HOW LAZY LIBERALISM WAS TRUMPED BY NEO-NATIONALISM
Being a liberal in the second decade of the 21st century won’t save the world after all. If you’re a liberal, you should consider putting all your placards of global concern away, fold away your rainbows and your certainty and think about how right you actually were in your steadfast belief that liberalism was the only way to make the world a better place. It’s a terrible indictment of what appeared to be the only political philosophy that could improve the lot of the global poor, disenfranchised, disaffected — those ‘left behind’. Liberalism, and its close cousin humanitarianism, have suffered a huge blow, because we all forgot one thing. We forgot to look outside our Metropolitan elitist bubble.
I’m a former smug-liberal. I read liberal journalism, I love art, good books and films, Ottolenghi, flatwhites, I run, I cycle a road bike. I live in South-East England and work in media, and I’m married to a woman from an ‘ethnic minority’. I have concerns about the world and those whose lives are on an economic knife-edge day to day, as long as they are far away. I‘m an archetypal player of this liberal collapse.
Liberalism is lazy; it’s self-satisfied, it espouses that everyone should be able to live their lives their way, live where they want to live, be happy, be secure. It’s a nice thought, but it doesn’t offer any practical solutions. Liberalism is actually a lifestyle accessory if you’re middle-class and benefitting from the modern globalised world, but now we’ve found out that in 2016 it doesn’t work. Modern Liberalism gets more distracted by images of young casualties of global migration than say, the food banks of Britain or the desolated, abandoned towns of mid-America. Liberalism can’t seem to make hard, divisive decisions based economic fact because making a divisive decision will not be fair. Liberalism is scared to use aggression to end wars because aggression looks like imperialism.
Liberalism is weak, Obama drew a red line and when it was crossed, he did nothing. Cameron clung to power with a self-serving bet which has cost Britain 10 years of uncertainty. He didn’t sense the sentiment of his own people, he was too removed from the realities his policies were wreaking on them. Hard decisions had to made post-recession, but taxing the core conservative constituent of Cameron’s electorate, the wealthy, was not it seems, an option. He did nothing for the poor, other than political gesturing. And Merkel’s meritable humanitarian relief for 800 thousand refugees will be her downfall because she didn’t ask the electorate she serves if that was ok.
Two politicians now are gone and one is unlikely to survive the next election. And Putin is free to pursue his own agenda without opposition in the foreseeable future because we liberals let him.
Until n0w, we’ve been happy discussing the Middle-East, immigration and islamophobia with anyone, whether on an intellectual level or with a right-wing Brexiteer, comfortable in the knowledge that their narrow self-serving views are wrong and that they will discover this in the fullness of time. Until now, we believed that the natural progress of humankind is towards a tolerant, multi-cultural, inclusive global society. We call it civilisation. It would be easy to believe that Liberalism is the natural state of the civilised world. Wouldn’t we all be liberal in 3000AD when we’re all middle-class and able to see the sense of a fairer world?
But today’s realities’ haven’t pointed to that. Thomas Piketty notes in his epic book, Capital in the 21st Century, that in the absence of costly world wars where even the rich have to make substantial financial sacrifices, capital wealth and the income derived from it will continue to create yet more wealth and will far outstrip the rewards of the waged. The majority of us will work all our medically-extended active lives with barely enough money to pay for our long retirements. The diverging wealth gap will further fragment those with great wealth from those with some wealth and even further from those with no wealth at all. This is causing the politics of envy. The same fragmentation can plausibly describe the relative wealth of nations and their possible future outcomes. It’s a deeply unfair world and casual global liberalism doesn’t really square with it. To make the liberal global dream real would take more money than is currently available in the world. The lazy liberal hallucination has been replaced by Neo-nationalism in the West and will continue to do so during the forthcoming elections in Europe in 2017 which will probably see the demise of the European Union. Silly Liberals, look what we’ve gone and done.
Trump, Farage, Le Pen and the new wave of the right saw and tapped into the frustration and anger of 100’s of millions of people and attended their wounds by echoing their concerns in their own language. We call it bigotry, prejudice, intolerance and xenophobia, but it is in fact fear, protectionism and a rejection of the liberal concept of globalism. The language used by Trump wouldn’t have energised a contented electorate, it tapped into the dissatisfaction of millions of Americans who feel left behind. If blowing the Paris Climate deal means American miners have jobs and feel proud to be American again, at the same time as untying the hands of the oil companies, it’s a national win-win to die for.
The fact that the majority of British and Americans don’t agree with our liberal world view does not make them wrong. They’re the majority now. Democracy is doing its job. No matter how many protests against Trump or court cases to derail Brexit occur, still the quiet majority wait for their time to come. The metropolitan elite missed their opportunity to make liberalism the world’s political de-facto framework. We didn’t notice our own discontented neighbours. We were too comfortable with our slactivism and Prosecco politics to deal with the fact that a majority of the West felt unrepresented and their hopes and dreams for their families unrealised. The liberal leaders of the West had their chance to attend to these wounds but did too little.
Now we will have to wait and see if the Right can do a better job.