The wall-builders vs the bridge-builders

Can the ideological forces driving the geopolitics of the 21st century still be characterized as “Right” or “Left”?

A FENCE along the Israel-Egypt border. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A FENCE along the Israel-Egypt border.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When Lt.-Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White Party, announced that he will run for prime minister in the recent election, he claimed that “there is no more Right and Left.” Despite losing in the election, Gantz brought up an important question: is the political struggle still defined by “Right” and “Left”?
What is the most important ideological struggle of our time? Can the ideological forces driving the geopolitics of the 21st century still be characterized as “Right” or “Left”? To answer that, we need to look at the changes that have occurred since the last ideological struggle was won: with the fall of the Soviet Union.
It is an understatement to claim that “the world has changed.” The world we live in is nothing like the world Francis Fukuyama described as “the end of history,” in terms of economy (due to automation, environmental changes and the massive movement of manufacturing jobs to the developing world); security (due to the military assertiveness of Russia and China, the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, and global cross-border terrorism); and ideology (due to growing liberalism and multiculturalism, as well as the removal of borders in Europe). The digital revolution, allowing every person on earth to receive, spread and distort information, accelerated those changes and the way they were perceived.
Although on every objective parameter, the world we live in at 2019 is as safe, healthy and prosperous as it has ever been, many of its inhabitants do not feel that way. Many of the citizens in rural areas of the United States and the European Union felt as if they were left behind in this new world, forsaken by the cosmopolitical, white-collar elites and disappointed by the capitalistic-liberal ethos. In face of cultural changes in the West, traditional identity components like the nation, the religion and even the family became more attractive; in face of growing domestic inequality caused by globalization, isolationist policies like tariffs became more and more popular; and in the face of pragmatic leaders like Merkel and Obama, the confrontational, non-compromising, “strongman” attitude of non-liberal leaders like Putin, Erdogan and Duterte took hold in 21st-century-disappointed hearts.
A rising tsunami of reactionist leaders – seeking to bring their countries back to a glorious, simpler past – swept (and is sweeping) across the Western world, from parties like the UK Independent Party to leaders like Donald Trump. What they all share is not a traditional Left or Right alignment, but a will to challenge the liberal, capitalistic world order, by isolating their countries with economic and political walls. As a reaction to the reactionists, a group of liberal leaders like Macron and Merkel, aspiring toward the future, is emphasizing that a globalized world needs not economic and political walls, but bridges.
This is the defining geopolitical conflict of our time. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the failure of communism, there are hardly any questions regarding the effectiveness of free markets. In light of global threats like climate change, weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism, most countries face the same threats most of the time. Hence, the most crucial political struggle of our time is not a question of defining the challenges we all face, but a question of how to face them: alone or together, unilaterally or multilaterally, with walls or with bridges.
The writer is a philosophy, politics and economics student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.