2016 has been a watershed year for many 'Liberals' - with its paradigm shifting events such as Brexit and Trump - but the writing was perhaps on the wall. And, it is not just an Anglo-American affair: There was Modi in India, Abe in Japan, Putin in Russia and Erdoğan in Turkey, not to mention the muscular turns in China or Philippines. Nor this ends with 2016: That Marine Le Pen still remains the Front Runner in France, the Swedish election is uncomfortably close, there is open racism on the streets of Poland and Hungary, and Italy is all set to go crazy too, indicate that 2016 is some sort of a start. The twilight of the Liberals may have arrived.
'Liberals' is a very imprecise category, and over the years, it has come to mean almost everything, resulting in a confusion who the liberals really were, and what they stood for. The traditional definition - that Liberals are not Conservatives - has long been superseded by a mishmash of agendas, and Liberals came to mean different things - small government advocates and big government advocates, social freedom champions and admirers of Stalin, all in one basket. So, who won and who lost in 2016 is somewhat difficult to define, and it is best to leave those definitional issues to future academic conferences and unreadable papers that would surely be churned. It is better to stick to a more pedestrian sense of the Liberal - those who went down in 2016 (and before) called themselves Liberals and those who hated them called them 'Liberals' too!
However, this definitional issue is not mere pedantry, but of some significance in arriving at an understanding what happened. Commentators, who call themselves 'Liberals' and clearly do not like what happened, are somewhat at a loss, as they see a 'Turkeys voting for Christmas' in real life: Poor people in America voting for Trump, towns in Britain dependent on European aid voting for Brexit or Muslims in Indian Uttar Pradesh voting for Mr Modi's party! Democracy seems to have reached its apotheosis, and, ideologies, even interests, stopped to matter: All electoral politics have been plunged into the deep despair of inexistence of alternatives. There is something the electorate has rejected, and is rejecting, but with limited capacity of self-criticism - which is a dangerous shortcoming when combined with a monopoly of criticism that 'Liberals' claimed to have - there is no way of knowing what is it they have rejected.
Some perceptive commentators see this as 'The Age of Anger', a romantic, emotional outburst against the overtly rationalistic technocracies that we overbuilt. The voter demographies seem to confirm some of it: Poor white voters without college education voting for Trump, the working class voters voting for Brexit, the Hindi heartland in India drooling over Modi, etc. But these pictures are constructed to confirm the theory - that this is an irrational departure - and at least in some cases, like the college-educated women voting for Trump, the Indian professionals in London voting for Brexit or Indian technical and scientific community voting for Modi, the awkward facts are airbrushed out of the conversation. The 'irrational' is the natural opposite of the 'rational', and this construction - that people with limited ability to reason has revolted against reason - provide both an explanation and a hope about the temporality of this departure (and makes sense of the extraordinary predictions game, indulged on by serious newspapers, about how long the Trump Presidency would last).
It is against this explanation, and this hope, that I wanted to offer my criticism, and claim that the events of 2016 - or, more broadly, the 'populist turn' - is not a romantic revolution, nor a parade of temporary self-destruction of the uneducated, and there may be no apocalypse, or even, a mild 'I-told-you-so' moment of self-gratification, in the end. What went before, if we call it the 'Liberal' age, is well and truly over, and it is not coming back. This end, of an era of optimism and expansion, set in motion since the 90s, is to be understood first in a self-critical way before we can participate, organise and resist the politics of today.
The politics since the 90s were built, I shall claim, on three fundamental principles: First, globalisation is good; second, there is a political class and then there is the rest of us; and three, technology is destiny. These three together gave us an unique and contemporary vision of modernity, in which history is made redundant and possibilities of self-creation looked boundless, creating, even if for a very brief moment (as it seems now) a phenomena that was made of the stuff of dreams of kings and courtiers: A people without politics! Politics seemed redundant as all politicians spoke the same language, and the forces that control our lives seemed distant and complex.
The 'Liberal' politics, as we call it now after its passing, was one of anti-politics. It was about creating the valences of the rhetoric, to make the political words, such as 'democracy' or 'secular', so expansive and oft-used that they are rendered meaningless. It was about creating a millennerian vision of an end and a new beginning, of old rules and values discarded without trace, of a fatalistic optimism about technological progress in an enthusiastic embrace; of leadership being a distinct craft left to the gifted and of concentrating on little joys of we as consumers instead. The global was to wipe our local clean, technology was to reform our practices, English was to become Lingua Franca (this one is not without irony) and all politics was to converge into a politics of convergence, of the centre, as it was called. The history of us since the 90s was one of not having one.
What people are revolting against now, primarily, is this anti-politics. They have been told - leave it to us - and they did; and life has not got better. They have been told about the dire consequences of not doing what they were told to do, but they were told, perhaps, just too many times. The revolt now is one of revolt itself, of politics against the lack of it, of local against global, of history - what else can you call Brexit - against not having one. The Liberal failure is not one of not educating people, but of making education all style and no substance. It is about promoting a future that is independent of politics, and of responsibility. Once we edited out the stories of all the trouble people took to gain their freedom, of all those painful steps of progress and instead promoted the magic of technology to bring a future into being, we made the world bland, unidirectional, shorn of agency and taken for granted.
What happens now is a return of History. This is that George Santayana moment of being doomed to repeat history because of our ignorance of it. The politics-less of our being is being swept away by an urgency of political action, of false hopes first, and then of activism. This has been the course of political change, so many times in history. This is a point of realisation of the futility of millennial promise - that History can plausibly end - and a return of possibilities in our political lives. It matters who you call Liberal: Those who look to build the future should rejoice the moment and give a hand in reconstructing the possibilities.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was gui
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
As India's democracy reaches a critical juncture, with a very real danger of a authoritarian take-over, Rabindranath Tagore's birth anniversary is a perfect occasion to revisit the founding idea of India once again. There are many things in his politics that we may need to dust up and reconsider: Tagore's political ideas, because of his inherent aversion of popular nationalism and enthusiasm about Pan-Asianism and universalism, were outside the mainstream of the Indian National Movement, seen as impractical and effectively shunned. He was seen mostly as the Poet and the mystic, someone whose politics remains in the domain of the ideas rather than action. Tagore himself, after a brief passionate involvement in politics during the division of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905, withdrew from political action: He never belonged to the political class, despite his iconic status and itinerant interventions, such as returning the Knighthood after the massacre of Amritsar in 1919.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.