This distressing new essay is nothing short of a deeply felt threnody for a rapidly perishing world order
lost,” writes Luce. In fact, Sparta won. Luce’s case, however, is not weakened by this slip-up: “Under Trump, the two great countries seem almost destined to stray into some kind of crisis.”
Luce falters when he attempts to explain the world from China’s perspective. It is true that China did not establish a colonial empire as the western powers did. But the contention that China hasn’t “sought to export its model by force or colonise other lands” is not history: it is a falsification of history perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party. To swallow it, we must first airbrush from the past and present the experiences of Tibetans, and overlook the terror of imminent annexation that constantly stalks Taiwan. To describe Mao’s invasion of India as a war waged to “rectify China’s century of humiliation” is to sanctify a deranged despot’s aggression and omit altogether the perspective of the world’s second most populous country. In one chilling sentence, Luce identifies Taiwan as “China’s largest item of unfinished business”. The unstated counsel here seems to be that the West could make peace with China by letting Taiwan fall into its clasp. But it is a delusion to believe that concessions to Beijing will result in the recession of Chinese revanchism.
There is much to disagree with in The Retreat of Western Liberalism, but much more that is wise and good. Conor Cruise O’Brien denounced liberalism as “the ideology of the rich” – “the ingratiating moral mask which a toughly acquisitive society wears before the world it robs.” Luce has no use for masks. He spares no one, not even himself. That is his, and his book’s, great strength.
Kapil Komireddi is a regular contributor to The Review.