I've not given much thought to ranking the worst ideas there are, so I wouldn't know what the very worst among them is. But Doug Saunders in the Globe and Mail offers as a candidate for 'the most harmful idea in the world' that of Western values. This is because it's a convenient tool for dictators:
Naturally, deference to authority and unquestioning loyalty go down well with the holders and beneficiaries of undemocratic power; but by the same token it is testimony to the fact that liberal and democratic values are not merely parochial that they are seized on everywhere where people are ruled in authoritarian ways and object to being so. And, one might also add, there are internationally recognized documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to give these values legal and institutional weight.
When autocrats on the other side of the world want to deny their people basic rights and freedoms, they can then use our chauvinism to spread the notion that these universal human assets are merely "Western" imports or incursions.
This sleight of hand is now taking place on a large scale in China. In April, the country's new President Xi Jinping issued a memo, known as Document No. 9, that has been sent to Communist Party officials throughout the country for discussion and implementation. The document lists the "seven perils" that should be eradicated from Chinese society.
A copy of Document No. 9 seen and verified by The New York Times places "Western constitutional democracy" at the top of its list of perils, then follows with more "subversive currents" to guard against: "promoting 'universal values' of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation (and) ardently pro-market 'neo-liberalism.'" Across the country, cadres and mandarins are taking part in education sessions to fight against these threats.
This sort of language has long been a familiar part of the Chinese state-controlled media, whose opinion articles frequently contrast these dangerous "Western" values with the "Confucian values" of deference to authority, social order, harmonious co-operation, common endeavour and unquestioning loyalty. Eastern and Western values, in this popular formula, are fire and ice.