In the wake of the 2016 presidential election and Brexit I wrote an article and talked about the backlash to the liberal consensus. Among popular culture and political discourse there is a greater acceptance of illiberal practices and ideas.
Europe might be the front line of this conflict. As I shared in a recent Worth Reading, some observers fear that the centre cannot hold, as it were. In recent years many European countries have been governed by centrist coalitions to keep the far right and the far left out of power. This strategy will eventually falter and allow one of the extremists to take power. These coalitions could leave voters feeling cheated. If the socialists and conservatives keep climbing into bed to keep out nationalists, individuals among all parties will feel cheated. For North Americans we saw an example of this in the presidential election with the rejection of so-called establishment politics and rise of less conventional, more radical alternatives. While I am too uninformed to know if it fits within the trend, apparently South America is swinging towards the right after a decade under mostly leftist parties.
As I write this we are only 10 days away from the inauguration of Donald Trump. While America is not the whole world I can only imagine how Trump’s anti-liberal rhetoric will embody and magnify this global trend. A trend that embraces authoritarianism, scoffs at globalism, acceptance of weaker democratic institutions, and has a lukewarm attitude towards equality and rights.
Perhaps ironically this trend is self-reinforcing. This move creates instability on the global stage and pushes people to conclude that greater global involvement is to their disadvantage. I think this partially explains the rise of anti-EU sentiment in Europe. The instability of the PIIGS contributed to Brexit which seems to be fueling separatist movements in Italy, France and Holland.
To me this trend feels a bit like a singularity point, a point beyond which we cannot see. I don’t think that we are inevitably heading towards World War III or trade wars. I believe we are in the midst of a pendulum swing. The liberal consensus/neo-liberalism took several decades to become the established order of things, how long this reaction will be and the extent of the roll back is unclear.
What troubles me is the comfort people seem to have with the retreat of democracy around the world and at home. No country is perfectly democratic, nor would I recommend that, but a liberal democracy has been a highly successful form of government that seems to be eroding. I suppose if I’m trying to draw to a conclusion it would be this: be mindful of the changes government is making and how it will dictate your freedoms and rights. How are governments minimizing their own accountability or bending policy to their own institutional benefit over those they serve. I would be very content to be paranoid and alarmist on this topic.