From Trump to China, Lind Initiative speakers discuss the future of the global liberal order

World-renowned scholars, writers and political officials are descending upon UBC throughout this term to talk about “the unravelling of the Liberal order.”

Hosted by UBC’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, this year’s series of the Phil Lind Initiative focuses on the effects of the surge in populist nationalism and authoritarian powers — like Russia and China — on global liberalism.

“It’s intended to pose a question that has been on the lips of policymakers, defence analysts, development practitioners around the world,” said the series’s curator Robert Muggah, “and that is: What is the future of the global liberal order?”

Started on January 11, it has featured the Financial Times Columnist Edward Luce, as well as political science and cognitive psychology scholars Francis Fukuyama and Steven Pinker. The answers that they have given to the series’ central question have not been positive.

“The number of democracies plateaued in the mid-2000’s but has now gone down,” said Fukuyama, who is most famous for his prediction about the post-Soviet Union progress toward liberal democracies as “the end of history,” during his talk on Jan 25.

“But in a way, the more troubling development has been within the bosom of existing democracies themselves, countries that we thought were reliably democratic have seen these populist upsurges that have threatened some of the institutional foundations of democracy.”

Answers are likely to remain the same for upcoming speakers, which include Misha Glenny, broadcaster and author focusing on global organized crime and Central Europe; Susan Rice, former US ambassador to the UN and former national security advisor to US President Barack Obama; and Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of New America — a public policy think tank that focuses on America in the Digital age.

“I know all of the speakers personally — with the exception of Susan Rice — and all of them are seized on this issue in the same way people were seized by the Trump election,” said Muggah.

“There is a real concern with respect to the stability of the so called liberal order and what I find interesting about each of these speakers is that all of them have dropped what they’re doing in order to focus on the fate of the order because it has such profound implications across the political, economic and defence spectrum.”

Muggah then emphasized the need to look beyond US President Donald Trump, especially given the Lind Initiative’s focus on him in the past. In particular, the scope has been expanded to cover China and other emerging powers.

“It’s a danger to focus too narrowly on Trump and the kind of populism he represents and even if we focus on Brexit, we’re missing a big part of the puzzle: which is China,” he said. “And I think Vancouver has a lot to say about China.”

And although the series is clouded in a sense of pessimism, it is warmly welcomed by students and the UBC community.

“I’m very supportive of these kinds of discourses and events being held around campus. I think it’s very productive, and I’m actually kind of proud of my university for being able to host these intellectual scholars,” said Javier Barreto-Gomez, president of the Political Science Students’ Association.

This article has been updated to correct a quote from Robert Muggah and Javier Barreto-Gomez’s name.