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speeded up. No longer does one theme dominate whole centuries or epochs; the widespread existence of autonomous and ambitious polities means that conflicts are more likely, more frequent, and liable to be caused by any of the main influences. The course of history will continue to move in the unstable and unpredictable way it has since 1914. The competition is still on, even if the development of civilisation dictates that some of the natural competitors must find more subtle methods of playing. The triumph of liberal democracy remains an unfinished victory.

The Western, democratic civilisation is on the defensive. The ideas of Hobbes, Machiavelli and ­Nietzsche all compete to undermine it. Idealism is threatened by the realities of human nature. The worst form of complacency in the West would be to continue to believe that our own values are so superior that they cannot in the long term be challenged by those of others – especially if the machines of repression prove to function successfully in the factories of prosperity. The first step in the defence of democracy must be to recognise that the desire of others to assert their power, for their reasons, is as pervasive as our own. If we use our liberties to allow our own value system to be undermined, then we shall lose them.

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