The world as we know it is a world that never was

There has been much anxiety expressed in recent days on what the election of Donald Trump in the United States, on the back of the Brexit vote in Britain, says about ‘us’ (whether the referent ‘us’ is the Anglosphere, the West, or the human race in general). The general consensus seems to be that the world as we know it – the liberal world order, with NATO, the European Union and free(ish) trade at its institutional heart, and democracy, individual rights and tolerance as its foundational political values – is over.

To take just one example – singled out precisely because of how reliably sharp an observer of the United States he usually is – the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland has written prolifically and apocalyptically in the last few weeks on Trump, prophesising ‘a new age of darkness’. Even the neurotically neutral BBC has asked whether Trump’s win marks ‘the end of liberal democracy’.

It should lead us to wonder whether our world would have been much different today had Donald Trump earned only 269 votes in the electoral college. In truth, this world as we know it never really was. To understand our world as a physical manifestation (or even approximation) of liberal ideals is to ignore the reality that it is essentially an imperial order,  centred on American economic and military power, which is itself an echo of Britain’s empire.

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Image: Michael Veadon