived

Rachman's analysis is interesting and illuminating, but his interpretations and conclusions have been influenced by political correctness. Rachman is the mouthpiece of the globalist elite who know what is good for the entire world. He is convinced that the strong leaders he describes will eventually lose because their politics leads to a mess or disaster. Putin's wrong decision to invade Ukraine is one such example. Xi Jinping's strict lockdown policy could cost him his head if it ends in failure, as he will no longer be the wise and infallible leader he presents himself. Strong leaders have destroyed the check and balances and real elections are not possible, so they cannot be corrected or replaced.

Rachman could be completely wrong in my opinion. I don't think humanity is waiting for domination by a self-righteous elite. A new colonial period seems to have begun. The participants of the World Economic Forum in Davos are the descendants of those who started slavery centuries ago and colonized half the world in the 19th century. Their greed, arrogance and pride are so great that the whole world must become their colony. The middle class ends up in a kind of modern slavery. For that reason, it is understandable that strong men are emerging all over the world who stand up for the common people.

The apocalyptic developments that have started in this century (climate change, pandemics, mass immigration, etc.) will provide ordinary people with insight. The basic security and basic needs of the people are at stake. This requires a father figure who protects them and offers them new perspective. To steer these developments in the right direction, countries need 'good' leaders who, on the one hand, stand up for the interests of their own people and, on the other hand, deploy the strength of their countries for solidarity with peoples in dire straits. Rather than pathological nationalism, this is a plea for ethical nationalism. We can only hope that strong leaders will rise in the countries of Europe who will stand up strongly for the restoration of our values and who themselves exemplify austerity, sacrifice and selflessness.

Comments (send to juliaan.vanacker@gmail.comif you submit a comment or a short essay. All reactions will be included except insults and what incites racism or violence.

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to be continued:

Other texts: 21st century politics

Articles on Academia.edu: 

1. The end of multicultural societies

2. Killing in the name of Allah

3. Climate change and human behavior

4. Enlightenment and Islam 

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   © Juliaan Van Acker 2022