With characteristic Asian pragmatism, Mahbubani’s essential argument is not for the creation of new institutions that enshrine the global power shift, but rather for closing the “democratic deficit” by filling up the old bottle of the West’s rule-based system with the new wine of the rising rest. For Mahbubani, the old institutions should remain, but under new management. In a departure from his trademark agitating manner, what makes Mahbubani’s proposals so provocative is their very moderation.
Indeed, by Mahbubani’s lights, the greatest paradox of the present historical moment is that the “common norms” that have made Asia successful and are the basis of “the logic of one world” have been adapted from the West. In this, the long-time apostle of non-Western modernity arrives at the mirror-image conclusions of historian Niall Ferguson, the long-time champion of the virtues of Western imperialism. Mahbubani’s common norms more or less overlap with Mr. Ferguson’s famous “killer apps” of modernization, which Ferguson sees as becoming more robustly embraced these days in the East than the West. Neither could be further from Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis.
The common norms for Mahbubani are: modern science and logical reasoning, free-market economics, a social contract that accountably binds ruler and ruled, and multilateralism. Ferguson’s six killer apps are: competition, science, property rights, modern medicine, consumer society, and the work ethic.