[Marxism] Foreign Policy: It is time for the elite to rise up against the ignorant masses

Stuart Munckton stuartmunckton at gmail.com
Wed Jun 29 07:14:17 MDT 2016


(behind a pay wall: text below -- the .. well *elitist* response to
right-wing populism.)

It is time for the elite to rise up against the ignorant masses

James Traub

I was born in 1954, and until now I would have said that the late 1960s was
the greatest period of political convulsion I have lived through. Yet for
all that the Vietnam War and the civil rights struggle changed American
culture and reshaped political parties, in retrospect those wild storms
look like the normal oscillations of a relatively stable political system.
The present moment is different.

Today’s citizen revolt — in the United States, Britain, and Europe — may
upend politics as nothing else has in my lifetime.In the late 1960s, elites
were in disarray, as they are now — but back then they were fleeing from
kids rebelling against their parents’ world; now the elites are fleeing
from the parents.

Extremism has gone mainstream. One of the most brazen features of the
Brexit vote was the utter repudiation of the bankers and economists and
Western heads of state who warned voters against the dangers of a split
with the European Union. British Prime Minister David Cameron thought that
voters would defer to the near-universal opinion of experts; that only
shows how utterly he misjudged his own people.Both the Conservative and the
Labour parties in Britain are now in crisis. The British have had their day
of reckoning; the American one looms.

If Donald Trump loses, and loses badly (forgive me my reckless optimism,
but I believe he will) the Republican Party may endure a historic split
between its know-nothing base and its K Street/Chamber of Commerce
leadership class.

The Socialist government of France may face a similar fiasco in national
elections next spring: Polls indicate that President François Hollande
would not even make it to the final round of voting. Right-wing parties all
over Europe are clamoring for an exit vote of their own.

Yes, it’s possible that all the political pieces will fly up into the air
and settle down more or less where they were before, but the Brexit vote
shows that shocking change isn’t very shocking anymore. Where, then, could
those pieces end up? Europe is already pointing in one direction. In much
of Europe, far-right nativist parties lead in the polls. So far, none has
mustered a majority, though last month Norbert Hofer, the leader of
Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, which traffics in Nazi symbolism, came
within a hair of winning election as president.

Mainstream parties of the left and right may increasingly combine forces to
keep out the nationalists. This has already happened in Sweden, where a
right-of-center party serves as the minority partner to the left-of-center
government. If the Socialists in France do in fact lose the first round,
they will almost certainly support the conservative Republicans against the
far-right National Front.Perhaps these informal coalitions can survive
until the fever breaks.

But the imperative of cohabitation could also lead to genuine realignment.
That is, chunks of parties from the left and right of center could break
away to form a different kind of center, defending pragmatism, meliorism,
technical knowledge, and effective governance against the ideological
forces gathering on both sides.

It’s not hard to imagine the Republican Party in the United States — and
perhaps the British Conservatives should Brexit go terribly wrong — losing
control of the angry, nationalist rank and file and reconstituting
themselves as the kind of Main Street, pro-business parties they were a
generation ago, before their ideological zeal led them into a blind alley.
That may be their only alternative to irrelevance.

The issue, at bottom, is globalization. Brexit, Trump, the National Front,
and so on show that political elites have misjudged the depth of the anger
at global forces and thus the demand that someone, somehow, restore the
status quo ante. It may seem strange that the reaction has come today
rather than immediately after the economic crisis of 2008, but the ebbing
of the crisis has led to a new sense of stagnation. With prospects of flat
growth in Europe and minimal income growth in the United States, voters are
rebelling against their dismal long-term prospects.

And globalization means culture as well as economics: Older people whose
familiar world is vanishing beneath a welter of foreign tongues and
multicultural celebrations are waving their fists at cosmopolitan elites. I
was recently in Poland, where a far-right party appealing to nationalism
and tradition has gained power despite years of undeniable prosperity under
a centrist regime. Supporters use the same words again and again to explain
their vote: “values and tradition.” They voted for Polishness against the
modernity of Western Europe.

Perhaps politics will realign itself around the axis of globalization, with
the fist-shakers on one side and the pragmatists on the other. The
nationalists would win the loyalty of working-class and middle-class whites
who see themselves as the defenders of sovereignty. The reformed center
would include the beneficiaries of globalization and the poor and non-white
and marginal citizens who recognize that the celebration of national
identity excludes them.

Of course, mainstream parties of both the left and the right are trying to
reach the angry nationalists. Sometimes this takes the form of gross
truckling, as when Nicolas Sarkozy, who is seeking to regain France’s
presidency, denounces the “tyranny of minorities” and invokes the “forever
France” of an all-white past. From the left, Hillary Clinton has jettisoned
her free-trade past to appeal to union members and others who want to
protect national borders against the global market.

But left and right disagree so deeply about how best to cushion the effects
of globalization, and how to deal with the vast influx of refugees and
migrants, that even the threat of extremism may not be enough to bring them
to make common cause.The schism we see opening before us is not just about
policies, but about reality. The Brexit forces won because cynical leaders
were prepared to cater to voters’ paranoia, lying to them about the dangers
of immigration and the costs of membership in the EU. Some of those leaders
have already begun to admit that they were lying.

Donald Trump has, of course, set a new standard for disingenuousness and
catering to voters’ fears, whether over immigration or foreign trade or
anything else he can think of. The Republican Party, already rife with
science-deniers and economic reality-deniers, has thrown itself into the
embrace of a man who fabricates realities that ignorant people like to

Did I say “ignorant”? Yes, I did. It is necessary to say that people are
deluded and that the task of leadership is to un-delude them. Is that
“elitist”? Maybe it is; maybe we have become so inclined to celebrate the
authenticity of all personal conviction that it is now elitist to believe
in reason, expertise, and the lessons of history. If so, the party of
accepting reality must be prepared to take on the party of denying reality,
and its enablers among those who know better. If that is the coming
realignment, we should embrace it.

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