One reading of the 20th century is that it was the concluding chapter of the great battle between aristocracy and liberal democracy that began with the English Civil War. The Great War started when the Austro-Hungarian Empire delivered a set of demands on Serbia, knowing it would provoke a wider war in Europe. At the start of the war, three major European empires governed most of Europe. By the end, all three empires were gone and the victors were the republics, who imposed their political system on the losers.
American involvement in the Great War is usually characterized as the great coming out event for the country. The hesitant Woodrow Wilson, goaded into joining the fight by the bellicose Teddy Roosevelt, moved the country from its traditional isolationist position into a fully engaged world power. That fits the the preferred narrative of our elites, as it makes it sound like they rule the world reluctantly. The Europeans could not manage their affairs, so noble America had to step in, defeat the bad guys and impose order on the West.
Another part of America’s decision to enter the war was the deep hatred Wilson and his advisers had for the European empires. Wilson thought the Kaiser was deeply immoral, but he really hated the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Wilson was influenced by Giuseppe Mazzini, who was a zealous nationalist and republican. He not only rejected the concept of empire, he lived it as an Italian nationalist. Mazzini also rejected materialism and class struggle, which had a natural appeal to the moralizing idealists in charge of America.
The American entry into the Great War, tipped the balance in favor of Britain and France, but it came with a price. Wilson played a prominent role in the post-war diplomacy and that meant the dismembering of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the imposition of draconian punishments on Germany. The fact that Hitler came from Austria suggests history has a sense of humor. The point though is that the extreme expression of liberal democracy conquered and destroyed the last empires of Europe and imposed its will on the West.
This conflict between democracy and monarchy is the launching pad for Hans-Herman Hoppe’s critique of democracy. Hoppe is a libertarian, so his critique is aimed at elevating his preferred social arrangements, which he calls the natural order. As a libertarian, his concern is purely on the material, but others have picked up on the idea and extended it into the cultural realm. Whatever the defects of monarchy, it provides a much more robust cultural framework than democracy, which tends to reward the worst instincts of citizens.
Another angle to this way of thinking of the 20th century is that the West struck a bargain of sorts. In exchange for accepting American imposition of liberal democracy, the West got peace and prosperity. That worked fine as long as the American ruling class accepted the fundamentals of the nation state. That is, a nation was the geographic boundary of a single people, who were ruled by people chosen from their own ranks, by the people themselves. Stable borders and stable cultures defined the modern political entity.
Like doing business with the mafia, accepting the American hegemony meant going along with the rules set by America. That was fine when America was ruled by white men with a strong attachment to the West and Western traditions. That changed toward the end of 20th century as the complexion of the American population slowly changed and the attitudes of the American ruling class began to change. America no longer believes in the nation state and has tried hard impose that belief on the ruling classes of Europe.
Up until the last few years, it appeared that this abandonment of the old order was going to go on without much resistance. But the revolts we are seeing in Europe, with the rise of nationalist parties and growing resistance to immigration, suggests the American hegemony is beginning to unravel. More important, the rise of Trump and his push to make the Europeans stand on their own feet suggests the American retreat is not without some support in the ruling class. The Wilsonian order may finally be about to unravel.
This does not mean we will see the return of monarchy. Hoppe’s critique of democracy has merit, but his error is the same made by the Western ruling class over the last half century. That is, the assumption that political economy is the the horse that pulls the cart of human society. What Muslim immigration is teaching Europe is that biology is what drives society. Get the biology right and you can make any political system work, but the only way social democracy can work is in a homogeneous population.
In a way, the unraveling of the American hegemony is the retreat of the universalism that has always animated American Progressivism. It’s not so much that democracy failed, as Hoppe claims, but that universalism has failed. The reason Europeans have reacted so strongly to a relatively small influx of foreigners, is universalism has never been a part of continental culture. Tossing it off will be much easier for them than for Americans, but the realities of the demographic age will force the issue everywhere. Universalism is dead.