The fatuous slogan of the just concluded 2020 edition of the Munich Security Conference was “Westlessness.” It clearly failed the first test of turning into a powerful global message.
Not that the Germans have a reputation for global sloganeering. The real reason for failure is simply that the word “Westlessness“ cannot be translated.
I assume readers of The Globalist are more multilingual than most. I invite any of you to translate “Westlessness.” It can’t be done.
Churchill’s Iron Curtain
When at a similar time of disorientation, Churchill said in 1946 an “Iron Curtain” was falling across Europe from Stettin to Trieste, the words rammed home.
The world knew in a flash what he meant and understood thanks to his two words the new challenges the democracies had to overcome after the end or the Second World War.
When John F. Kennedy in 1961 urged American not “to ask what their country can do for you but ask rather what you can do for your country,” everyone around the world heard that message.
And pretty much everyone understood its call to take up new challenges of organizing to eliminate poverty or overcoming racial discrimination at home, in South Africa, anywhere.
When Ronald Regan, speaking in Berlin in 1987, appealed to Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear Down This Wall,” all of Europe west and east heard those words and thought the same as Reagan.
But Westlessness? What does it mean?
If anything, it is an indication of the vapidness of these grandiose gatherings of the great and the good, whether in Davos or Munich. They have surely come to the end of their use-by date.
To be sure, the German President, former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, issued a relatively strong appeal against authoritarianism.
And French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his restlessness with the comatose Merkel government.
The Franco-German dance of the deaf
But none of that will change one iota of the fact that both neighboring nations are continuing to talk past one another. If only, the Germans continue to believe, the French finally favored savings and built up huge surpluses, then all would be well.
If only, so think the French, the German politicians would finally be willing to tell their voters to drop dead and embrace French-led Europeanism, then all would be better.
It wasn’t that their speeches were “Westless” so much as meaningless, devoid of anything new, any offer to change domestic policy to shape a new trans-Rhine partnership, as Adenauer and de Gaulle had managed to do.
Their bilateral courage was followed by Mitterrand and Kohl, who got on with the work and the words without taking part in global gabfests.
Forget about tensions with the U.S.
As long as the French and German’s are the equivalent of light years away from agreeing on a common path, then all the often heard European complaints about Washington and the United States are almost beside the point.
The concept of the “West” — where the sun rises and people have a chance of a better life — is powerful, especially to those living in rather squalid conditions outside it.
The idea of reason and of laws and universal rights has been its core rationale ever since the Enlightenment. It should reign over princes and prelates and divinely ordained supreme leaders.
Alas, today those princes are to be found in the Arab Gulf. They use the West as their playground and as a location to hide their money Otherwise, they have no use for such niceties as giving their people Western-type rights.
Today’s prelates rule in Iran and other nations where a faith or a religion is built into the nation’s name at the United Nation or in countries like Poland, Israel or India where faith politics replaces secular humanism.
Emperor Xi Jinping
China is the closest we have to a self-appointed divine leader placed over the people. Like Louis XIV, President Xi can say “l’état, c’est moi” and all must bow to his wishes.
If Xi doesn’t think a problematic new virus is something he should worry about, then no one else in China is allowed to worry about it until it spreads too far, too fast and fatally — at which point it can no longer be ignored even by Emperor Xi.
On the contrary, many in the world, almost certainly most ordinary citizens if not the rich and powerful, look forward to a bright future.
A future in which ideas of separations of power, independence of the judiciary, a free media including publicly funded broadcasters like the BBC, social policies like free education, health care, affordable housing, and a ruthless stamping out of discrimination are the norm. In other words, they want to live under Western values.
But if the great men who draw up the Munich Security Conference think that “Westlessness” is where we are heading then we are already half way there.
The slogan of the just concluded Munich Security Conference was “Westlessness.” It clearly failed the first test of turning into a powerful global message.
It is not that leaders’ speeches at the Munich Security Conference were “Westless” so much as meaningless and devoid of anything new.
The concept of the “West” -- where the sun rises and people have a chance of a better life -- is powerful, especially to those living in rather squalid conditions outside it.
As long as France and Germany are light years away from agreeing on a common path, then the often heard European complaints about the US are beside the point.