The liberal order has collapsed and no one should mourn its demise, for on its tombstone is engraved the disaster of Afghanistan, the murder of Iraq and Libya, and the unleashing of an upsurge in global terrorism and religious fanaticism on the back of the destabilisation wrought across the Middle East in the wake of 9/11. Married to a refugee crisis of biblical dimension and the closest we have ever been to direct military confrontation with Russia since the Cold War, these are the fruits of this liberal order abroad. Meanwhile at home its moral and intellectual conceit has produced obscene levels of inequality, alienation, and poverty, exacerbated by the worst economic recession since the 1930s and the implementation of that mass experiment in human despair, otherwise known as austerity, in response.
Tony Blair, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton epitomise this failed liberal order - leaders who perfected the art of speaking left while acting right, presenting themselves as champions of the masses, of ordinary working people, while worshipping at the altar of the free market, cosying up to the banks, corporations, and vested interests.
However just as the collapse of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s under similar conditions of economic depression and dislocation gave way to fascism, so the collapse of the liberal order in our time has given way to nativism, white supremacy, xenophobia, racism, and proto-fascism, rather than anything good or more progressive. All across Europe we are witnessing the rise of the far right - across Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, in France, Holland, and elsewhere the far right has filled the space opened up by the collapse of the centre ground. Brexit in the UK is merely its British manifestation, while in the US Donald Trump's election leaves no doubt that not since the 1930s has right wing populism managed to gain such traction and support in the West.
It was Bertolt Brecht who in the 1940s warned of the danger of allowing ourselves to become complacent with regard to the prospect of fascism ever rising again after the Second World War. In words that resonate today, he said, "The womb from which this monster emerged remains fertile."
So, yes, the arrival of Brexit and Donald Trump in our midst is a case of history repeating itself, a symptom of the extent to which the benighted white working class in both countries has been won to the narrative of the right when it comes to the economy, immigration, low pay, and swingeing cuts to public spending. Trump, echoing Mussolini vis-a-vis Italy in the 1930s, is promising national renewal and to make America great again. It is the kind of empty and abstract sloganeering that raises hopes prior to crushing them under a juggernaut of authoritarianism in the form of attacks on civil liberties, workers' rights, and welfare. Making the trains run on time is one thing, unleashing the dogs of racism and bigotry is another.
In the UK Jeremy Corbyn's election as leader of the Labour Party, and the huge spike in people joining Labour in response, allowed us to hope that a rejuvenated left could and would win the hearts and minds of a working class left battered and bruised after six years of austerity. We were wrong. Corbyn failed to understand the danger posed by Brexit, the fact that the 'actual' political forces driving it were of the right and far right, which told in the dispassionate and lacklustre nature of the campaign he led to remain.
In the US Bernie Sanders counterposed the ugly politics of nativism and white supremacy championed by Trump with a vision of a society underpinned by social solidarity, wealth redistribution, and justice for the poor and minorities. Yet the manner in which he folded his tent after Hillary Clinton won the Democratic Party nomination in decidedly dubious circumstances was tantamount to a betrayal of the passion, commitment, and hope that millions across America had placed in him as an alternative to the machine politics of his opponent. Worse, his endorsement of a candidate whose character and integrity he had spent weeks shredding in debate after debate, exposing Clinton's connections to Wall Street and her hawkish foreign policy, only left his reputation damaged.
Politics is not a parlour game, which is why both Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders are fully deserving of criticism for taking positions and an approach which has suggested that for them it is.
So what now? Demoralisation and defeatism is never an option, and never more so than today. Determined opposition to Brexit in the UK and to Trump in the US must emerge - strong, determined, assertive and confident in its own strength of purpose and arguments. Brexit is not inevitable and, no, we should not accept the result of a referendum that has taken us to the edge of a political, economic, and constitutional cliff. There is a glaring need for a second referendum, both on constitutional and legal grounds, and in light of events. The days of conceding to the right on immigration, on the economy, and on multiculturalism are over.
The past does not need to be prologue. We can resist and defeat this right wing juggernaut. Indeed, for the sake of ourselves and future generations to come, it must be defeated.Suggest a correction