Astonishing developments. Uncertain times.
Several topics have emerged in the UK press after the US election, with hysterical handwringing on the left and absurd triumphalism on the right.
Amazingly, there is confidence among some Brexiteers and Trumpistas that liberal democracy ‘doesn’t work’, and that various things, including political correctness, welfareism, and mass migration are now over, near buried or dead.
For a start, the fact that majorities have appeared for certain candidates and causes – the loud, passionate ones – should indicate that liberal democracy works very well, which the (largely) peaceful acceptance of majority decisions confirms. Meanwhile, most of the virulent, undemocratic language has actually been deployed by majority cheerleaders bewailing any attempt to question any aspect of the two narrow victories concerned.
One thing, however, has again been made clear – that liberalism does not possess much of a sense of urgency about it. But it never did have. and this is not news. Ideological causes always possess a central sense of pressing necessity. Liberals have never suffered from such a sense, and liberalism is the very definition of gradualist belief. Nor does it possess specifics of time and place to force it into action. So at times of stress and danger, the vague generosities of liberalism have never suited the bill.
Thus the announcement of the death of liberalism and its associated soft-heartedness should not be trumpeted just yet. Those on the newly invigorated right should be careful what they wish for. Every political liberty and entitlement they enjoy is a liberal bequest.
The crisis to come will not be the temporary failure of liberal governments to deal adequately with the end of the Cold War and the crash of 2008, it will be the impending right wing crisis of heightened expectations and internal contradiction.
Neither Brexit nor Trump will deliver what the manifestos promised, not least because there were none and enthusiasts all wrote their own. Nations, if we now somehow have them back again, will still have to choose between prosperity and conformity.
There is no new politics on offer. Just the old, old, old kind.