The trouble with 'Liberalism'

Going back isn't the best way to go forward. But that's exactly why the keepers of the existing world order, besieged by popular discontent, want to do: They are desperately clinging onto the Nineteenth and early Twentieth century labels, such as 'Liberalism' and 'Progressive Politics'. All those victories and persistent popularity of Messers Trump, Johnson, Putin, Modi, Bolsonaro etc. have pushed them into such a corner that they would now accept as fellow liberals anyone who finds any of these developments disagreeable. Almost everyone except die-hard communists and Islamic fundamentalists perhaps - everyone else is welcome to the party!

Apart from the impossibility to seeing complex contemporary developments through the outdated and intentionally distorted lens of nineteenth-century liberalism, this also results in a misdiagnosis. The democratic crisis that we face today is very much a crisis of those liberal principles. The liberal world order is in a crisis of its own making, rather than an exogenous bad-guy situation. The principles of the past don't have the answer; going back to the cosy politics of yesteryear, which indeed led us to this point, is hardly how one should confront this crisis. There is a straight line from Blair to Boris, Clinton to Trump, Rajiv to Modi and Deng to Xi; denial of this is a wilful misrepresentation by self-interested commentators.

I believe that the Liberal models distort the economic, social and political realities and therefore, have no answer to the changes that are taking place today.

On the economic front, the great battle-cry of Liberals against inequality is centred around the great wealth of a handful of the billionaires. These people, who indeed own disproportionate wealth, are usually portrayed as winners in an unfair system, a system that liberals would want to reform by raising taxes and closing loopholes. But, while there is no denying that the system is unfair and some people are indeed too rich (Bill Gates seems almost embarrassed), there are two big problems with this economic picture. 

First, the wealth of these billionaires come as much from the expropriation of state assets handed to them by cosy liberal governments as that from tax loopholes. Indeed, liberals also know that raising taxes and implementing them to cut down the super-billionaires to size is impossible, as their purses dominate the legislative bodies, courts are designed to protect property rights (a cherished liberal principle) and capital flows are global in nature (another liberal creation). So, for all the tax-talk, the Liberals are really aiming for an honourable defeat, a nineteenth-century ideal but one that hollowed out in the twentieth. 

Second, the 1%, or 0.001% as it really is, is not directly responsible for the current problem: The paucity of hope of progress and the breakdown of social mobility! For this, the responsibility lies squarely with those 'dream hoarders', the well-to-do professional middle classes who keep neighbourhoods exclusive, send their children to private schools and resist at all costs middle-class taxation.  Indeed, these are the liberals, the experts who claim that they can return us to the nineteenth century golden age when everyone would have had hopes to progress. But they would not want to send their children to state schools, and rather pay thousands of dollars for exam prep for entry into one of the ever so exclusive ranked universities. For this group, social mobility is just an excuse for own advancement - they can't be trusted with lifting all boats!

If the liberal economic formula is hopeless, so is their social diagnosis. They project a profound sense of crisis in the increasingly assertive, majoritarian turn in politics, not so subtly claiming that the idiots and the bigots are ruling the day. But it is their politics of identity, fracturing the society into niché labels and picking up fights everywhere, that allowed such an absurd majority to emerge. Since the attention-hungry media amplifies everything, Liberals have ended up overstating almost every case they have taken on. In the name of multiculturalism and tolerance, they have allowed the most extreme practices and ideas of the 'supposed' minority groups to persist. From their panopticon vantage point, the idiosyncrasies of minority life seemed marginal and unimportant; the trouble is that the local realities, where the minority can appear to be the majority, looked very different.

Finally, politics have also failed liberals. There was always something dubious about the faith in independent institutions, in the neutrality and professionalism of the experts. The historical experience has proved time and again that institutions get taken over and corrupted, and indeed, need painful 'cultural revolution' from time to time (Jefferson understood this when he argued that the constitution should be torn up and rewritten from generation to generation); but detached institutions rule out such a possibility in the first place. The experts have proved to be, like any other individual in an acquisitive society, self-interested and easily corruptible: No big surprises there! 

The final desperate rhetorical turn of the liberal apologists is to claim that while these solutions fall short of the ideal, there are no other alternatives: Everybody who hates the fascists must join the Liberal camp! But these are failed solutions and Fascists are just a logical conclusion of liberal politics. True, the alternative ideas are still in the future, but turning to the past for solutions will be to close our minds and limit our possibilities too soon. We must know that trying the same solutions again and again and expecting different results is the very definition of stupidity.










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