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The Decline of the West: An American Story

Michael Kimmage

2012-2013 paper series No. 4

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The Decline of the West: An American Story

Transatlantic Academy Paper Series June 2013

Michael Kimmage1

Executive Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Definitions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Constituency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 The Cold War . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 After the Cold War . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Conclusion: A World with Less West . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16

 Michael Kimmage is an associate professor of history at the Catholic University of America. He is the author of two books, The Conservative Turn: Lionel Trilling, Whittaker Chambers and the Lessons of Anti-Communism (Harvard, 2009) and In Historys Grip: Philip Roths Newark Trilogy (Stanford University Press, 2012).

Executive Summary

n order for the Western liberal order to have a future, there must first of all be a West. The survival of the West in its 20th-century outlines cannot be taken for granted. Limited to the status of the West within the United States, this paper focuses on the shrinking of the West as a community of values. It begins with the premise that the West was never static in meaning but has encompassed multiple definitions, some of them mutually exclusive. Nor has the West as a community of values ever had anything resembling popular support in the United States: the construction of this community was by definition the project of highly educated elites. As such, the West had its bi-partisan heyday from Truman to Kennedy. After the Vietnam War, an affiliation with the West acquired conservative connotations in the United States, and Ronald Reagan gladly rhapsodized about U.S. leadership of the West. In the 1990s, the West was salient as a debating point and less so as a point of orientation for U.S. foreign policy. It was about the West that Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington had their stimulating disagreement in the 1990s. Fukuyama contended that the Western template was becoming a global template, while Huntington argued that

the West is a discreet and embattled civilization. Though Huntingtons theses were revisited after September 11, 2001, by then there was only a small constituency invested in the West. Left-leaning opinion furthered a multiculturalism that could have anti-Western undercurrents. Conservative opinion, when George W. Bush was the leader of it, upheld a democratic universalism on the assumption that all cultures have a natural leaning toward democracy. The Euro-U.S. relationship has not markedly declined in the last 20 years, but it is less and less to be understood as describing or being described by the West. Reagan was the last president to speak with warmth about a Euro-U.S. West. The few European leaders who continue to speak enthusiastically about the West in 2013 do not necessarily have the European-U.S. relationship in mind. Within the Obama administration, the West is not an entity to be rejected or transcended. It does not matter much. Obama and his generation were not educated to believe in the West, and a defense of the West is not obviously suited to the foreign-policy exigencies of the 21st century. The decline of the West has encouraged Obama in his pivot to Asia.

The Decline of the West

Only in exceptional moments has the West played a noticeable role in U.S. politics.


s a nation on the periphery of the traditional West the core nations of Western Europe Americans have tended to approach the West less as indelible heritage than as a set of abstractions. There are at least five relevant aspects of Western culture, of the abstraction called the West, within the United States. The first is classical antiquity, a reservoir of learning, taste, historical example, and political wisdom. Neoclassicism is the style of much public architecture in the United States and has remained so long after it fell from architectural vogue.1 Classical references are crucial to the Federalist Papers and to the thought of Thomas Jefferson, as they were to the founding of the republic generally. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, an education in the classics, in the ancient texts and languages, was the lifeblood of U.S. higher education. Institutions like the American Academy in Rome, founded in 1893, were meant to unite Americans with a classical heritage that was presumably theirs to claim. Secondly, the West has evoked Christendom for many Americans. This West is contiguous with the geography of Latin Christianity, the territories of Catholic and Protestant Europe or with the empires of Catholic and Protestant Europe (French, British, and Spanish) that initiated the European settlement of the United States. Thirdly, the West can be the lands of the Enlightenment, with the U.S. Enlightenment as a bridge to England, Scotland, France, and Germany some combination of rights, learning, literacy, and progress, with the

ideal political order as un-theocratic.2 Relatedly, the West can function as a metaphor for liberty or for the love of liberty. The trope of Hellenic liberties and Asiatic despotism has a pedigree as old as Herodotuss Histories. Americans George Kennan for one have gladly incorporated it into their national sensibility. After their revolution, many Americans worked their republic into the narrative of Western liberty, a beacon of NewWorld liberty within the West and no less a beacon of liberty to the non-West. Finally, many Americans have seen the West as their ancestral homeland, an attachment that long determined U.S. immigration policy, leading Americans to limit immigration from the South and East of Europe in the 1920s and to build a bias toward Western and Northern Europe into their pre-1965 immigration policy. These multiple aspects of the West cannot be reduced to any singular essence. The West as Christendom and the West as Enlightenment or as Hellenism can be antithetical. Nor are these five aspects classical antiquity, Christendom, the Enlightenment, a narrative of political liberty, the motif of Europe as homeland necessarily tethered to the Euro-U.S. West in U.S. life and letters. Each has an integrity indigenous to U.S. history. Fluidity of definition has not made the Wests U.S. career any less interesting, but it does make the United States West difficult to pin down. Its very value can lie in the haze of meaning around this unstable word. Only in exceptional moments has the West played a noticeable role in U.S. politics. The longest such moment was the Cold War.

 A good example is the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC, flamboyantly neoclassical and utterly defiant of its architectural era. It was built between 1990 and 1998.

 On the classics in early the United States, see Caroline Winterer, The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780-1910 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). On the Enlightenment as a connecting link between the United States and Europe, see Gertrude Himmelfarb, Roads to Modernity: The British, French and American Enlightenments (New York: Knopf, 2004).

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he United States constituency for the West has never been large. The West is the province of elites, and two generalizations follow from this statement of fact. One is the great importance of schools and especially of universities in producing citizens of the West. These are the fundamental institutions of the West in U.S. society. The other generalization is that debates about the West elude domestic U.S. politics. The academic commitment to the West has been long and varied. From the beginning, there was a love of classical antiquity in most U.S. universities. At the best U.S. universities, it was hardly possible to study U.S. history and culture until the 20th century, so powerful was the association of Europe, and of European antiquity, with higher learning. At the same time, the West as such was discovered only in the 20th century.3 Columbia University was the first to offer courses in Western civilization, starting around the time of World War I. Columbias professors sought to educate soldiers in the values for which they were fighting and also to compensate for the elimination of Greek and Latin language requirements. The West could be encountered in translation, a boon to publically educated children of immigrants who were just then entering the Ivy League. Columbia was a model across U.S. academia, inspiring great books (great Western books) curricula at the University of Chicago and elsewhere. The golden age of the West in U.S. higher education coincided with the first two decades of the Cold War, when it was impossible to avoid discussions of the West, of its past and of its perennially troubled future. In these years, U.S. universities were mass producing enthusiasts of Western culture. The United States may no longer have been Europes student by mid On this discovery, see Gilbert Allardyce, The Rise and Fall of the Western Civilization Course, The American Historical Review vol. 87 no. 3 (June 1982) and Daniel Segal, Western Civ and the Staging of History in American Higher Education, The American Historical Review vol. 105 no. 3 (June 2000).

century, but it was very much Europes partner. Thousands of refugee scholars, fleeing to the United States from Hitlers Europe, refashioned literature, history, philosophy, art history, and other disciplines in the image of Central Europe. One of them was Leo Strauss, whose students would do much to enliven the connection among classical antiquity, the West, and the United States.4 Though the infatuation with the West was enduring, it did not last forever. When U.S. universities became the cradle of the anti-war movement in the late 1960s, the West was put on trial. Was talk of the West a smokescreen for Cold War Realpolitik? Was the United States zeal for the West a sign that the United States had adopted the Western heritage of empire, the United States as the Roman empire, or the British empire redux? Was the West a contributing factor in the racism that had festered for so long in U.S. history, a coded term for all things white, for a neo-classicism, and gentility reminiscent of the antebellum South? Was the West of so many college curricula an impediment to the realization of the United States multicultural destiny? Over time, these questions would be absorbed into U.S. academia, issuing in the culture wars of the 1980s.5 The culture wars were decided, for the most part, against the West, an educational affiliation

The golden age of the West in U.S. higher education coincided with the first two decades of the Cold War, when it was impossible to avoid discussions of the West, of its past and of its perennially troubled future.

 On Leo Strauss in the United States, see Anne Norton, Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004) and Steven Smith, Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006). An important point of reference for Americans thinking about the West was Spenglers famous book, first published in the United States in the mid-1920s. See Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, translated by Charles Francis Atkinson (New York: Knopf, 1926).  The book around which the culture wars crystallized was Allan Blooms The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Todays Students (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987). Bloom was a student of Leo Strauss and nothing if not a product of the University of Chicagos great books curriculum.

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The Decline of the West

If an American is not collegeeducated, does not have some cultural tie to the Northeast, or is not particularly interested in foreign policy, he or she will not be confronted with questions of the United States and the West.

deemed retrograde, repressive, and un-American by the 1990s. Elements of the old educational mission were confined to a few institutions or to a few departments (classics) and to educational institutions that were avowedly conservative or religious. Since the 1980s, U.S. universities have not been creating a constituency for the West. Rather, they have been creating elite constituencies that are at best skeptical about it, if they have any emotional connection to the West at all. Debates about the West have never figured in U.S. presidential or congressional campaigns. In this, the United States does not resemble Turkey or Russia. Neither Turkey nor Russia is a core European country. Like the United States, they stand on the edge of the West, but unlike the United States, they are riven by internal conflict over the West. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoan and Russian President Vladimir Putin are sensitive to these conflicts, both acutely aware of the valence Western or non-Western or anti-Western ideas can have in their respective countries. Both have adopted Western models of development, if these models can still be called Western in the 21st century, without locating their countries in the West. Putin and Erdoan refuse to bow down to the West, to be subjected to Western notions of human rights (Putin), to be cajoled into the Wests support for Israel (Erdoan), to see themselves as somehow behind the West and obligated to catch

up. Sensing this, critics in Russia and in Turkey have often stylized themselves as the advocates of a pro-Western Turkey or a pro-Western Russia. No such dynamic can be observed in U.S. political life. In domestic U.S. politics, the United States is the measure of all things. Mention can be made of foreign countries, European and otherwise, but no other country or constellation of countries implies an alternate model of political evolution. U.S. voters have no West to idolize and none to demonize. The ensuing indifference to the West, among most Americans, keeps the West a concern of the highly educated. It also limits the West to foreign affairs. George Kennan worried ceaselessly about the West; Senator Joseph McCarthy did not worry about it at all.6 If an American is not college-educated, does not have some cultural tie to the Northeast, or is not particularly interested in foreign policy, he or she will not be confronted with questions of the United States and the West. This claim can be further qualified. If one attended college after the 1960s, then one might be highly educated and still uninterested in, or possibly hostile to, the West. The constituency for the West was always small. In the past 50 years, it has grown considerably smaller.

 The longevity and intensity of Kennans relationship to things Western can be traced in John Gaddiss great biography, George F. Kennan: An American Life (New York: Penguin, 2011).

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The Cold War

efore the Cold War, the multiple definitions of the West were resistant to synthesis. After all, fascism was a movement within the West, a Western impulse, however it would come to be labeled after the war.7 Once continental Europe was in fascist hands, it made little sense for Americans to champion the West. Accordingly, Churchill and Roosevelt accented the friendship among English-speaking peoples, signing an Atlantic Charter that planted the seeds of NATO, though not in ways that could have been anticipated at the time. In addition, an indispensable wartime ally was the Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin, Genghis Kahn with a telephone, as he was sometimes referred to in Russia. The Soviet Union had its own infatuation with the West, which Stalin had subdued into socialism in one country. Yet the Soviet Union was not regarded by most British and Americans as a Western country or as a Western power. A community of values including the U.K., the United States, and the U.S.S.R. was a cynical wartime joke. A marriage of convenience was the best that could be managed government propaganda to the contrary. Christendom, the Enlightenment, the Western narrative of liberty, the fasces (a symbol from antiquity, from which the word fascism was derived): the Second World War placed enormous strain on each pillar of the West. If a worthwhile West might resurface, there was not much to show for it in the early 1940s, with Western countries devouring one another for the second time in recent memory. Later revelations about the Holocaust withdrew many of the values from the Western community. Candidly analyzed, the Holocaust was a European, and not just a German, crime. The Wests moral and physical

disarray in 1945, and for many years into the postwar period, cannot be exaggerated.8 Whatever history illustrated, the Cold War demanded a West to oppose the Soviet East. The East-West binary of the Cold War had geographic, strategic, and cultural dimensions. The geography was straightforward, in Europe at least. The Red Army drove to Berlin from the East. Britain, Canada, and the United States battled Nazi Germany from the West. This practical circumstance would translate into Eastern and Western spheres of influence, which eventually became the Eastern Bloc, a network of Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe, and the NATO alliance, formally a grouping of northern states but in spirit a Western alliance. The East-West divide cut through the center of Berlin, the maintenance of West Berlin being a fulcrum U.S. Cold War strategy, one part national interest and one part symbolism. The Cold War would end, impressionistically and in actual fact, when residents of East Berlin crossed over to the West, when East no longer signified the Soviet sector. In many ways, Cold War geography was accidental, even arbitrary. Prague might lie to the West of Vienna on Europes map, but Prague was East and Vienna West, as no one ever doubted. A complicating factor of Cold War geography was its global scope. Of the Cold Wars hot conflicts, two were in Asia Korea and Vietnam conflicts that ran along a North-South rather than an East-West axis. If Japan was West and China East, this did not do much to clarify the spatial alignment of power and ideology in Cold War Asia. In the Cold War, the United States strategic priority was the West. For all the hard liners talk of roll-back, of mounting an invasion of Eastern

Whatever history illustrated, the Cold War demanded a West to oppose the Soviet East.

 Heinrich August Winklers magisterial history of modern Germany characterizes Nazism as Germanys final deviation from the democratic telos of Western history. See Germany, the Long Road West, in two volumes, translated by Alexander Sager (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006-2007).

 On the Holocaust as the key to 20th-century European history, see Tony Judts Epilogue, From the House of the Dead: An Essay on Modern European Memory, to Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (New York: Penguin, 2005).

The Decline of the West

If Europeans enjoyed U.S. popular culture, and if only they could see the glories of U.S. high culture, they would more comfortably participate in a U.S.-led security alliance.

Europe, or of militarily aiding the Hungarian uprising in 1956, U.S. policymakers accepted Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. They were adamant, however, about preventing Soviet encroachment in Western Europe. The United States commitment to this was military, the presence of U.S. troops, the building of bases, the active cooperation with Western European militaries. NATO formalized these transatlantic ties, placing the Western European nations under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The United States Western commitment was as much political as it was military. In Italy, for example, the CIA did what it could to inhibit the Italian Communist Party from coming to power, and the CIA devoted itself to fostering pro-U.S. sentiment in Western Europe or, conversely, to tarnishing the appeal of Soviet communism. Finally, the United States commitment to Western Europe was financial. Though offered to the East, the Marshall Plan was implemented in the West. Not only did Washington try to restart the engines of capitalism in Western Europe after the war, U.S. policymakers enmeshed the Western European economy in the U.S. economy and the U.S. economy in the Western European one. This would bind Western Europe to the West, conceived in the Cold War as the United States plus Western Europe. A strong Euro-U.S. West would advance long-term U.S. interests, and, distasteful as this construct might have been to some European intellectuals, it was mostly accepted, in ways that varied from nation to nation, by Western Europes politicians. The cultural Cold War was sharpest in the Cold Wars first two decades, when the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for Europes allegiance. The United States efforts to win Europes affection involved cultural diplomacy and (less visibly) the CIA. The State Department expended substantial resources on the promotion of U.S. values within Europe, for example on the building of America Houses in Germany. By doing

so, it hoped to make a case for U.S. foreign policy. If Europeans enjoyed U.S. popular culture, and if only they could see the glories of U.S. high culture, they would more comfortably participate in a U.S.led security alliance. Various programs brought European artists and intellectuals to the United States, initiatives that rested on a particular idea of the West, a West endowed with political liberty, a West that was culturally alive and a West that could justly administer its affluence. Retrospectively, the State Departments efforts can be declared a success. Washingtons idea of the West was broadcast throughout Western Europe. If pockets of anti-Americanism remained, they were hard to organize into movements. The CIA aided the State Department by funding conferences and magazines that promoted an anti-communist West.9 Cause for scandal in the late 1960s, the CIA was, like the State Department, succeeding by its own criteria, and official programs dovetailed with unofficial realities. Intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic labored independently to resuscitate the West after World War II. Among them were Hannah Arendt, Lionel Trilling, Daniel Bell, Arthur Koeslter, George Orwell, Friedrich Hayek, Czeslaw Milosz, Thomas Mann, Karl Jaspers, and William F. Buckley, Jr. They were acutely aware of similar striving to lend prestige and prominence to the East among communists everywhere and especially within the Soviet sphere of influence.10

 On this, see Frances Stonor Sanders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (New York: New Press, 2000).  On the cultural Cold War, see (among many titles) Reinhold Wagnleitner, Coca-Colonization and the Cold War: The Cultural Mission of the United States in Austria after the Second World War, translated by Diana Wolf (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994); David Caute, The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); and Victoria de Grazia Irresistible Empire: Americas Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).


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In the early Cold War, enthusiasm for the West was broad. Within the United States, it could be felt in both the Democratic and Republican parties, in the strategies of Truman and Eisenhower alike. Eisenhower may even have run for president in 1952 because he feared a resurgence of isolationism among Republicans.11 Pro-Western intellectuals could be found on the Left and on the Right. Such widespread, almost uncontroversial support was not destined to survive the 1960s. The Vietnam War introduced several key ruptures. It detached the United States from Western Europe, where criticism of U.S. conduct grew intense during the Vietnam War, and it fostered divisions within the United States, especially among the educated the Wests only U.S. constituency. In Europe, Vietnamera criticism of the United States was loudest on the radical Left, which flirted with Maos China, with Castros Cuba, and with a revisionist approach to Soviet communism. Anti-U.S. sentiment could also be detected on the European Right and among the politically moderate. All in all, Vietnam did immeasurable damage to the United States moral prestige in Western Europe. This damage did not spur Europeans to leave NATO, to forge alliances with great powers other than the United States, or to contemplate a foreign policy explicitly at odds with U.S. foreign policy. Yet it did alter the attitudes of Western Europeans. Criticism of the United States was most powerful for Western Europes young people, for the generation that had come of age after the war. Culturally Americanized perhaps, these Europeans would aspire to a West defined more by Europe alone and less by the Euro-U.S. relationship. This West was the European Union, and its coming of age, its departure from U.S. foreign policy, occurred shortly after September 11, 2001. The distancing,

which is still ongoing, does not mandate animosity or the inability to cooperate with the United States, only a strong sense that the United States way is not necessarily Europes.12 Vietnams consequences were more profound in the United States, where the war had intimate connections to the West, as Americans understood this term. During the war, many Americans lost confidence in their countrys capacity to lead the West. The justification for U.S. leadership had never been purely strategic: its proper foundation was moral and cultural. If the United States mistakes in Vietnam were errors of judgment, if U.S. conduct of the war was morally reprehensible, then what right did the United States have to lead the nations of Western Europe or to represent the values of the West globally? How was the United States superior to the Soviet East, such superiority having been the easy assumption in the 1940s and 1950s? In Robert McNamaras biography, ones see the dramatic arc of these questions: the hubris of the 1950s, the disaster of Vietnam, a loss of faith in his own powers of discernment and much doubt, later in life, about the United States moral standing in the world.13 If McNamaras path from confidence to doubt was representative, the New Left and the anti-war movement exceeded McNamara in their doubts about U.S. virtue.

All in all, Vietnam did immeasurable damage to the United States moral prestige in Western Europe.


 A recent meditation on the West, written by Jrgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, is addressed to the Iraq War but reads as a summation of European skepticism about U.S. foreign policy (and political economy) since the Vietnam War: The Divided West, translated by Ciaran Cronin (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2006). An excellent study of the 1960s generation and September 11 is Paul Berman, Power and the Idealists: or, the Passion of Joschka Fischer and Its Aftermath (New York: Soft Scull Press, 2005).  McNamaras story is best told in the documentary film The Fog of War, made by Errol Morris and released in 2003. Peter Beinart analyzes a recurrent pattern of hubris-isolationismhubris in U.S. foreign policy in The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris (New York: Harper, 2010).


 On Eisenhowers internationalism, see Colin Dueck, Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy since World War II (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).

The Decline of the West

The United States was the West, the New Left concluded in the 1960s and 1970s, and this was the tragedy of a republic betrayed.

During the Vietnam War, the United States showed itself the proper leader of the West, the New Left argued, in that the United States had shed its republican identity and put on the cloak of Western imperialism. The British and French empires had once stretched into Asia and the Middle East. After World War II and more viscerally after the Suez crisis, the British and French were forced to acknowledge the loss of empire. Into the vacuum rushed the United States, itself an imperial power since the late 19th century. In Vietnam, the United States took up exactly where the French had left off, and across the Middle East, the United States was doing the work once done by the French and the British. European powers muscled their way into lucrative oil contracts in the Middle East, and the United States was no different. Like a classic imperial power, it extracted resources, made security demands and exploited an ideology of empire, confusingly intertwined in the U.S. case with the word democracy. The United States was the West, the New Left concluded in the 1960s and 1970s, and this was the tragedy of a republic betrayed. The United States affiliation with the West did not disappear with humiliation in Vietnam. It attenuated into a conservative cause. The West was a rallying cry for the gathering neoconservative movement of the 1970s, its members among the intellectual architects of the Cold War West. The New Left rejected the moral legitimacy of U.S. leadership, weaving U.S. history into a larger fabric of Western aggression. Edward Said published Orientalism in 1978, a decisive text for those inclined to see the United States as an evil empire. The neoconservatives passionately disagreed. They saw the United States as morally legitimate and believed fervently in the United States anti-communist security commitments. They continued to appreciate the cultural treasures of the West over the cultural catastrophe of the

Soviet East and over the antinomian furies of the Western counterculture. (A frustration of the neoconservatives was the unwillingness of most Western European intellectuals post-Vietnam to think and write about the West as they did.) The neoconservatives asked the United States to defend the West, because the West was in need of defense and because its defense was a good idea. They found their hero in Ronald Reagan, who consistently referenced Western culture, Western civilization, and Western freedoms, as did his opposite number in London, Margaret Thatcher. Reagans vocabulary of the West was in fact the vocabulary of JFK.14 After Vietnam, however, it was a vocabulary with a provocative context. Having assimilated it from reading National Review and Commentary, Reagans affection for the West felt conservative to his audiences. William F. Buckley Jr. and Norman Podhoretz delighted in it, while others equated Reagans appeals to Western liberty with imperialist appetite, a sign that he had learned nothing from Vietnam. Reagans legacy emboldened conservatives, who viewed the revolutions of 1989 as Reagans victory and simultaneously as evidence of Western superiority. The Soviet East had collapsed under the weight of its own incompetence. Once it collapsed, imprisoned Easterners rushed over to the West, not just those who waltzed over the Berlin Wall when it came down in November 1989 but those charged with the creation of a post-communist political order in Eastern Europe. What was wanted in Eastern Europe was democracy and capitalism, the keystones of political Americanism. What was wanted was membership in NATO. What was wanted was membership in the West, the worlds

 The Western connotations of JFKs 1963 speech in Berlin could not have been more pronounced: Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is, Ich bin ein Berliner. See oEX2uqSQGEGIdTYgd_JL_Q.aspx.

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best and most exclusive club. How could these self-evident wants not amount to a ratification of the Wests legitimacy and a validation therefore of U.S. leadership? In the view of U.S. conservatives, Reagan won the Cold War for the West. The problem, for such conservatives, was that their worldview was not very widely shared. In Western Europe, it was uncommon to see Reagan as the Cold War victor. Gorbachev was often credited with playing the more important role, or the EU was the protagonist of the story. In addition, on the Right and the Left in Europe, Reagans presidency did not erase the darker chapters of Cold War history. If anything, Reagan was thought to project the recklessness that had drawn the United States into Vietnam in the first place. The errors of the past had not been corrected: they were still being

made. With no Soviet Union to hold the United States in check, hubris might well shape the future of hyperpuissance United States. In the United States, Reagan would eventually gather around him an aura of Cold War majesty, although his was a divisive presidency. Reagan did not join the divisions that had opened during the Vietnam War. In many ways, Reagan made the wounds more vivid and visible. The West had fragmented before Reagan came to power, and it did not rally around his memory in 1989.15


 A splendid book on the Reagan era, organized around the motif of fragmentation, is Daniel Rodgers, Age of Fracture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).

The Decline of the West

Non-Western or semi-Western powers that provoked the West fared poorly in the 1990s.

After the Cold War

uperficially, the 1990s witnessed the ascendancy of the West, the United States the pre-eminent power, Europe rigorously de-Sovietizing itself and European integration moving at magical speed. Together, Europe and the United States occupied the wealthiest, most dynamic corner of the global economy. The global economy could seem a Euro-U.S. joint venture in the 1990s, consistent with early modern history when Europes empires were pioneering networks of global commercial exchange the rise of the West par excellence. Non-Western or semi-Western powers that provoked the West fared poorly in the 1990s. Saddam Husseins Iraq crossed the line of Western tolerance and was turned back by a U.S.led invasion. Technological disparities between the West and the non-West were glaring in this unusual war. When it defied Western norms in Kosovo, Serbia met with similar punishment, despite the irony that, in their own eyes, the Serbs were defending the West by expelling the Muslims from Kosovo. The foreign-policy thinker who most memorably channeled the mood of Western ascendancy was Francis Fukuyama. In a 1989 National Interest essay and then in a 1992 book, Fukuyama announced the end of history.16 The triumph of the Western political and economic model was impeccable. There was no viable counter-argument to the arguments of and for the West: the Soviet counterargument had failed definitively, and Irans antiWestern revolution had no chance of sweeping the globe and little chance of keeping a long-term hold on Iran. Fukuyama concluded his book with the image of pioneers moving westward across the U.S. continent, a metaphor for the global scene in the 1990s. Just as pioneers had realized their nations manifest destiny, the manifest destiny of Western16

style liberalism would be realized internationally now that the Cold War had ended on the United States terms. One need not believe in the West, as so many intellectuals had after World War II, their eyes trained on the rubble. Believe in it or not, the forward march of the West was written in the stars. Nevertheless, the Clinton era showed many cracks in the West. One was sociological and a more visible crack was grounded in political economy. Clinton brought a new generation to Washington, DC, and those entering into high office in the 1990s did not endorse Noam Chomskys or Edward Saids claims about Western rapacity. Clintons peers celebrated U.S. power and deployed it when they thought necessary, as in the Kosovo War. Yet when U.S. power was unleashed and U.S. alliances calculated, it was not with the West in mind. The West was not a hallowed idea for Clinton and his political generation. When they worried about the West at all, they were likely to think of it as behind the curve of contemporary concern. For this reason, Clinton was self-consciously global in his political vision, a continuity between his time in office and the work he has been doing ever since. It was George Kennan and John Foster Dulles and Ronald Reagan, the ancient Cold Warriors, who spoke ponderously about the West. Now was another time. Clintons task was to address the technological and economic revolutions uniting the globe. The United States, its population decreasingly European in the 1990s, was the locus classicus of globalization, the font of global popular culture, the site of global cities like New York and Los Angeles, the home to global institutions like the U.N., the World Bank, and the IMF, the protector of human rights that were global in nature not Western liberties, delimited as these were by history and tradition, but human rights in all their limitless grandeur. Clinton spoke a new non-Western political language.

 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History? The National Interest (Summer 1989); and Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992).


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The other crack in the West, the one rooted in political economy, involved globalization as well. It was the rise of the market, and in honoring the market, Left and Right merged somewhat in the 1990s. Reagan had balanced libertarianism with social conservatism, but without the Cold War, libertarianism surged on the Right, flowing into a new-found appreciation for markets on the Left, the Third-Way thinking of Tony Blair, Gerhard Schrder, and Bill Clinton. The hi-tech innovations of the 1990s added luster to a market ethos. The heart of international politics was economic growth, and where growth was concerned, talk of the West, of culture, of civilization the kind of talk that had characterized the early Cold War was either irrelevant or obtrusive. The ideologues and the intellectuals were in retreat in the 1990s, en route to their contemporary low position in the public sphere (in the United States and Europe). In their place came the economists and the entrepreneurs, Larry Summers on the one hand and Bill Gates on the other. The constituency for the West was growing smaller and smaller. After the 1980s, U.S. students were no longer educated in Western culture, though they were likely to be educated in the priorities and processes of globalization. Globalization brought forth a new set of challenges, and Clinton implied that globalizations problems could best be solved by technical means. If Americans devoted themselves energetically to technological change, to education and to the opportunities of cross-border commerce (NAFTA, for example) they might just meet the demands of the future. If they failed to do these things, they would fall behind to Europe or to the Asian tigers or even to China. China had turned its back on Western-style political reform in the spring of 1989, when the West was at its apparent apex, and strangely enough China was prospering. Here was a riddle not to be solved by Cold War habits of thought.

The foreign policy thinker who most convincingly expressed anxiety about the West in the 1990s was Fukuyamas former teacher, Samuel Huntington. His 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations, based on a 1993 Foreign Affairs essay, was a response to Fukuyamas The End of History.17 Fukuyama is sometimes falsely read as a naive optimist. He was an optimist about the Wests future, though beneath the optimism was a persistent note of concern. The full title of his book is The End of History and the Last Man. Fukuyama imagined that, under conditions of unrivaled triumph, the West might lose its vigor, its capacity to argue with itself, the life-giving tensions that had been there before historys improbable end. Huntington arrayed multiple pessimisms against Fukuyama. For one, Huntington did not see the West as ascendant. It was one of many civilizations. The Cold Wars vanishing had eased the threat of ideological conflict: this much Huntington would grant Fukuyama. But the relaxation of ideological competition would only increase the global trend toward civilizational competition, Huntington felt. Globalization was an illusion or a delusion. The world was not meeting at some harmonious point of prosperity, technology, and communication not even at the annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland. It was diverging into civilizational patterns that pre-dated the Cold War, and it was on the borders between these civilizations that the new conflicts would explode. Huntington did not believe that China, Russia, and a more amorphous Islamic world would coalesce into a blandly global civilization, however sophisticated technology became or however much wealth the global economy was able to generate. The nonWest had religious, historical, and cultural reasons

After the 1980s, U.S. students were no longer educated in Western culture, though they were likely to be educated in the priorities and processes of globalization.

 Samuel Huntington, The clash of Civilizations Foreign Affairs (1993) and Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).

The Decline of the West


A Western-oriented anti-terror alliance was among Bushs options after September 11.

for pursuing its own agendas. If history was any indication, one or several of these civilizations might rise up above the West, which was in decline in the 1990s, not in its aggregate riches and power, but in its will to defend itself, in its will to see itself as a civilization worth defending or even perpetuating. Academias abandonment of the West was the canary in the mine for Huntington the Harvard professor, an ill omen for future civilizational conflicts.18 George W. Bush George W. Bush revered Ronald Reagan and wanted to be Reaganesque in his foreign policy. Even so, Bush did not share Reagans commitment to the West. Nor when Bush first arrived in the White House, in the winter of 2001, was he being asked by Americans or Europeans to lead the West. Clintons technocratic globalism seemed a reasonable foreign-policy recipe. It had led to economic growth and to a greater sense of global connectedness. Countries dedicated to other scenarios, like Serbia, would have to face the Wests preponderance of power. Bushs campaign-trail rhetoric about U.S. humility suggested a lowlevel isolationism, a step away from the liberal internationalism that had informed the Kosovo War. As many noted at the time, this rhetoric was among the casualties of September 11. In the aftermath of the attacks, Bush had several options. One was to recall the Cold War when the West was some combination of Christendom and the Enlightenment. In 2001, the West was Europe and the United States, with Europe somewhat larger than it had been during the Cold War. This was the precise geography from Vienna to Andalusia to Manhattan that al Qaeda was targeting. Subsequent bombings in Madrid and London

reinforced the connection between Europe and the United States, the West of bin Ladens invective. The NATO alliance offered an excellent vehicle for combatting terrorism, with the resources to menace terrorist networks and the states that supported them. In addition, Europe expressed sincere and vocal concern for the United States immediately after September 11. If the twin towers did not fall on European soil, they cast a long shadow over Europe, and the United States solidarity with Europe could have been couched as a shared commitment to Western values. A Westernoriented anti-terror alliance was among Bushs options after September 11. It was not the option that he chose. Bush did make one reference to Christendom after September 11, mentioning a crusade five days after September 11, a figure of speech quickly retracted by the Bush White House. The course that Bush chose conveyed a cultural universalism at odds with Western liberty. Time and again, in the months after September 11, Bush emphasized the need to change course. The United States overall policy toward the Middle East, toward the Arab/Muslim world, had been wrong. It had too rashly accommodated the status quo. If it had been designed to satisfy Cold War needs and to guarantee the cheap flow of oil, it had also led to the September 11 attacks, in Bushs estimation. Too often the United States had stood on the side of tyranny. Now was the time to stand, as the United States knew it should, on the side of democracy. What made this the right choice philosophically was nothing less than human nature. All people everywhere wanted to live in a democracy. The Iraqis had nothing intractable in their religion, their culture, or their history to thwart their innate hunger for liberty. In an irony of the Iraq War, its critics often saw the war as Western imperialism U.S. viceroys running Iraq, the British back in Basra while in its own eyes the Bush administration was transcending the very

 The prospect of a self-defeating West was one Huntington explored in greater detail in Who Are We? The Challenge to Americas National Identity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004).


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notion of the West. It was activating the Iraqis love of liberty in order to activate the love of liberty across the Middle East. There was wishful thinking and hypocrisy beneath Bushs universalist rhetoric, and the mans real motivations are not easy to fathom, but his rhetoric was not window dressing. It was one of the catalysts for the war.19 Bushs decision to invade Iraq angered many of the United States traditional Western allies. Support for the United States war was deepest in Eastern Europe, because the nations of Eastern Europe cherished the United States as a counterweight to Russia and because the liberation of Iraq might replicate the liberation of Eastern Europe, accomplished in the opinion of many Eastern Europeans by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Polands unembarrassed endorsement of George W. Bush prompted Jacques Chirac to declare the Poles badly brought up. Whatever these words said about Poland, they said a great deal about France and by extension about Germany. Political maturity demanded opposition to Bush. On this point Western European elites and mass opinion agreed. Germanys Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, confessed to Donald Rumsfeld, at the Munich security conference in February 2003, that he was unconvinced by Rumsfelds case for invading Iraq. Fischer was articulating a mainstream European skepticism. Behind Fischers measured words, an escalation of anti-U.S. sentiment was audible in Europe, starting in 2003 and dissipating to some degree after 2008. An escalation of anti-European sentiment was audible in the United States in 2003, most vehemently on the Right, in the pages of the New York Post and the monologues of talk-radio hosts. Cold War alliances did not remain dominant

in public memory. Oddly, World War II memories seemed closer at hand: the French penchant for surrender, the Germany sympathy for dictatorship, a pan-European kinship for appeasement. On neither side of the Atlantic was there a workable notion of the West to smooth the tensions, making it easier to press the nationalist buttons or to present Americans as the residents of one planet (Mars) and the Europeans of another (Venus) in the wake of this terrible event.20 Euro-U.S. disagreements over Iraq have since slipped into the past, possibly more latent than terminated. There is one other way in which the West weakened under George W. Bush. In the final months of Bushs presidency, a financial crisis emanated out from the United States. Its effects were serious in Asia, Latin America, and Russia, but they were most acute in Europe. The United States public indebtedness soared in 2008 and 2009. With the overall contraction of credit, the EU appeared less the wave of the future its self-conception in the 1990s and more a confused assembly of nation states without the political will to resolve their shared economic problems. Behind the economic crisis lies the fact of demographic decline in both the EU member states and to a lesser extent in the United States. The West is no longer ascendant and may be in decline, a decline that can be measured against the data from the BRIC states (Brazil, Russia, China, and India), each with its complicated

Political maturity demanded opposition to Bush. On this point Western European elites and mass opinion agreed.


 One of the most cogent studies of George W. Bushs foreign policy remains James Manns Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bushs War Cabinet (New York: Viking, 2004).

 See Robert Kagan, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order (New York: Knopf, 2003). Kagan first explored his ideas in a June 2002 essay for Policy Review. The first sentence of this essay encapsulates the growing space between Europe and the United States: It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. See article/7107

The Decline of the West


It was one thing for the West to promote its preferred method of globalism in the 1990s. It is entirely another for an unchosen pattern of globalization to be imposed upon the West.

relation to the West.21 Of these Brazil, China, and India are experiencing simultaneous economic and demographic growth. The indebtedness of the United States to China recalls the indebtedness of the Soviet Union to the United States in the 1980s. In international relations, power can be inseparable from the perception of power: the economic crisis in the United States and the EU, with growth slowing, stagnating, or in free fall, abruptly revised the perception of Western power, while China is perceived to be more and more powerful by the year. The West of 2000 is not the West of 2008 or of 2013. It was one thing for the West to promote its preferred method of globalism in the 1990s. It is entirely another for an unchosen pattern of globalization to be imposed upon the West. Barack Obama Two developments have intersected in the Obama presidency. One is Washingtons need to manage the rise of multiple non-Western nations, which is a fundamental shift in the global arrangement of power. The other is the presence in Washington of a political elite unconcerned with the West. What was old-fashioned to the Clintonites is immaterial to the Obamians. These two developments have distanced the United States from the foreign-policy positions elaborated in the Cold War. The decline of the West is a global prospect, one of several possible outcomes. Within the West, it is a willed reality. Obama does not intone U.S. or Western decline. He was at first greatly popular in Western Europe, though his European popularity has shown itself to be thin. If Obama is not anti-British, as is sometimes alleged on the Right, neither does he participate in the cult of Churchill that preoccupied

the White House of George W. Bush.22 Obama has simply not put Europe at the center of his foreign policy. His pivot to Asia does not characterize U.S. sentiments, which remain basically pro-European, but it does indicate that Asia is the major area of concern, the focus of attention, the new cockpit of history. Europe happens to find itself, for the first time in centuries, in a more provincial place. The Atlantic is ceding its stature to the Pacific, just as the Mediterranean ceded its stature at the beginning of the modern era to the Atlantic. Obamas foreign policy is Huntingtonian: there is too much counterevidence to sign on to Fukuyamas claim that the non-Western world is marching, and will march, to a Western drummer. It therefore makes sense to lead from behind in Libya, to let the Arab Spring find its own trajectory, to stay out of the Syrian civil war, and to treat China and Russia as esteemed partners rather than as semi-rogue states that need to be made more democratic, more respectful of human rights, or, put differently, to be made more Western. A turn to nation building at home follows from the same logic. What right does a country hemmed in by its by its own fiscal irresponsibility have to engage in nation building abroad? The wintry sobriety of Obamas first inaugural address taken at the time as a commentary on domestic politics foreshadowed the modest, moderate, and cautious foreign policy of the Obama administration. The United States can succeed by avoiding missteps like the Iraq War. Beyond this, the United States cannot will much into being beyond U.S. borders. Within U.S. borders, the decline of the West is almost complete, having traced cultural patterns that go back to Columbia University and its first

 The National Intelligence Council report, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, is dedicated to the rise of the BRIC states and the decline of the West. See php/about/organization/national-intelligence-council-globaltrends.

 On the transition from Bush to Obama, including the Churchill bust placed by Bush in the Oval Office and then removed by Obama, see James Mann, The Obamians: The Struggle inside the White House to Redefine American Power (New York: Viking), 2012.


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forays into Western civilization. Political elites are born in universities. The political elite that stewarded the United States through the Cold War was studying in the teens and in the 1920s, when the West was the beau ideal of U.S. intellectual life. The political elite to which Obama and his closest advisers belong was in college in the 1980s, when the West was being banished from the humanities.23 The spirit of this elite is multicultural, and its political moment requires knowledge of the world beyond the United States and Europe. Advocacy of human rights has its origins in the Enlightenment, but its appeal is its universalism, and the contemporary Euro-U.S. elite is far more enamored of human rights than it is of the West. The business elite has much to gain from globalization and not much to gain from a romantic attachment to the West. The worlds greatest markets are as likely to be in Asia or Latin America as in Europe or the United States, and the business elite has a vested interest in the education of undergraduates in its priorities. For different reasons, academias business schools and its humanities departments envision global citizens in their U.S. students and not the future communicants of Western culture. Without the backing of the elite, or of an elite, the West will fade from view. What remnants of a Western sensibility still reside in the U.S. elite are not much more than remnants. In ten or twenty years they will probably be gone. Current Constituencies The West does still have a few U.S. constituencies. One is among conservative intellectuals who feel themselves organically a part of the West, who savor the European past, and who find in the West a necessary alliance and a community of values. A rhetoric of Western civilization remains on

the books in the United States religious schools and universities and in a number of conservative educational ventures. A qualifying point, though, is the anti-European populism on the Right, which was cultivated by the administration of George W. Bush, in the talk-radio emotions of the Iraq War, and most recently by Mitt Romney, whose campaign references to Europe were uniformly negative warnings that if Obama were reelected the United States would go the way of Greece or Spain. A politically diffuse constituency for the West resides in the think tanks of Washington, DC, which regularly take on questions about the West. In this world, many intellectuals have an Atlanticist bent, many were active during the Cold War, many travel frequently between Europe and the United States. They are the cosmopolitan cadres on which the United States tie to the West has typically depended. Of those concerned with security questions, many are also interested in NATO and in the particulars of the geopolitical relationship between the United States and the EU member states. Washington, DCs privately funded think tanks are insulated from trends in the academic world. That the West has been eviscerated in U.S. academia does not necessarily mean anything to the debates, discussions, and research sponsored by the think tanks, many of which, like the German Marshall Fund, have long and extensive links to Europe. The think-tank landscape of Washington, DC would feel less Western in tone if more of its funding came from Asia, the Middle East, or Russia.

What remnants of a Western sensibility still reside in the U.S. elite are not much more than remnants. In ten or twenty years they will probably be gone.

 On Obamas own university education, see The Education of Barack Obama in James Kloppenbergs Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011).

The Decline of the West


Current U.S. and European foreign policy is shapeless or rudderless because the narrative of Western liberty has been removed from it and no comparable narrative found to take its place.

Conclusion: A World with Less West

world with less West offers several advantages. Ideals of the West have historically harbored both chauvinism and determinism. One believed in the West because it was good and perhaps because it was better than the rest. During the Cold War, the United States could not lead the West without taking upon itself the history of European imperialism. Each Cold War president wrestled with the dilemma of a republic not wishing to be an empire, while accepting greater and greater overseas responsibility, and none was able to resolve it. Political proximity to Britain and France did not help the United States to persuade non-Europeans that it was anti-imperial in intent. Diminishing or abandoning the West allows the United States to free itself from this historical tangle. Demographically, the United States is less European in the 21st century than it was in the 20th. It is also a Pacific as well as an Atlantic power. In sum, the United States is well positioned to form alliances and to seek out areas of constructive engagement in Asia. It would be less well positioned if it were to insist noisily on its Western identity. The determinism of the Western ideal suggested that the West Europe was the place where history happened. This is what Hegel meant when he declared that Africa has no history. Such determinism may always have been a delusion. In 2013, it is a self-evident delusion. No credible foreign policy thinker or policymaker today could focus exclusively on the Euro-U.S. West. There is formidable insight to be gained from expertise in the dynamism of the non-Western world. A world with less West offers problems as well, problems made worse by the utopian glow around globalization and social media. One problem is that culture, civilization, and tradition, the tangible specificities of the we and the our, will not be given their due. The brave new world has rendered them obsolete. Contemporary

utopias vacillate between the empowered I, the individual given voice and agency by the internet, and a global conversation so vibrant, so near-at-hand, so enticing that no state or regime, however authoritarian, can keep it at bay. The narrative of Western liberty runs, alas, in the other direction. It is liberty tied down by history: the laboratory of ancient history in which the authors of the Federalist Papers did their research; the political history of 17th-century England and of the constraints placed on the English monarch in this century of rampant fanaticism; the twinned occurrence of the French and U.S. revolutions, with their rival programs for the democratic future; the battle for a color-blind democracy in the United States from the 19th to the 20th century; the life-anddeath battle against fascism and communism in 20th-century Europe; and all of this history haunted by the history of empire, by the Wests practice of dominion over non-Western peoples. The Western narrative of liberty, checkered as it was, lent coherence to modern history. It helped to mobilize people, whether it was Truman trying to mobilize a war-weary population in the late 1940s or Solidarity trying to mobilize the Polish population against the Soviet occupation. It made democracy promotion a matter of the past, and not just of the present and the future. Current U.S. and European foreign policy is shapeless or rudderless because the narrative of Western liberty has been removed from it and no comparable narrative found to take its place. The rise of the non-West, poised to be the narrative of the 21st century, may well revive interest in the Euro-U.S. West. A concept as abstract as the West demands threats to make it palpable. These threats may come from within, as was the case with fascism and communism, but their impact is greatest when they come from the outside. Islamist terrorism was one such threat, but it has proved too eccentric, too episodic, and ultimately too ineffective to


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restore anything on par with the West of the 1940s and 1950s, when it was made large by the nuclear threat lodged in the Soviet East. Of all the possible candidates, China is the most likely country to resemble the Soviet Union of the early Cold War, though China, the United States, and the EU have no motivation to erect iron curtains or Berlin walls, and there is no territorial problem set comparable to postwar Europe to induce mutual paranoia and mistrust. Twentieth-century history conjures one final difference between past and present. When the Cold War began, the United States educated

elites had been happily reading themselves into the West for decades. For the past 30 years, the United States educated elites have been happily reading themselves out of the West. A constituency for the West cannot be created by threats alone. These constituencies are created by institutions, by texts, and by bonds of imagination and emotion. The decline of the West is a U.S. story to the degree that the United States no longer has proWestern educational institutions. Either the West is now Europe, or it is an idea that has outlived its historical purpose.

The Decline of the West


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