Les Uns et Les Autres

December 24, 2009 at 10:01 am (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Expo 1937 - Soviet and Nazi buildings face to face

When Francis Fukuyama confidently announced that after the end of the Cold War – or Third World War according to the Neoconservative mythology – the world would become a paradise of demo-liberal harmony, that History would end and the now free Mankind would forever live in blissful democratic peace, most Realists shrugged and went on with their lives.

While the end of the bipolar order was not the revolutionary utopia Fukuyama expected, it is also true that the economic paradigm shifted in the entire world, in favour of capitalism and free market economics.

It is altogether natural that the excesses of capitalism are to be felt in those states who advocated it beforehand and concurrently exacerbated it after 89. It is a matter of course that those who adhered to it under some reservation and with great precaution during the period of Pax Americana, now find themselves thriving in what, for many, are desperate times. Even modern day pseudo-revolutionaries don’t dare to do entirely without free markets. The few who do are autarkic and totalitarian remnants of times that were.

A more pernicious consequence of the fall of the symmetric paradigm however, is the loss of ideological politics. Ideologies throughout the second half of the XX century were largely driven by economic philosophies and with a new uniform (Washington) consensus, the political struggle in many polities eroded into the politics of personality. The new monopolising paradigm standardised not just economic thought but also political thought.

Unlike some nostalgia filled generations – from the 40s up – one can clearly see that the absence of charismatic statesmen and clearly defined ideological fault lines are not necessarily “bad” things. The new generations aren’t worse off because they don’t have an ideological identity or because they are no longer forced to take up arms to fight for what they believe. One might even make the case that more civilised politics makes for more civilised citizens. It is ludicrous to expect great leaders in a time in which the threat of world war and the annihilation of Mankind are not at stake. The great statesmen were men of their time.

The new consensus on democracy and economic liberalism has led to a moderation of politics and that explains the generalised voter apathy, experienced in every society throughout the globe. This is not a bad thing for while civil war is a great political motivator, it is also an awful solution for specific and technical problems that need to be addressed by society as a whole and not through the imposition of ideological prejudices.

But the world is changing. The current moderates are increasingly compelled to polarise their electorates in hope of garnering the preference of the apathetic constituencies. The politics of personality are giving rise to populists in all continents and civilisations, who use demagogic tactics to keep themselves in power. The “new” parties, the “people” coalitions, the “civic” platforms, the “popular” unions are more and more the rule instead of the exception.

New fault lines are being drawn in politics. Under the new commercial-republican standard, the interests of specific sectors of society and/or business groups are being refocused on the personal merit of the political classes. The events unfolding in Thailand, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Honduras – and even the US and Europe – are now set in the populist-elitist dichotomy. The red shirts, the Bolivarians, the “natives”, the “indigenous” and the reds respectively, opposing the yellow shirts, the “oligarchs”, the “colonisers”, the “colonialistas” and the “golpistas”.

In societies being polarised top-down, there will increasingly be little room for neutrality or moderation. Interestingly, it is in less developed societies where ethnic allegiance still determines electorates, rather than governance efficiency or leader popularity that the nefarious consequences of demagogy will be less felt.

How will this tendency work in a multipolar world? Could it be that elitist or populist solidarity will lead to inter-polar client-states/protectorates in a dual geopolitical competition? To trans-polar common identities? The power of nationalism tells us otherwise but that doesn’t mean that ideological internationals cannot make an appearance.

The republics of all continents are entering a spiral of polarisation that may lead them down the path of the old Roman Republic: whereupon the patrician and plebeian parties drove Rome into a civil war and, ultimately, to autocracy.


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