In the early part of the twentieth century there were three political ideologies vying for world dominance:
Communism argued that the world was engaged in a struggle between classes and sought to create a social system based on equality even at the price of freedom.
Fascism was based on the theory that one race was superior to all others and would rule and exploit all the inferior races.
Liberalism argued that life was based on a struggle between tyranny and freedom and envisioned a world in which all the world cooperated in peace with a minimum of central control at the price of some inequality.
I am a Liberalist with a big added dollop of equality.
In the 1930s the Second World War put an end to the fascist dream. It lived on in s few places – notably South America and Spain – but was no longer a world contender.
So there were two.
Towards the end of the twentieth-century communism, having descended into centralised tyranny and failed to deliver prosperity, crumbled as a world dream.
Then there was one.
Liberalism seemed to have the whole field. There was no competition. But changing events caught it out.
It failed to move fast enough to create a global peace and prosperity.
It failed to control capitalism which created massive inequality. The wealthy became obscenely wealthy and the poor became poorer.
The advent of A/I and automation removed the need for skilled workers.
The global move of industry to third world countries, with cheaper workforces and production, exacerbated the situation.
Global warming, climate change and the collapse of biodiversity created global emergencies – floods, droughts, extreme temperatures, extreme weather and failure of monsoons. It resulted in more poverty and desperation.
Mass migration ensued.
Muslim terrorism sparked chaos.
The rise of former communist states (Russia and China) who were now tyrannies with global aspirations.
Many people lost their faith in liberalism. It wasn’t responding to situations quickly enough and they felt left behind.
Then there was none.
In the 21st Century many people rejected the liberal ideal of global prosperity and turned back to a form of fascism now called Populism. It’s central plank, as with fascism, was racism. It evoked a strong return to nationalism. Instead of looking outward and working towards a peaceful global future they began pulling up the gangplank, cutting themselves off from the world and building walls.
Populism was all about ‘us’ and ‘ours’. It was based on the idea of superiority and insularity. We had to care for our own and not concern ourselves with the rest of the world. We had to consolidate and pull in our tentacles. This was the MAGA movement, the burn the rainforest down and Brexit.
Immigrants and foreigners were demonised.
Muslims were demonised.
Minority extreme right-wing groups were empowered.
Fear, hate and division were exploited for political ends.
The media and experts were vilified.
Science and the environment were trashed.
It resulted in Brexit, Bolsonaro, Johnson, Trump and Erdogan.
Within a short period of time it became clear that this Populist movement was in trouble. The leaders were inept and unable to deliver their promises. There was a great deal of division and hatred. The division was being fed on propaganda, fake news and conspiracy.
No country could isolate itself from the world no matter how high a wall they constructed.
We are all subject to the global economy, the climate, pressures from mass immigration, terrorism and threats of war.
No matter how hard the leaders denied global warming, ignored global condemnation or cozied up to tyrants and despots, the problems persisted and mounted.
No man is an island.
The coronavirus brought it all into stark relief. Calling it a hoax or playing it down proved to be totally ineffective against a global pandemic. The USA, UK and Brazil, unlike most of the rest of the world, suffered horrendous mortality.
Populism had failed miserably. It was seen as what it was – fascist nationalism in different guise.
Trump was dumped, Brexit was seen by the majority as a big mistake, Johnson, Bolsonaro and Erdogan will surely follow as soon as democracy permits.
So what will come out of these ruins?
Will China and Russia rise up to gain global control imposing their version of fascist tyranny?
Or will the Western Liberalism adapt, learn from its mistakes and surge forward again?
I would like to think that Liberalism will prevail. In order for it to do so it needs to tackle the range of problems that beset it and knocked it off course in the late twentieth century. It needs to prove to be faster on its feet.
There are crucial issues that require addressing:
Global warming, climate change and biodiversity (all interrelated).
Muslim terrorism and religious extremism of all kinds
Gross inequality. To ensure that all people benefit for the advent of A/I and not just the wealthy elite. An end to zero hours contracts and in-work poverty.
The increased military aggression and global threat of Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.
The first step is to deal with the virus. After that Liberalism has to start to tackle all these other issues and show that it is capable of providing that prosperous, peaceful world. It has to resell that vision. Show that its global perspective will not bring tyranny nor gross inequality; that nature can be protected, the climate controlled and all people benefit – not just an elite. It has to show that institutions like the UN and WHO can function effectively and bring peace and an end to poverty.
It’s a big ask. But I cannot see a viable alternative.
Biden is making all the right noises. The EU needs to get its act together.
The future could start to look a lot brighter.