Global events have been very difficult to follow in recent months, and undoubtedly the situation has changed a great deal in the last ten years. The true, yet unsuspected depth of this change has only revealed itself recently via democratic processes, whereas it usually remains hidden, thickly covered by the manipulations and deceits of party politics in the richer countries.
But there is an underlying sense to much of this, and we must accept that a gestalt change or even a ‘renversement des alliances’ is underway all over advanced societies and the wider global structures they have built. Fukuyama was right, but he was also very wrong. What has come to an end is not history, but the bipolar conflict, bequeathed by the Second World War, of a global liberal left against a global hard left.
Many groups, states and ideas emerged defeated from that war, but the most egregious losers were the nation-loving nationalists of the old style. What followed was the formation of a large number of supra-governmental creations, and a drive to defang the nation states that had given us a century of competition, conflict and war from 1848 to 1945. Welcome UN, NATO, EU, and all the other regional clubs.
In the Cold War that ensued, the liberal left eventually beat the hard left all over the world. The struggle against communism, both ideological and military, came to an end. But in labelling this as a terminal event Fukuyama was wrong, as he was about so many other things, which any pupil of Samuel Huntington was always likely to be.
The liberals beat the communists with economics. Hands down. And the national varieties within that victory revealed themselves as -isms preceded by names from Reagan to Blair. But economics was not enough for some, and there was always a grumble about culture underlying the liberal social agenda, with its tenderness to minorities, the unfortunate and the feeble. The anti-freedom agenda – seen as anti the right of the strong to exploit the weak – was fiercely resented, and mercilessly parodied all over the West, especially in North America.
Now we have a new game, in which the globally victorious left cannot beat the locally based right with economics, for two reasons. 1 Wealth was never enough for the right in its cultural, traditional or conformist strands. 2. The left-liberal project eventually ran into trouble over public debt and private speculation, leading to grand busts in the 2010s, of the Eurozone and the world’s banking systems.
And here we are, still living with political systems that were posited on historic left and right viewpoints – which certainly still exist – but which were built around party polarities that do not currently reflect the nature of public debate. And indeed an international community set up to combat various common threats upon which we no longer agree. The right have peeled away increasingly from the old liberal view of the world. Putin is now our friend. Why? Because he wants to fight Islam more vigorously than western governments. And for some he is a better national role model – strong, anti-gay, patriotic, decisive and so forth. Patriots within western countries now feel more able to support Putin, and his aims and methods, than their own governments. Patriotism has been redefined as a partial, conditional thing. My country is different from my government. I can hate my government, I can happily believe it is run by traitors, and I can wish it ill, while somehow wishing well on my country.
All across the left, the new dispensation has been embarrassing. The British Labour party has always found its left fringes in sympathy with terrorist groups, from the IRA to Hamas – because they were viewed as national, ‘people’s’ movements opposed to the capitalist west. But the current, Corbyn-led Labour party can produce little in the way of coherent policy toward the Middle East, because all the players there – religious extremists, hereditary monarchs. anti-democratic dictators – are all anti socialist. But some of them are also anti capitalist and anti western. ideological lines have become impenetrably tangled. The result has been a drastic bout of irrelevance for this kind of thinking, especially as the Levant has dissolved into complicated overlapping dyads, triangles and quadrilaterals of conflicting interests, covert and overt, the existence of which has removed the option of clear and logical side-taking, especially as all the participants are morally compromised in a variety of disgusting ways. Welcome, then, the return of medieval warfare, where the fight is dirty, the sides are fluid and the end result is never clear.
Result – most of what we have known is currently irrelevant, and party systems have not adapted. Donald Trump – the first non-party politician to rule a western democracy – will struggle to run a complex entity like the US with so few beholden friends, but meanwhile, both home and abroad, he can select his allies at will, untrammelled by previous alignments that all seem mired in old fashioned and inappropriate interests. So, at home his counsellors are his family, and his minions are star businessmen and military figures of a completely traditional, right wing, can-do type. And abroad, it’s down with China. a power that does matter, and up with Russia. a power that doesn’t.
Now, the prime conflict is not between liberal left and hard left on a global scale, it is between left and right in single, local arenas. The old arguments have not gone away, they have come back with renewed relevance and unrestrained vitriol. Alarmingly, the bitterness of this revived division has led to the abolition of most of the old common ground, while its eschewal of received norms has rendered all news sources, including national intelligence services, suspect. Facts are the first casualties of the renewed hostilities.
Welcome to the new bipolar, left-right world.