"It's Time To Rise Up Against The Ignorant Masses"
Democracy, it seems,
is a 'mistake'.
Marxism, the masses are too backward so we need a dictatorship of
(rather than by) the proletariat (sic)
Called To Arms: "It's Time To Rise Up Against The Ignorant
It appears the powers
that be just are not going to take it anymore. Having mistakenly
allowed the people of Britain to exercise their free will, Foreign
Policy's James Traub exclaims,"It's
time for the elites to rise up against the ignorant masses."
I was born in 1954, and
until now I would have said that the late 1960s was the greatest
period of political convulsion I have lived through. Yet for all that
the Vietnam War and the civil rights struggle changed American
culture and reshaped political parties, in retrospect those wild
storms look like the normal oscillations of a relatively stable
political system. The present moment is different. Today’s
citizen revolt — in the United States, Britain, and Europe — may
upend politics as nothing else has in my lifetime.
In the late 1960s, elites
were in disarray, as they are now — but back then they were fleeing
from kids rebelling against their parents’ world; now the elites
are fleeing from the parents.Extremism
has gone mainstream. One
of the most brazen features of the Brexit vote was the utter
repudiation of the bankers and economists and Western heads of state
who warned voters against the dangers of a split with the European
Prime Minister David Cameron thought that voters would defer to the
near-universal opinion of experts; that only shows how utterly he
misjudged his own people.
Both the Conservative and
the Labour parties in Britain are now in crisis. The
British have had their day of reckoning; the American one looms. If
Donald Trump loses, and loses badly (forgive me my reckless optimism,
but I believe he will) the Republican Party may endure a historic
split between its know-nothing base and its K Street/Chamber of
Commerce leadership class. The Socialist government of France may
face a similar fiasco in national elections next spring: Polls
indicate that President François Hollande would not even make it to
the final round of voting. Right-wing parties all over Europe are
clamoring for an exit vote of their own.
Yes, it’s possible that
all the political pieces will fly up into the air and settle down
more or less where they were before, but the Brexit vote shows that
shocking change isn’t very shocking anymore. Where, then, could
those pieces end up? Europe is already pointing in one direction. In
much of Europe, far-right nativist parties lead in the polls. So
far, none has mustered a majority, though last month Norbert Hofer,
the leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, which traffics in
Nazi symbolism, came within a hair of winning election as president.
Mainstream parties of the left and right may increasingly combine
forces to keep out the nationalists. This has already happened in
Sweden, where a right-of-center party serves as the minority partner
to the left-of-center government. If the Socialists in France do in
fact lose the first round, they will almost certainly support the
conservative Republicans against the far-right National Front.
Perhaps these informal
coalitions can survive until the fever breaks. But the imperative of
cohabitation could also lead to genuine realignment. That is, chunks
of parties from the left and right of center could break away to form
a different kind of center, defending pragmatism, meliorism,
technical knowledge, and effective governance against the ideological
forces gathering on both sides.It’s
not hard to imagine the Republican Party in the United States — and
perhaps the British Conservatives should Brexit go terribly wrong —
losing control of the angry, nationalist rank and file and
reconstituting themselves as the kind of Main Street, pro-business
parties they were a generation ago, before their ideological zeal led
them into a blind alley.That
may be their only alternative to irrelevance.
at bottom, is globalization. Brexit,
Trump, the National Front, and so on show that political
elites have misjudged the depth of the anger at global forces and
thus the demand that someone, somehow, restore the status quo ante.
It may seem strange that the reaction has come today rather than
immediately after the economic crisis of 2008, but the ebbing of the
crisis has led to a new sense of stagnation. With prospects of flat
growth in Europe and minimal income growth in the United States,
voters are rebelling against their dismal long-term prospects. And
globalization means culture as well as economics: Older people whose
familiar world is vanishing beneath a welter of foreign tongues and
multicultural celebrations are waving their fists at cosmopolitan
was recently in Poland, where a far-right party appealing to
nationalism and tradition has gained power despite years of
undeniable prosperity under a centrist regime. Supporters use the
same words again and again to explain their vote: “values and
tradition.” They voted for Polishness against the modernity of
politics will realign itself around the axis of globalization, with
the fist-shakers on one side and the pragmatists on the other. The
nationalists would win the loyalty of working-class and middle-class
whites who see themselves as the defenders of sovereignty. The
reformed center would include the beneficiaries of globalization and
the poor and non-white and marginal citizens who recognize that the
celebration of national identity excludes them.
mainstream parties of both the left and the right are trying to reach
the angry nationalists. Sometimes
this takes the form of gross truckling, as when Nicolas Sarkozy, who
is seeking to regain France’s presidency, denounces the “tyranny
of minorities” and invokes the “forever France” of an all-white
past. From the left, Hillary Clinton has jettisoned her free-trade
past to appeal to union members and others who want to protect
national borders against the global market. But left and right
disagree so deeply about how best to cushion the effects of
globalization, and how to deal with the vast influx of refugees and
migrants, that even the threat of extremism may not be enough to
bring them to make common cause.
we see opening before us is not just about policies, but about
Brexit forces won because cynical leaders were prepared to cater to
voters’ paranoia, lying to them about the dangers of immigration
and the costs of membership in the EU. Some of those leaders have
already begun to admit that they were lying. Donald Trump has, of
course, set a new standard for disingenuousness and catering to
voters’ fears, whether over immigration or foreign trade or
anything else he can think of. The
Republican Party, already rife with science-deniers and economic
reality-deniers, has thrown itself into the embrace of a man who
fabricates realities that ignorant people like to inhabit.
Did I say “ignorant”?
Yes, I did.It
is necessary to say that people are deluded and that the task of
leadership is to un-delude them.
that “elitist”? Maybe it is; maybe
we have become so inclined to celebrate the authenticity of all
personal conviction that it is now elitist to believe in reason,
expertise, and the lessons of history.
If so, the party of accepting reality must be prepared to take on the
party of denying reality, and its enablers among those who know
better. If that is the coming realignment, we should embrace it.