All posts filed under: Politics

Populism and Nostalgia’s False Promise

Yuval Levin’s book The Fractured Republic and Andrew Brown’s essay on Trollhätten in Granta recount how Western societies have moved from a conformist and consolidated culture to a diffuse but bureaucratically centralised one, paralysed by gauzy nostalgia for a time that is never coming back. Such nostalgia has helped fuel the populist surge seen across the West today. The present poses challenges to who we are, how we behave, what we believe and how we act out those beliefs in everyday life. But the wish to return to the past is perhaps an inherent part of the human condition, and one that must be resisted lest it disfigure our perceptions and control our actions too greatly. The populist revolt symbolised by the surge across Europe by parties like the Sweden Democrats and in America by Donald Trump is both a product and driver of a kind of nostalgia that risks trapping us in a spiral of longing and bitter disenchantment. It represents a backlash against an ossified establishment nostalgia that has failed to deliver on its …

Why I’m Uneasy With the #MeToo Movement

For many women, the breaking of the Weinstein scandal has been a moment of catharsis and deferred justice. In the wake of the appalling revelations of rape and abuse, women were invited to detail their own experiences of sexual assault on social media under the #MeToo hashtag, and the subsequent outpouring of testimony was held up by some campaigners as proof that America is indeed a culture in which women are routinely victimised, and men are routinely complicit. Celebrity journalists and Hollywood stars have been named and shamed; denunciations have proliferated and shamefaced apologies have been offered; unsubstantiated spreadsheets listing alleged offenders have been circulated and leaked; and glittering careers and reputations are being reduced to powder overnight. But as someone who has experienced what many would perceive to be a sexual assault, the momentum of the #MeToo movement makes me uneasy. Before I explain why, I should tell my story and the lessons I learned along the way. Those lessons were painful and the price I paid was steep, but I emerged from the …

American Centrism Has Failed

Editor’s note: this essay is part of an ongoing series hosted by Quillette debating the merits and spirit of centrism. If you would like to contribute to respond to this essay or others in the series, please send a submission to pitch@quillette.com.   The American political centre, which supported Hillary Clinton and rejected all arguments of her corruption, was hit last week hit with a political blow that, in ordinary times, would be a scandal capable of unwinding the entire Democratic Party. Donna Brazile, the former chairperson of the DNC, blew the whistle on the primary process a year and a half too late, telling many Sanders supporters exactly what they had suspected – that the Clinton campaign had been running the DNC since 2015. When Elizabeth Warren flatly stated on CNN that the primary was ‘rigged’, any notion of centrist unity around Hillary Clinton fell apart. Consider the two politicians who have arguably received the most disdain from Donald Trump: Hillary Clinton and John McCain. What do they have in common? Despite being supposed partisan rivals, …

From Roosevelt to Trump: The Presidential Smile

Sometimes the little things are really the biggest. It may come off as a paradox, but nowhere is this truer than in that palace of power, the White House. When it comes to American Presidents, kinks and quirks can reveal more about the kind of leaders they are than heavy biographies and dusty archives. Scrutinising a President’s demeanour and bearing — with a keen eye and a perceptive mind — helps shine a glaring light on the virtues or failings of his character. As the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, once remarked, “Character is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” And what better marker of character is there than a smile? Smiling is a deceivingly simple act, perhaps even ubiquitous, yet it’s a highly expressive display of emotion. It’s immediately recognisable as a universal form of non-verbal communication, no matter the status or background of the recipient. So much so we don’t think when we see someone smile… we just feel. A smile is as much interpreted by the unconscious as it is produced …

The Implosion of Western Liberalism

“Western liberalism is under siege,” writes Edward Luce in his short new book, The Retreat of Western Liberalism. Whether it is under siege, retreating or imploding, there is no longer any doubt that it is embattled. To anyone over forty, moreover, this is a puzzling—and likely also disturbing—development. By the end of the twentieth century, liberal democracy seemed not only triumphant but, to some, inevitable. In the 1970s, Portugal, Greece and Spain closed the long chapter of European fascism. As the Soviets retreated from their satellites, democratic governments (more or less liberal) spread across central and eastern Europe. Through the 1990s, even Russia appeared to be moving closer to the Western consensus over individual human rights and popular representation through genuine, multi-party elections. In three decades (1970–2000), the number of democracies worldwide went from thirty to one hundred. Perhaps even China would liberalize, many Western leaders hoped, as it opened up to Western investment, belying its Marxist rhetoric with an increasingly capitalist reality. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama foresaw the possibility …

The Problems of “Privilege”: Lessons from the French Revolution

In recent years, ‘privilege’ has become an important concept in modern politics, academia, and popular culture. It appears in an increasing and disorienting number of forms, from male privilege and white privilege, to “gay privilege,” “black male privilege,” and “family privilege,” and these claims about privilege animate a wide array of political stances. Supporters of Hillary Clinton criticized voters for Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein as privileged radicals risking a Trump victory for the sake of inflexible principles. Supporters of the latter candidates returned fire, targeting Hillary voters as privileged centrists out of touch with America’s economic and racial inequalities. Donald Trump, of course, as countless media outlets insist, is (white, male) privilege personnifed; his supporters, meanwhile, are said to demonstrate the extent of their own privilege by denying that privilege exists. In the classroom and in the media, people are increasingly asked (or made) to measure, acknowledge, and strive to reduce their privilege. “Privilege studies” is a growing field, with more and more scholar-activists devoting themselves to its practice. In the midst of all …

How the Politics of the Left Lost Its Way

One hundred years ago, the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia and set up the first long-lasting Marxist government. The Russian Revolution’s impact was wide-ranging. One important – and overlooked – effect was how it changed the idea of the term “Left” in political terminology. Following the Bolshevik takeover, the term Left became more strongly associated with collectivism and public ownership. But originally the term Left meant something quite different. Indeed, collectivism or public ownership are not exclusive to the Left. The word fascism derives from the fasces symbol of Ancient Rome, a bundle of rods containing an axe, which signify collective strength. Another effect of 1917 was to undermine further the democratic credentials of the Left. These had already been undermined by early socialists such as Robert Owen, who had been opposed to democracy. After Soviet Russia and Mao’s China, part of the Left was linked to totalitarian regimes with human rights abuses, execution without trial, little freedom of expression and arbitrary confiscation of property. Origins of Left and Right The political terms Left and …