Take Your Narcissism Elsewhere, The Left Isn't Responsible For Brexit And Donald Trump

28/11/2016 10:45
Carlo Allegri / Reuters

It is natural that in the aftermath of the events of the last six months, commentators have done their best to find patterns through which to make sense of the world. Tempting though it is to pivot the narrative onto oneself, it is perhaps more helpful to focus on the realities of the last 16 years rather than self-flagellate. In the past few months, a number of political commentators have signalled their belief that the fault for the rise of the far-right lies with the left. It is a simplistic, if understandable, mistake. When looking for patterns humans often work in binaries. Making sense of the world this way is easier as it requires only a cursory look at the facts. Although in the world of natural science every reaction may have an equal and opposite reaction, applying these laws to social science is not necessarily a useful methodology.

Look first at the countries where a far-right rebellion is most prevalent. The United States, the United Kingdom, and France. All three had centre-right governments from 2000 until the financial crash. Alan Greenspan was Chair of the Federal Reserve until a year before the crisis. Not since the New Deal and Attlee have centre-left politics been given a voice in the United States or Britain, and this is why the far-right have been so successful. Donald Trump and Brexit are responses to the failures of the centre-right, neoliberal, meritocratic, structural inequality-ignoring politics that have shaped the world for the past half-century. The Western world is experiencing bottom-up social change because centre-right politics has left the poorest in society behind. While Republicans argued for globalisation, Democrats called for a safety net. In Britain, New Labour embraced American libertarianism in a trans-Atlantic death embrace. Arguing post facto that the events of the last six months are now somehow the fault of the left is either wilfully ignorant or embarrassingly myopic.

It is true that some on the left silence opposing narratives, but this is also true of the right. I do not agree with this desire for suppression personally, however, it is obvious that the narratives that those on the left try to close down are the viler. When we allow certain language to exist in the public sphere we aren't simply allowing freedom of speech to flourish, we are legitimising hate speech. What Andrew Marr failed to realise when interviewing Marine Le Pen on Remembrance Sunday is that he was giving a platform to (and thereby normalising) a type of politics that wants the world divided, preferably with whites on top. And if you are quietly thinking "yes, but who gets to decide which narratives are correct?", there is an answer to your ad absurdum logic. Conduct a Rawlsian thought experiment. Knowing you could be born into any demographic, decide which world you would like to be born into, the one where Le Pen's/Trump's/Farage's beliefs are the norm, or the one where their views are vilified and othered?

The problem with the view that the far-right is the result of the left is that it relies on the left's most obvious flaw, its narcissism. The left is full of self-righteousness, forgetting that for the last 16 years it has been nothing more than a pompous observer, exclaiming at the working classes "I told you so!". The reality, though, is that it is not the left that must do the soul searching but the right. If I am campaigning against you and you beat me by 100,000 votes, then I say to you, congratulations. What, however, if you won the campaign thanks to the support of 200,000 votes from the racist demographic? How comfortable should you be with your win in the knowledge that you couldn't have done it without their support? No, not all Leavers or Trump supporters are racists, but would either campaign have had its way without the racists? I suspect not.

When analysing the upheaval that is spreading throughout the world we need to move away from pareidolia and look at the realities that affect people's everyday lives. Neoliberal libertarianism is undoubtedly the most beautiful theory in existence. Sadly, the operative word in that sentence is "theory". Centre-right politics has done away with safety nets in the name of individualised meritocracy while ignoring the structural inequalities facing the poorest in society which were being tempered by what was left of the New Deal. Centre-right politics forced through deregulation in the name of Miltonian economics, without consideration of the rights of workers. Now that the centre-right's political edifice has come crashing down, they have pandered to the bigots to keep themselves in power. This has nothing to do with the left, so take your narcissism elsewhere.