By Rudy Barnes, Jr., April 22, 2023
Putin’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine and China’s Xi claim that Taiwan must forfeit its independence and return as part of China are a preview of a new autocratic world order. Ukraine is only the first battle in the global competition of political ideologies that puts at risk the libertarian alternative of freedom and democracy to oppressive autocracy.
Ross Douthat and Thomas Friedman have opined on the efforts of Russia and China to promote a new world order. Democracy has been the Western preference over autocracy since the Enlightenment, with Christianity its preferred religion; but those global preferences are now being challenged by the national power and influence of autocracy in Russia and China.
American democracy has never been a political panacea, as evidenced by the Civil War; and materialism and hedonism have since negated any notion of democratic idealism. Winston Churchill once observed that democracy is the worst form of government--except for all the others; and history has affirmed the absence of any benevolent despots as alternatives.
Religion has provided the moral standards of political legitimacy in a democracy; but the American church has lost its moral compass, corrupted by polarized politics and Christian nationalism. Germany was the most Christian nation in Europe until Hitler used Nazi nationalism to support his aggression in WWII; and Putin has used Hitler’s playbook in Ukraine.
America is fertile ground for Christian nationalism, and Donald Trump and his GOP have fanned the flames of nationalism in America’s churches. Since Vietnam American military interventions have been motivated by nationalism in the form of American exceptionalism; but assisting Ukraine defend its democracy is a global rather than a nationalist strategy.
As in WWII, assisting other nations preserve their freedom and democracy can require the use of force. Putin’s aggression in Ukraine again requires a collective defense--as would any Chinese aggression in Taiwan. Jesus never addressed the need to use force to protect freedom and democracy, but love for our international neighbors requires us to do just that.
Russia claims to be a Christian democracy, but the support of the Russian Orthodox Church and most Russians for Putin’s aggression in Ukraine defies the altruistic teachings of Jesus summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves; and next year’s election in Russia will test its claim to be a democracy.
Russia and China represent a clear and present danger to global freedom and democracy. Despite the efforts of America and NATO to defend Ukraine, Russia’s aggression continues. As the global ideal for freedom and democracy in a Christian culture, America’s influence is diminished by greed, materialism, hedonism, political corruption, gun violence and rampant crime. In its competition with autocracy, American democracy has an image problem.
Ross Douthat has cited a study that indicates that the world could move toward Russia and China. “Last fall, after eight months into the new world disorder created by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the University of Cambridge’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy produced a long report on trends in global public opinion before and after the outbreak of the war. Russia did become less popular in 2022, but overall, developing-world public opinion after the invasion was still slightly warmer to Russia than to the United States, and (for the first time) warmer to China than to America, too. To the extent that the Ukraine conflict betokened a new geopolitical struggle between an American-led “maritime alliance of democracies,” as the report put it, and an alliance of authoritarian regimes anchored in Eurasia, the authoritarian alliance seemed to have surprisingly deep reservoirs of potential popular support. This reading of the geopolitical landscape has found vindication in the months since. Outside the Anglosphere and Europe, the attempts to quarantine the Russian economy have found little sustained support, and the attempts at diplomatic isolation likewise.” On the global stage, democracy is slipping.
Thomas L. Friedman has reported on “what I just saw in China and Taiwan,” confirming and elaborating on Ross Douthat’s assessment of China as a threat to democracies in the Western World. “China’s failure to come clean on what it knew about the origins of Covid-19, its crackdown on democratic freedoms in Hong Kong and on the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, its aggressive moves to lay claim to the South China Sea, its increasing saber rattling toward Taiwan, its cozying up to Vladimir Putin (despite his savaging of Ukraine), Xi’s moves toward making himself president for life, his kneecapping of China’s own tech entrepreneurs, his tighter restrictions on speech and the occasional abduction of a leading Chinese businessman — all of these added up to one very big thing: Whatever trust that China had built up with the West since the late 1970s evaporated at the exact moment in history when trust, and shared values, became more important than ever in a world of deep, dual-use products driven by software, connectivity and microchips. Xi told President Biden at their summit in Bali in November, in essence: I will not be the president of China who loses Taiwan. If you force my hand, there will be war. You don’t understand how important this is to the Chinese people. You’re playing with fire.”
Friedman has said, “I believe that we are doomed to compete with each other, doomed to cooperate with each other and doomed to find some way to balance the two. Otherwise we are both going to have a very bad 21st century. Friedman cited one of Geotge Shultz’s cardinal rules of diplomacy and life: ‘Trust is the coin of the realm.’ Never has that been truer than today, and never has China been more in need of embracing that truth.” See https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/14/opinion/china-america-relationship.html.
On Musings on a New World Order Based on Reconciliation, not Conflict (3/5/2022), see
On Christian nationalism in America and Russia (3/26/2022), see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2022/03/musings-on-civil-religion-christian.html.
On Musings on Defending Democracy from the Tyranny of a Nuclear Autocracy (3/12/2022), see
On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith (4/1/2023), see
Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Church and the Greatest Commandment (6/25/2022) at