On the Left
So I’ve been really distracted by the politics of the last few years, and I think a lot of us have been scrambling for ways to explain what’s happening, and especially where the “Left” fit in to this and can push forward our agendas. So far, in the US and UK at least, this opposition has been rather ineffectual if incredibly valiant, hence your call to populism.
I think the problem is that the traditional ‘left’/’right’ paradigm is misleading and no longer applicable to our political culture. For instance, even if one takes the four dimensional political spectrum, most major political parties and much of political thought, fall within a very limited distribution (although many lay test-takers will find themselves to the left of Gandhi).
Instead, it is clear that there are now two main opposing ideologies in the world that one can define oneself against:
- The traditional “elite” (or the new ‘right’) – these people value progress, technological advancement, profits and efficiency and the formation of global supply chains. They promise that progress is scientific, and that our existential problems will be solved by our top minds. Aldous Huxley refers to this cultural development in his extremely prescient 1946 essay ‘Science, Liberty and Peace’. This ideology has had a number of consequences:
- ‘Technological unemployment’ – groups of people rendered unemployed by efficiency and changing work patterns. It takes years to rectify, and by that time, technology and context has advanced again. Inequality can only become more apparent as fewer and fewer people are in a position to adapt.
- The centralisation of resources, and therefore finance and power, around the sources of these technological advances (e.g. the ubiquity of Google, Amazon, Uber etc and their ability to shape national laws). The democratic process is also affected, as the government contracts public services out to private companies, shifting accountability.
- Advances in communications enable these changes to come quickly, with great cultural implications.
- This centralisation leads to the increasing loss of individual liberty. Professionalisation locks out many would be small entrepreneurs and discourages small scale enterprise in favour of large amorphous conglomerations.
- The promise of unlimited wealth and prosperity if we hold out through the current sacrifices.
- The radical millenarian ethnocentric extremists – ‘We are at the end of days, follow the prophet and you will be saved.’ This applies as much to Trump and Brexit as it does to other extremist ideologies, although they are expressed in different ways. In Brazil at the end of the 19th century, and in light of the fall of the monarchy and the end of slavery, a number of Catholic priests declared that ‘the end was nigh’ and led their communities deep into the North Western Jungle. Communications have meant these communities are no longer isolated and they can connect and recruit.
They offer an alternative vision to unlimited scientific progress, in which power is ideally redistributed amongst their ethnic, religious or class grouping (of course, at the expense of all others). Umberto Eco outlines the general recipe for these groups in his 20 year old essay on ‘Ur-Fascism’. In the British context, it is clear that UKIP, and not the conservatives have been influenced by our own Ur-Fascist, Enoch Powell.
- A renewed focus is placed on the 19th and early 20th century conception of the nation state, as homogenous and culturally pure. Past glories are revived, and loyalty is required, and questioned if opinions do not fall into line. This manifests itself in a sort of faux-traditionalism. Minority groups are marginalised.
- Technology is used in opposition to the other ideology. It is used to organise incredibly successfully, making these ideas difficult to counter. Misinformation becomes the currency of choice.
- Eco places importance on irrationalism, or action for the sake of action. Brexit meant ‘change’ – and that’s what people wanted. What happens with that change is almost irrelevant. It was an insurrection.
- Immigration (or other nations, or groups, or religions or etc) is cited as the biggest threat to the people and their ‘way of life’, when actually the real cultural change has occurred in the way we communicate with the world, over the internet and via 24 hour access to rolling news and information.
- As change is the goal, the sacrifices on the way to this bright national future are for the greater good. People will suffer now, but the nation will be “cleansed” of its current problems.
- As this ultimately fails, scapegoats will be punished. If that means abandoning the rule of law, then fine
So that is the new ‘left/right’ paradigm. In my opinion, the traditional left needs to position themselves in the exact centre. A focus on personal liberty, acknowledge community bonds, the rule of law, a fair redistribution of wealth and power. Along with the rules of cricket, these are traditional British values and they are also the traditional values of the left. International corporate power has eroded democratic accountability and people are in the process of adapting to the massive cultural changes linked to globalism and technology. I think in order to achieve popular success, we have to define ourselves in terms of the balance between these two dominant ideologies. Perhaps taking sentiments from both, but ensuring they are extremely checked and limited.
We need to talk about emotional topics, such as identity and cultural change, but in doing so, we must emphasise that the solution does not lie in an ethnically pure, authoritarian paradise.