“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”.
Budapest, Hungary, 21 March. Plato’s Republic is in many ways a treatise against political extremism. There is an argument to be made that the ‘extremist’ Great Revolt against the Old West’s liberal, mainstream elite began here in Hungary. Long suspicious of Brussels control-freakery the 2015 migration crisis saw a full-on revolt from Viktor Orban’s government and much of the Hungarian population against EU fiat. Since then the West has seen Brexit and the election of President Trump. And yet, on the face of it at least, last week’s Dutch elections suggest that the ‘populist wave’ (whatever that is) might just be on the wane. Think again. So, why is the West at war with itself?
Sad bustard that I am I spent much of yesterday afternoon glued to CNN watching the testimony of FBI Director, James Coney and NSA Director, Admiral James Rogers. To be honest, I had tuned in to hear about how Russia had allegedly conducted a sustained campaign against the 2016 US presidential elections. Instead, I was treated to several hours of absurdly partisan questioning that had little or nothing to do with the purported mission of the House Intelligence Committee; to understand more about the FBI’s investigation into alleged collusion between members of the Trump campaign and President Putin’s Russia.
What was far more illuminating was the commentary thereafter. Democrats tried to suggest that President Trump is all but guilty of some form of treason. Republicans, by and large, painted the testimony as an attempt to smear the President. A few commentators suggested it was a good day for the American constitution because checks and balances were being seen to work, whilst others said the only winner was Putin. All avoided the real question; how on earth did America, and by extension, the Old West get into this mess?
To answer that poser one has to travel closer to home – the Netherlands. The Dutch campaign was fascinating. You have to hand it to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. He is the ultimate bendy-rubber politician. To see off a challenge from the hard-right Geert Wilders liberal Rutte tacked hard right in his campaign, at one point telling Dutch Muslims effectively to ‘get normal or get out’, on another occasion forcibly expelling one of President Erdogan’s ministers from the Netherlands, a most un-Dutch act.
Rutte is nothing if not smart. He realised a fundamental truism (tortology?); if the mainstream do not deal with the legitimate concerns of vast numbers of perfectly reasonable citizens who fear the big change they are living at some point out of desperation they will look to the had right and hard left of the political spectrum. In other words, the reason there is a crisis in the centre of Old West politics is because for too long the centre has been incompetent. The good news is that the moment a mainstream politician such as Rutte, or Theresa May in the UK, appears (and I stress appears) to deal with the big issues voters stream back to the centre.
Let me be Euro-parochial for a moment. The three main political issues in Europe are mass immigration, money, and who actually holds power. For years the mainstream has hidden behind the Blairite myth that globalisation is an unstoppable force and that people must embrace it or be engulfed by it. This is nonsense. The Great Revolt happened for three reasons: the mainstream liberal elite failed to understand just how deep national identity runs; they also failed to grasp just how strong the simple idea that in a democracy one should not only know who decides policy, but actually have the chance to vote directly for them; and because the elite itself in Europe became a caste apart from the people.
The Old West is the home of the old democracies. Democracies need effective centrists to preserve effective democracy. Whatever the short-term allure of the political fringes at times of stress, such as now, the sheer complexity of the world today is that simple prescriptions are as unlikely to succeed, as the pie-in-the-sky theorists who have driven the centre to political self-destruction.
It is not centrism per se that is needed, but effective centrism that meets the concerns of a majority of people whilst helping them at the same time prepare them for the future. That means in turn politicians willing to re-embrace patriotism (dirty word amongst much of the elite), globalism, and realism at one and the same time, and strike a politically acceptable balance between them. In practice that means recognition of the importance of immigration for economic progress, but clear, demonstrable, and effective limits on it. It means fiscal and monetary policies that enriches people, not impoverishes them. The Euro has been an unmitigated disaster precisely because it is an elite political project that defies economic logic and which can only survive at the expense of the very people it is meant to support. It means recognition that for most people the nation-state remains the core of identity, and that they expect it to be the focus of democracy, security, and defence. Finally, it means serving the needs of the majority as well as protecting minorities.
The inference from yesterday’s testimony on the Hill was that President Putin is waging a successful war against the Old democracies. That is wrong. The Old West and an out of touch mainstream elite simply make it too easy for him to cause mischief. Plato would certainly have understood that. After all, the Old West is Athens, whilst Putin is Sparta. That begs a further question. Where is the next Rome?