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The Retreat of the West

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 June 2020


The West is turning inward. Donald Trump’s presidency, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, and the spread of populist parties in Europe are the most visible signs of this retreat. The shift is not as recent as these examples suggest, however. Drawing on an array of cross-national data for twenty-four industrialized democracies and hundreds of political parties in those democracies, we show that domestic support for liberal internationalism has been receding for twenty-five years across the West. We show that since the end of the Cold War a large and widening gap has opened up between Western democracies’ international ambitions and their domestic political capacity to support them. As Western governments came to rely increasingly on economic globalization, institutionalized cooperation, and multilateral governance, mainstream parties that backed these efforts lost electoral ground to parties on the radical-left and increasingly, the anti-globalist radical-right that have been the vehicles of the current backlash. We discuss the implications of these trends for the Western liberal international order and the strategies now on offer to repair it.

© American Political Science Association 2020

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A list of permanent links to Supplemental Materials provided by the authors precedes the References section.


Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at:

For helpful comments they are indebted to Michael Bernhard, Catherine Boone, Peter Katzenstein, Kyle Lascurettes, Alexander Trubowitz, the anonymous reviewers at Perspectives on Politics, and to seminar participants at the LSE, Hertie School of Governance, and University of Amsterdam.


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