Thoughts on Mr Trump

trumpI am finding it increasingly difficult to hold a discussion with anyone lately without feeling compelled to issue forth with a condemnation of this man, not an opinion but a condemnation. That compulsion I find, frankly, oppressive. I cannot bring myself to satisfy my conversant by issuing the same blithe, inane, throw-away epithet that I feel is expected of me. The truth is that in all things I would like time to consider the facts, to arrive at a balanced judgment, to enter into some sort of discourse perhaps but all this is barred to me. There is no discourse to be had, that has been banned, a fatwa issued to the effect that anyone not instantly joining in the condemnatory chorus of chants is, by definition, condemned and subject to vilification and ostricisation.

The fact that I, amongst probably no more than a hundred others on the planet, predicted his election back in November 2015, holds no sway. Being the messenger, I guess, makes me the target. It is true that I expected the runoff to be against Bernie Sanders, not La Clinton – that was a gift to the master of The Apprentice – but I expected his experience of celebrity and “reality TV” would trump (forgive me) the political credentials of the former. I never for one second expected the popularised populus to elect La Clinton, who represents everything they say they are fed up with. The only thing she had going for her was her gender but guys, even the women get that being a woman isn’t what the job is about. Before I am attacked for “even the women”, I am emphasising that women don’t fall for that crap, probably less so than men do, not that women are in any sense the lesser gender.

I have to confess, my deepest regret is that at the time I had no idea that it was possible to place a bet with a bookmaker on the outcome of a Presidential race or, for that matter, any election process. I know, I know, I can be as dumb as the dumbest in some things, or perhaps a little slow on the uptake these days. It’s a regret because apparently I could have cleaned up and retired comfortably. Now some people, roughly half of them, will find it slightly odd that I name this as my “deepest regret” with Mr. Trump but it’s true. That may say something about me or it may say something about their over-investment in the reality-TV process of Western Democracy. I’ll let you decide.

I believe that the United States of America has got exactly the President it deserves, indeed the President it has been working towards for several decades. That is not a comment to suggest that I am either in favour of or against the man, I said all I meant to say. Whether he turns out to be good for the country or not is something we will have ample time to pontificate on once he leaves office, in either four or eight years’ time. Possibly sooner but at least by then so it’s not too long to wait, if I could just ask a little forbearance. The young of course are, by design, rather too impatient to wait. They haven’t yet awakened to the insignificance of their paltry lifespan and so still view things with themselves at the centre of all things that matter. Patience, les jeunes, patience.

These lovely young people, no patronising inference intended, have been inculcated with a modern definition of democracy, the particular version they have been sold, and they genuinely believe that, in their lifetimes, all the world, all 196 or so of the countries in it, will come to think the way that they do. That all human beings will love thy neighbour, renounce violence, work together to solve the world’s problems and generally rid the planet of all the bad things. I know they think this, didn’t we all, once? Then we grew up and learned what countless generations of clever sentient human beings in the four corners of the Earth had recognised before, eons before. Human nature is what it is and evolution changes nothing. If evolution changes nothing, it’s easy to accept that social and political “progress” is an illusion or at least has even less effect but, when you’re young, this is not something you ever want to accept. Why carry on living if it’s all a crock of the proverbial poo? Well, welcome to our world. We’ve all asked ourselves the same question, every white, black, brown and other shaded skin of us. This human race spends a great deal of time on that very question but carry on, we do.

Why we carry on is because we only have two choices. We can end it all – painful to ourselves and all those around us not to say at least equally pointless – or we can carry on and make the most of what we have. What we have is quite literally fantastic. Unique. Beyond belief. What we have is not dictated by he or she who sits in the White House, though it could be said that they could have some influence on whether we have an Earth left to sit in. What we have is what we dictate for ourselves, what we strive for, what we determine, how we apply ourselves and by “we”, I mean you and me. It helps if we can rely on support from our families and friends but it’s hardly a pre-requisite and it most emphatically does not depend on the leader of any one of those 196(ish) countries, nor on any of the many lackeys with which they surround themselves or with which we surround them.

One thing we all come to realise in time, and heaven knows why it takes us so long, is that these people, these leaders, these politicians, they are just fallible human beings like you and me. They too are afraid of the dark. They too are feeling their way in this mysterious unfathomable life. None of them are imbued with superhuman powers of reason and intellect and they are certainly not above all the more base and frivolous aspects of human nature. Great leaders aren’t necessarily great politicians, though they may become so. Politicians aren’t necessarily great leaders, though they might likewise become so. Rarely do we find the two characters in the same body. Mr. Trump, I will say, is neither of these things. Perhaps it is that which is feared so. Human beings, as a general rule, do not readily accept change and Mr. Trump is certainly a change. For better or worse? Well, one day we’ll know the answer to that but, for now, he’s just different.

I’ll say this for the man, he is currently doing exactly what he claimed he would do during the election process, for the most part. That’s different. That doesn’t chime with our experience of Western Democracy. I predicted that he might be like this but I wasn’t sure. It was clear, well over a year ago, that he had learned how to appeal to a mass vote. How to pick the topic of the day, how to dumb it down, how to make it understandable to the audience in question, how to touch their buttons. I can’t fault him for that. I certainly flinch at the base instincts he appealed to but these are real and present base instincts and it is no bad thing that we recognise that. If there is any blame to be attached for the beliefs that have been exposed then it must surely attach to previous politicians who have failed in their duties regarding immigration and assimilation, not to say in the enforced education of which they are all so proud. To start with, we could adopt the label of “American” and ditch all the acclaimed ethnic sub-categories.

If Mr. Trump were a great leader he would have found finer words to make his points, better reasons for you to agree with him, perhaps he’d even have been able to find simple words that his followers could relate to and which you too felt you could buy into. If he’d been a great politician, this is what he would have done, and he would likely have lost. If he failed, in one or the other, he would have lost the election as so many have done before him. He calculated, he ran the numbers and that’s what makes him clever, that and his thick skin. He set his mind on the prize, he learned how the game is won (The Apprentice ratings) and extrapolated from that how it is to be played to win. He played by your rules, rules that have evolved from a poor beginning to a tumultuous end. No-one reads, no-one thinks, everyone wants wall-to-wall noisy TV throwing ten second soundbites at their audience, in between the raucous adverts, when no-one is listening – and calling it news. When Facebook is the main source of “news” for a large part of the population I’m afraid “Gomorrah” is all that comes to mind, that and “Sod ’em”.

You protest things, he got things done. While you were worrying about offending the sensibilities of a fashionable minority, he spotted that 50% of the people cared more about a job, a roof over their head and food on their tables. If you’ve always had these things then you might not be so concerned about them. Only your temporary affluence allowed you the luxury to say that you care about others’ misfortune and only your temporary affluence affords you the time to stand in airport terminals shouting and placard waving and intimidating people like me.

I neither voted for him, nor for any other, I neither sympathise or empathise with him, I admire his ambition, his guile and determination. I recognise that he’s not my ideal travelling companion but I will not join with you in shouting him down until and unless he starts doing genuine harm. When that happens I’ll gaze skyward for inspiration as I had to when (the Democrat) JFK ramped up the war in Vietnam and when (another Democrat) LBJ took it to new heights. As I did with each and every war that followed and that made my heart bleed, wherever in the world it occurred. When Bush/Blair razed Iraq, caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of my fellow human beings and let loose a reactionary clan of radical lunatics across a third of the planet, I wanted to kill them both – preferably before they could get started but I was weak.

When my fellow citizens are blown to smithereens travelling to work on their bus or their tube train, I remember these two hapless, catholic, gung-ho incompetents, and not fondly. When Obama promised to close the disgusting abomination at Guantanamo, I still believed him. When he bombed Libya, I damned him and when he joined with the sadists in Saudi Arabia in bombing civilians in the Yemen, I abandoned him – and that’s not to mention his appalling financial management. As for Le or La Clinton, don’t make me laugh. The only promise Mr. Trump has failed to make good on so far is that prosecution but then, he’s sensible enough to know what people in glass houses should always be aware of.

If President Trump follows suit with his predecessors, all of the recent ones if I recall correctly, then expect me to have something to say but here’s a strange thing, what if he really is as good as his word? What if he really does refuse to get into foreign military adventures that don’t directly affect the defence of the USA? He just might turn out to be a minor hero of mine.

My daddy only ever gave me two pieces of advice, more’s the pity. One of those was, and forgive the quaint language of the day: “Don’t ever trust America. It has the greatest internal debt in the world and the only way it can sustain itself is to be perpetually at war”. Well, for all of my lifetime that’s not something he’s been proved wrong on. Perhaps this might be it? I’m not holding my breath.

Something like one half of America has recently woken up to the fact that the other half doesn’t think like them, perhaps has different experiences to them. Perhaps I’m rushing ahead rather fast there because, on reflection, no, I don’t think that second thought has started to gestate, just yet. One can only hope that it might.

Two hundred years ago, one “half” of the population didn’t understand why the other half thought that owning other human beings and enslaving them was a bad thing. The leaders of this very same country, no less than the general populus, the masses. A hundred years ago they still felt that way. Fifty years ago, things started to change. Patience, les jeunes, patience.

Two hundred years ago at least half the people thought a central bank, banking in general, was a very bad thing. Since then they’ve failed to care except when it blows up in their face and takes their home from under them, or their job or their life’s savings. For forty years the vast mass of the population, the Western population, has been oblivious to the fact that the inequality gap isn’t widening, it’s gaping. Wealthy people just get exponentially wealthier and poorer people get poorer, that’s because the earnings of the poor are being transferred to the wealthy. Nothing has changed. In this new Feudal society, we keep the peasants down by feeding them the crumbs of “democracy” whilst the top 1%, of which I am ashamed to be included, owns more than the bottom 50% of the world’s wealth. What did you do about that when you were screaming your epithets, when you were lauding your Democrats. Don’t protest this, do something about it, stop buying the shit they sell you. Start reading, stop shouting.

People are very fallible things with very short and often distorted memories. Who remembers what it was like to live under President General George Washington, two hundred years ago? Who thinks what he did for the country was a good or a bad thing? Who even knows what he did or did not do? Who will feel able to answer these questions regarding President Trump in another two hundred years? People, unless something spectacular happens – and if it does, then so be it – the Earth will still be turning on its axis, people will still be being born, laughing, crying, dying and killing each other, there will still be dumb people and smart people – rather more of one than the other – the sun will be rising every morning and human beings will still be inhabiting this fantastic, this unique planet. Do something with it.

For women in need of an abortion in America, things will be more challenging but I believe there will be plenty of people ready to assist, with both money and facilities, and it’s good that you learn to be independent of your government which cannot do everything for everyone, all the time – especially whilst it espouses and encourages freedom of religious belief. Turn to your Social-Media-Tech billionaires, have them fund these programmes. They have enough to say for themselves and they have all your money, they certainly have more funds than your government, let them put your money where their mouths are.

Finally, I say, forget protesting Mr. Trump, unless you have something useful, constructive, interesting and QUIET to say. You have only one thing to ask yourself. Are you planning to make the most of things that you possibly could? Do you try to be a “good person”? Do you love your friends, your family and your neighbours as much as you could? I don’t ask that you top Einstein, Roosevelt, Churchill or Ghandi and please never emulate Mother Theresa. I ask only that you stop shouting at other people, stop buying into group-think, group-feeling, social-media-fuelled-hysteria, learn to read a little, converse a little, forgive a little, recognise different perspectives a little, try to understand a little but most of all take responsibility for your own choices, your own culpability, and stop projecting responsibility for all that onto other mere fallible human beings in whose striving for power and control over other people’s lives (possibly to make up for something lacking in their own) you not only participated but actually proselytised for and collude.

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Prof John Gray – A voice of reason

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In a world gone seemingly mad (to some) and blissfully refreshing to others, where liberal western democracy supporters seem to detest anyone who hasn’t bought into their blind faith and preachers of love and respect espouse hate, violence and death threats, this man talks about the truly important issues underpinning our “modern world”.  This article, written the day before the US election, is as always with Professor Gray, blindingly prescient and whilst I cannot imagine that either “trump supporter” or “right wing” are terms that could ever be levelled at him, Gray would unerringly defend another’s right to proclaim either:

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/11/closing-liberal-mind

Reproduced here for posterity:

All that seemed solid in liberalism is melting into air. In Europe the EU struggled for over seven years to reach a trade deal with Canada, one of the most “European” countries in the world; at the same time, banking crises are festering in Italy and Germany and the continuing migrant crisis continues to strengthen far-right parties. In Britain Jeremy Corbyn’s strengthened hold over Labour following an ill-considered attempt to unseat him has reinforced a transformation in the party that reaches well beyond his position as leader. At a global level, Vladimir Putin is redrawing the geopolitical map with his escalating intervention in Syria, while the chief threat to the repressive regime Xi Jinping is building in China appears to be a neo-Maoist movement that harks back to one of the worst tyrannies in history. A liberal order that seemed to be spreading across the globe after the end of the Cold War is fading from memory.

Faced with this shift, liberal opinion-formers have oscillated between insistent denial and apocalyptic foreboding. Though the EU is barely capable of any action, raddled remnants of the old regime – Ed Miliband, Clegg, Mandelson, “the master” himself – have surfaced to demand that Brexit be fudged and, in effect, reversed. Even as the US election hangs in the balance, many are clinging to the belief that a liberal status quo can be restored. But Trump’s presidential campaign has already demolished a bipartisan consensus on free trade, and if he wins, a party system to which his Republican opponents and Hillary Clinton both belonged will be history. Dreading this outcome and suspecting it may yet come to pass, liberals rail against voters who reject their enlightened leadership. Suddenly, the folly of the masses has replaced the wisdom of crowds as the dominant theme in polite discourse. Few ask what in the ruling liberalism could produce such a debacle.

The liberal pageant is fading, yet liberals find it hard to get by without believing they are on what they like to think is the right side of history. The trouble is that they can only envision the future as a continuation of the recent past. This is so whether their liberalism comes from the right or the left. Whether they are George Osborne’s City-based “liberal mainstream”, or Thatcherite think tanks, baffled and seething because Brexit hasn’t taken us closer to a free-market utopia, or egalitarian social democrats who favour redistribution or “predistribution”, an entire generation is finding its view of the world melting away under the impact of events.

Today’s liberals differ widely about how the wealth and opportunities of a market economy should be shared. What none of them question is the type of market globalisation that has developed over the past three decades. Writing in Tribune in 1943 after reviewing a batch of “progressive” books, George Orwell observed: “I was struck by the automatic way in which people go on repeating certain phrases that were fashionable before 1914. Two great favourites are ‘the abolition of distance’ and ‘the disappearance of frontiers’.” More than 70 years later, the same empty formulae are again being repeated. At present, the liberal mind can function only to the extent that it shuts out reality.

It is not surprising that there is talk of ­entering a post-liberal moment. The idea has the merit of grasping that the liberal retreat is not a revolt of the ignorant masses against enlightened elites; it is mostly the result of the follies of liberals themselves. But the revulsion against liberalism is not all of one piece. There is a world of difference between the May government inching its way towards a more intelligent way of ­living with globalisation and Trump’s dream of globalisation in one country. The creeping advance of anti-liberal forces across the European continent is something else again.

Accepting that this is a post-liberal moment does not imply that we should give up on values of freedom and toleration. Quite the contrary: the task at hand is securing the survival of a liberal way of life. But the greatest obstacle to that end, larger even than the hostility of avowed enemies of liberalism, is a liberal ideology that sees state power as the chief threat to freedom. Liberal societies have a future only if the Hobbesian protective role of the state is firmly reasserted. Balancing the claims of liberty against those of security will never be easy. There are many conflicting freedoms, among which political choices must be made. Without security, however, freedom itself is soon lost.

 

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Nothing illustrates the decay of liberalism more vividly than the metamorphosis of the Labour Party. There has been a tendency to interpret Corbyn’s rise as a reversion to the Trotskyite entryism of the early 1980s. Some in the party – possibly including the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell – may see their role in terms of converting Labour to some type of neo-Marxism. That does not explain why so many of Labour’s new members seem to want to bury the party in the form in which it has existed throughout its history.

Something like a blueprint for the shift of power in the party was set out in Ralph Miliband’s Parliamentary Socialism, first published in 1961. Miliband’s attack on the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) anticipated the Corbynite strategy with uncanny prescience. Cautioning his comrades on the left who wanted to use Labour as a vehicle for socialism, Miliband wrote in a 1972 postscript to the book:

 

The kind of political changes at the top which a good many socialists hope to see one day brought about in the Labour Party, and which would signify a major ideological shift to the left, would presumably, given the nature of the political system, have to be engineered from within the ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party. But to say this is surely also to indicate how unrealistic that hope is. It is unrealistic because it ignores the perennial weakness of the parliamentary left. That weakness is not accidental but structural . . . There have been some exceptions: a few Labour MPs have, so to speak, slipped through the net. But they have remained isolated and often pathetic figures, bitterly at odds not only with their leaders but with that large and permanent majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party which entirely shares its leader’s orthodox modes of thought.

 

Ralph Miliband condemned the PLP as an obstacle to fundamental change and looked to a mass movement outside Labour’s core structures. But history has proved more fertile than his imagination. In a strangely poetic turn of events, an anti-parliamentary party of a kind he believed Labour could never become was brought into being, more than 40 years later, when, by changing the membership rules, Ed Miliband created a historic opening for one of its most isolated and insignificant figures. Promoted by moderates as a modernising move, on a par with Tony Blair’s revision of Clause Four, this accidental reform has altered Labour structurally and irreversibly. Corbyn’s rise to power could not have occurred if the party’s moderates had not been so devoid of new thinking. They realised that Ed Miliband’s social-democratic moment had failed to arrive and knew that Labour faced an uphill task in becoming electable again. But all they had to offer were empty slogans that reeked of the past. As a result, Labour has become unelectable in any foreseeable future.

Anyone who imagines the party’s electoral fortunes could be revived by a new leader – a charismatic figure from across the water, perhaps – has not taken the measure of the change that has taken place. Although parts of Labour remain outside Corbyn’s control, including much of local government – most importantly, Sadiq Khan’s London – the chief power base of any future leader of the party will be the mass movement that Corbyn has built. Realigning Labour with the electorate can only be done against the opposition of most of the party membership. In these conditions a campaign of the sort Neil Kinnock waged against Militant is no longer feasible. Internecine warfare will continue and may intensify, but Labour’s moderate tendency has no chance of regaining control.

In one sense, Corbyn’s Labour is the practical realisation of Ralph Miliband’s dream. Yet it is not a party Miliband would recognise easily. Labour has become not a retro-Trotskyite sect, but a contemporary expression of formless discontent. Trotsky was a vain and pitiless figure, who crushed a workers’ rising in Kronstadt in 1921 and rejected criticism of the practice of hostage-taking that he implemented during the Russian Civil War as “Quaker-vegetarian chatter”. But, even at his worst, Trotsky could not have proposed anything as inane and intrinsically absurd as retaining Trident submarine patrols while removing the missiles’ nuclear warheads, as Corbyn did in January.

The party Corbyn has created is not easily defined. Aside from the anti-Semitism that is a strand of its make-up, it has no coherent ideology. The legacy of Marxism is notable for its absence. There is no analysis of changing class structures or any systematic critique of the present condition of capitalism. Such policies as have been floated have been plucked from a blue sky, without any attempt to connect them with earthbound facts. The consensus-seeking values of core Labour voters are dismissed as symptoms of backwardness. As for the concerns about job security and immigration that produced large majorities in favour of Brexit in what used to be safe Labour areas, the Corbynite view seems to be that these are retrograde attitudes that only show how badly working people need re-education.

Corbyn’s refusal to specify any upper limit to immigration at the last party conference in Liverpool illustrated his detachment from electoral realities. But far from being a debilitating weakness – as it would be if Labour were still a conventional political party – this rejection of realistic thinking is the principal source of his strength in the new kind of party he has created. From being a broad-based institution that defended the interests of working people, Labour has morphed into a vehicle for an alienated fringe of the middle class that finds psychological comfort in belonging in an anti-capitalist protest movement. While a dwindling rump of trade union barons continues to act as power-broker, Labour’s northern fortresses are crumbling.

The defining feature of Corbynite Labour is not an anachronistic utopian socialism, but a very modern kind of liberal narcissism. Looking two or three general elections ahead, the party could well reach a membership of over a million even as it struggled to elect a hundred MPs. The party’s role would then be one of permanent opposition, without the privileges that go with being an alternative government.

 

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The claim that what has emerged from Corbyn’s takeover of the Labour Party is an inchoate and extreme type of liberalism may seem perverse. He and his followers never cease to inveigh against neoliberal economics – a blanket term that seems to include every market economy in the world – even as they show a consistent bias in favour of tyrannies in their protests against military action, their anti-war campaigns focusing solely as they do on the policies of Western governments. It might seem that Labour under Corbyn has abandoned liberal values altogether, and there are some who talk of a new left-fascism.

Yet this is too easy an analysis of the change that has taken place. Corbyn’s Labour is no more crypto-fascist than it is Trotskyite. In some respects – such as his support for unlimited freedom of movement for people – it embodies a hyperbolic version of the liberalism of the most recent generation. In others, it expresses what liberalism has now become. There have always been many liberalisms, but the mutation in liberal thinking over the past few decades has been deep and radical. From being a philosophy that aimed to give a theoretical rationale to a way of life based on the practice of toleration, it has become a mindset that defines itself by enmity to that way of life.

Corbyn’s “inclusive” attitude towards Hamas, Hezbollah and the IRA fits in with a left-liberal world-view that supports ­anti-colonial struggles in a general embrace of identity politics. Fashionable nonsense about cultural appropriation may not matter much, as it has been largely confined to increasingly marginal universities. However, it expresses what has come to be seen as a liberal principle: the right of everyone to assert what they take to be their identity – particularly if it can be represented as that of an oppressed minority – by whatever means are judged necessary. If free speech stands in the way, the practice must be discarded. It terrorism is required, so be it. This represents a fundamental shift in liberal thinking.

The overriding importance given to rights – a selective reading of them, at any rate – is one of the marks of the new liberalism. In one form or another, doctrines of human rights have been around for centuries, and a conception of universal rights was embodied in the UN Declaration of 1948. But rights became central and primary in liberal thought only in the 1970s with the rise of the legalist philosophies of John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin, which held that freedom can be codified into a fixed system of interlocking liberties that can be interpreted by judges. On the libertarian right, Friedrich Hayek proposed something similar with his constitutional proposals for limiting democracy.

Protecting liberty is not just a matter of curbing government, however. Rolling back the state in the economy and society can have the effect of leaving people less free – a fact that was recognised by liberal thinkers of an earlier generation. Maynard Keynes understood that free trade allowed consumers a wide range of choices. He also understood that freedom of choice is devalued when livelihoods face being rapidly destroyed on a large scale, and partly for that reason he refused to treat free trade as a sacrosanct dogma. He never imagined freedom could be reduced to a list of rights.

The move to rights-based liberalism has had damaging effects in many areas of policy. A militant ideology of human rights played a part in some of the worst foreign policy disasters of recent times. The ruinous military adventures of the Blair-Cameron era did not fail because there was not enough post-invasion planning. They failed, first, because in overthrowing the despotisms of Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Gaddafi they destroyed the state in both Iraq and Libya, leaving zones of anarchy in which jihadist forces could operate freely. More fundamentally, they failed because human rights cannot be imposed on societies that have never known them and where most people may not want them.

Any suggestion that liberal values are not humanly universal will provoke spasms of righteous indignation. Liberals cannot help believing that all human beings secretly yearn to become as they imagine themselves to be. But this is faith, not fact. The belief that liberal values are universally revered is not founded in empirical observation. They are far from secure even in parts of continental Europe where they were seen as unshakeable only a few years ago. In much of the world they are barely recognised.

That liberal values belong in a particular way of life was the central theme of the ­essays collected in my book Post-Liberalism (1993). Modern liberalism is a late growth from Jewish and Christian monotheism. It is from these religious traditions – more than anything in Greek philosophy – that liberal values of toleration and freedom have sprung. If these values were held to be universal, it was because they were believed to be ordained by God. Most liberals nowadays are secular in outlook, yet they continue to believe that their values are humanly universal.

It has never been clear why this should be so. A common response conjures up ­Enlightenment values against the demon of relativism, somehow forgetting that modern relativism emerged from the Enlightenment. Others invoke cod-theories in social science which claim that only liberal societies can be modern. Francis Fukuyama’s thesis is the best known, but they all assert that globalisation is producing a worldwide middle class that is demanding political freedom, as the European bourgeoisie is supposed to have done in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In fact, the European middle classes threw in their lot with authoritarian regimes as often as they supported freedom and democracy, and the same is true at a global level today. Much of the middle class in Russia appears wedded to a combination of consumerism and nationalism, and in China most seem to want nothing more than rising living standards and freedom in their private lives. In the United States, on the other hand, unchecked globalisation is destroying the middle classes.

If the liberalism that has prevailed over the past generation was a falsifiable theory it would long since have been abandoned. There is no detectable connection between advancing globalisation and the spread of liberal values. Liberals resist this because it empties their lives of significance. For them, liberalism is a surrogate religion, providing the sustaining illusion that their values express the meaning of history.

These may seem arguments far removed from everyday politics, but they have important practical implications. Liberal societies cannot depend on history for their survival. They need to defend themselves, and here the cult of rights needs deflating. Human rights may have value as symbolic barriers against the worst evils, such as genocide, slavery and torture. Where they are not backed by state power, however, ­human rights mean nothing: less than nothing, in fact, if they encourage people to believe they will be protected when (as in Srebrenica and now in Aleppo) the power to protect them is lacking. Human rights cannot serve as a template for world order. When they are used to promote evangelical military campaigns they endanger the way of life they were meant to protect.

 

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Popular revulsion against established elites has produced some curious responses. There is constant talk about reason being junked in an emotional rejection of experts, as was supposed to have happened in this year’s EU referendum campaign. Yet the record hardly justifies any strong claims on behalf of those who claim special insight into economics or politics. Much of what has passed for expert knowledge consists of speculative or discredited theories, such as the sub-Keynesian ideas that support quantitative easing as a permanent regime and the notion that globalisation benefits everybody in the long run. When rattled liberals talk of the triumph of emotion over reason, what they mean is that voters are ignoring the intellectual detritus that has guided their leaders and are responding instead to facts and their own experiences.

What British voters are not doing is repudiating the society in which they live. For some critics of liberalism, what is needed is a rejection of individualism in economics and culture. This is the message of John Milbank and Adrian Pabst in The Politics of Virtue (reviewed by Rowan Williams in this paper on 14 October). The book promotes a neo-medievalist vision of organic community that would be familiar to Hilaire Belloc and G K Chesterton, whom Milbank and Pabst cite approvingly. Post-liberalism of this kind is, in my view, a dead end in politics. Most people in Britain do not want to live in organic communities. They are not nostalgic for an imaginary past, and show little fondness for the claustrophobic intimacy of unchanging, homogeneous neighbourhoods. They want what Thomas Hobbes called commodious living – in other words, the amenities of modern economy – without the chronic insecurity that is produced by unfettered market forces. Rather than rejecting market individualism, they are demanding that it be constrained. They would like to inhabit a common culture but are happy for it to contain diverse beliefs and lifestyles.

A post-liberal society is one in which freedom and toleration are protected under the shelter of a strong state. In economic terms, this entails discarding the notion that the primary purpose of government is to advance globalisation. In future, governments will succeed or fail by how well they can deliver prosperity while managing the social disruption that globalisation produces. Obviously it will be a delicate balancing act. There is a risk that deglobalisation will spiral out of control. New technologies will disrupt settled patterns of working and living whatever governments may do. Popular demands cannot be met in full, but parties that do not curb the market in the interests of social cohesion are consigning themselves to the memory hole. The type of globalisation that has developed over the past decades is not politically sustainable.

To expect liberals to comprehend this situation would be unreasonable. For them, it is not only the liberal order that is melting away, but any sense of their own place in history. From being the vanguard of human progress, they find themselves powerless spectators of events. But they insist that the solution to the crisis of liberalism is clear. What is needed is more of the same: a stronger infusion of idealism; an unyielding determination to renew the liberal projects of the past. The notion that any of these projects needs to be revised or abandoned – global free trade, say, or the free movement of labour across national borders – is unthinkable. The only thing wrong with past policies, they will say, is that they were not liberal enough.

Adamant certainty mixed with self-admiring angst has long defined the liberal mind and does so now. Yet beneath this, a different mood can be detected. All that really remains of liberalism is fear of the future. Faced with the world they thought they knew fading into air, many liberals may be tempted to retreat into the imaginary worlds envisioned by left-leaning non-governmental organisations, or conjured up in academic seminars. This amounts to giving up the political struggle, and it may be that, despite themselves, those who embodied the ruling liberalism are coming to realise that their day is done.

John Gray’s latest book is the new and enlarged edition of “Gray’s Anatomy: Selected Writings” (Penguin)