Most important of all, liberal societies are in trouble today because they are vulnerable to being hijacked by groups or individuals who take advantage of the very freedoms upon which liberal societies are based. As Donald Trump has been proving all year (and as Jean-Marie Le Pen, Recep Erdogan, Geert Wilders, and other political entrepreneurs have shown in the past), leaders or movements whose commitment to liberal principles is at best skin-deep can take advantage of the principles of open society and use it to rally a popular following. And there is nothing about a democratic order that ensures such efforts will invariably fail.
Deep down, I think this explains why so many people in the United States and in Europe are desperate to keep Uncle Sam fully engaged in Europe. It’s not so much the fear of a declining but assertive Russia; it’s their fear of Europe itself. Liberals want Europe to remain peaceful, tolerant, democratic and embedded within the EU framework, and they’d like to pull countries like Georgia or Ukraine more fully into Europe’s democratic circle eventually. But deep down, they just don’t trust the Europeans to manage this situation, and they fear it will all go south if the “American pacifier” is removed. For all of liberalism’s supposed virtues, at the end of the day its defenders cannot shake the suspicion that its European version is so delicate that it requires indefinite American support. Who knows? Maybe they’re right. But unless you think the United States has infinite resources and a limitless willingness to subsidize other wealthy states’ defenses, then the question is: what other global priorities are liberals prepared to sacrifice in order to preserve what’s left of the European order?