Column from the Washington Post (link):
Ever since liberalism emerged in the 18th century, its inevitable conflict with autocracy has helped shape international politics. What James Madison called “the great struggle of the epoch between liberty and despotism” dominated much of the 19th century and most of the 20th, when liberal powers lined up against various forms of autocracy in wars both hot and cold.
Many believed this struggle ended after 1989 with the collapse of communism, the last claimant to “legitimate” autocracy, and was supplanted as the main source of global conflict by ancient religious, ethnic and cultural antipathies, a view seemingly confirmed by Sept. 11, 2001, and the rise of Islamic radicalism.
But the present era may be shaping up as, among other things, yet another round in the conflict between liberalism and autocracy. The main protagonists on the side of autocracy will not be the petty dictatorships of the Middle East theoretically targeted by the Bush doctrine. They will be the two great autocratic powers, China and Russia, which pose an old challenge not envisioned within the new “war on terror” paradigm.