Walter Russell Mead: A Crisis of Civilization

Roundup: Historians' Take

Walter Russell Mead is James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College and Editor-at-Large of The American Interest magazine.


As I’ve been writing about the crisis of the blue social model, I’ve mostly focused on its consequences for North American and European societies. Canada, the US and the countries of western and central Europe are the places where the blue model has become most solidly entrenched and fully developed, and in the first instance the decline of that social model is registering most forcefully in their political and cultural lives.

That process has a long way to run; the creative destruction of the world of big blue is going to be causing social and economic crises for years and even decades to come. But we won’t grasp the immense importance and the urgency of what’s happening in the west until we fully take on board the importance of the decay of the blue model for global politics.

The blue social model was more than a comfortable arrangement that eased social conflict and promoted two generations of rising affluence in the western world. For the places where the blue model didn’t yet or didn’t fully exist, it served as a goal. If you asked politicians, business leaders and pro-democracy activists around the world what they hoped to help their countries become, the answer would generally be that they wanted their countries to look more like the west. They wanted to be able to deliver secure jobs for life, mass affluence, rising standards of living along with continuing technological progress and increasing life expectancy for their people.

The blue model is what the United States held out to the world as its ideal during the Cold War. We argued that capitalism rather than socialism was the best road to the blue life. The mechanisms of the market would create the equality, dignity and affluence that communism promised but failed to deliver — and do all this without the mass murder, political repression and soul-destroying conformity that communism demands....

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