At The Financial Times: Edward Luce defends a nonexistent ‘Western Liberalism’. Committed Observer comments

The reader of Mr. Luce’s long essay is first confronted by the Cold War Triumphalism of the fall of the Berlin Wall,  as he and his mates speed toward the Wall in a 18 hour road trip, to be a part of History, to assist in the destruction of that symbol of Soviet oppression.  While Putin broods in his Dresden KGB office. In this essay we are not in the province of the Historian, but of the Empire of Stan Lee’s  Marvel Comics! The panels of the comic book come to life, as Mr. Luce moves from one story telling moment to the next, as he weaves his maladroit Neo-Liberal Apologetic, in the guise of a History of The Siege of Western Liberalism. This sequence of the essay is awash in a nostalgia for lost youth, and what passes for political idealism, as viewed from the perspective of a well compensated ‘pundit’.

What is missing in Luce’s dismal comic book History is the rise of Neo-Liberalism, that supplanted, indeed annihilated Western Liberalism, in the name of the Free Market, as the singular historical/moral imperative, in the persons of both Thatcher in Britain and Reagan in America, to the present political/economic nadir : the Age of Trump and Le Pen. The reader need only consult Wolfgang Steeck’s  latest essay at the New Left Review titled ‘The Return of the Repressed‘ for a more reality based critique of the age of the collapse of the Neo-Liberal Dispensation. Two examples of Streeck’s analysis puts Mr. Luce’s particular brand of punditry, a maladroit apologetic for this absent actor, an actor subject to an erasure for ideological reasons, into proper perspective.

From the perspective of neoliberal internationalism, of course, which had developed the propagation of illusions into the fine art of democratic government, the post-factual age began as late as 2016, the year of the Brexit referendum and the smashing of Clintonism by Donald Trump. [11] Only with the collapse of post-democracy, and the end of mass patience with the ‘narratives’ of a globalization that in the us had benefited in its final years only the top 1 per cent, did the guardians of the dominant ‘discourse’ call for obligatory fact-checking. Only then did they regret the deficits experienced by those caught in the pincer grip of the global attention economy on the one hand and the cost-cutting in the education and training sector on the other. It is at that point that they began to call for ‘eligibility tests’ of various kinds as a prerequisite for citizens being allowed to exercise their right to vote. [12] The fact that the Great Unwashed, who for so long had helped promote the progress of capitalism by passing their time with the Twitter feeds of Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber e tutti quanti, had now returned to the voting booth, was registered as a sign of an ominous regression. Moreover, distractions in the form of ‘humanitarian interventions’ or a reanimation of the East–West conflict, this time with Russia instead of the ussr and over lgbtiq rights instead of communism, seemed to have exhausted themselves. Truth and morality ceased to count, and in England a Tory politician, when asked why he was campaigning to leave the eu against the advice of ‘the experts’, brazenly replied: ‘People in this country have had enough of experts!’ [13]

Characteristic of today’s zeitgeist is a new cultural divide that has struck the capitalist democracies without warning. Structurally, it has its roots in long-festering discontent with ‘globalization’, while simultaneously the number of ‘globalization losers’ has been steadily growing. The process reached a tipping point in the years following the financial crisis of 2008, when the quantity of discontent transformed into the quality of open protest. One of the reasons why this took so long was that those who had earlier spoken up on behalf of society’s losers had ended up joining the fan club of globalization, by the late 1990s at the latest. For a while, then, those experiencing globalization as a problem rather than a solution had no one to stand up for them.

The high phase of globalization sponsored the establishment of a cosmopolitan consciousness industry, which discerned opportunities for growth in turbocharging the expansionist drive of capitalist markets with the libertarian values of the social revolution of the 1960s and 70s and their utopian promise of human emancipation. [14] In the process, the technocratic pensée unique of neoliberalism became fused with the moral juste milieu of an internationalist discourse community. Its control over the airspace above the seminar desks established at the time serves today as an operations base in a cultural struggle of a special kind, one in which the moralization of a globally expanding capitalism goes hand in hand with the demoralization of those who find their interests damaged by it.

After decades of decline, voter participation in the Western democracies has recently begun to bounce back, especially among the lower classes. The rediscovery of democracy as a political corrective, however, benefits exclusively new kinds of parties and movements whose appearance throws national political systems into disarray. The mainstream parties and their public-relations experts, which have long been closely associated with each other and with the machinery of the state, regard the new parties as a lethal threat to ‘democracy’ and fight them as such. The concept employed in this struggle, and rapidly included in the post-factual vocabulary, is that of ‘populism’, denoting left-wing and right-wing tendencies and organizations alike that reject the tina logic of ‘responsible’ politics in a world of neoliberal globalization.

I write this on the morning of Monday May 8, 2017. It took time, not to speak of patience, to read Mr. Luce’s rambling historically infused essay, Mr. Streeck practices actual critical history writing, as opposed to propaganda. I haven’t yet read the expected hosannas, to the victory of Neo-Liberal Lite Golden Boy Macron as savior of Western Values and Practices. My first reaction to that victory:

Let Neo-Liberal Lite Golden Boy govern i.e. try to pass ‘reform’! Macron, a man without a Party: Speed & Shock Fillon will say it is a betrayal of his iteration of Thatcherism à la Française, perhaps from a jail cell?  Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France insoumise will say Macron’s ‘reforms’ are a betrayal of the French Socialist Tradition. Le Pen will continue the fight, it’s in her genes! Macron is also a ‘political friend’ of American Political Huckster Obama! Macron is Mrs. Thatcher with a better looking spouse!

Committed Observer


About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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