I now think my last post may have been a little too rosy. I hadn’t appreciated quite how far the reaction against democracy, in America in particular, and quite explicitly, had gone. Here’s a quote from Jonathan Freedland’s superb long essay in the Guardian this morning. It had me spluttering over my Cheerios.
The World Values Survey of 2011 included a stunning figure. It found that 34% of Americans approved of “having a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress or elections”, the figure rising to 42% among those with no education beyond high school. It’s worth reading that again, to let it sink in. It means that one in three US voters would prefer a dictator to democracy. Those Americans are not repudiating this or that government, but abandoning the very idea of democracy itself.
That, note, was five years ago – pre-Trump. And there’s more. Here’s a link to the article: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/19/welcome-to-the-age-of-trump. It’s well worth reading in full.
Of course (to my mind) this is really a reaction against unrestrained capitalism, and the fact that the existing structures of democracy have failed, or perhaps been unable, to keep the beast in check. The danger, of course, is that it attracts voters who aren’t fully aware of this, and put the blame on liberal democracy itself. That’s what I believe happened in Europe in the 1930s. It’s currently closer to fruition than I used to think, in the America characterised – if not yet fully represented – by Trumpery; and can be seen in other forms, more suited to local regional identities, in Britain and across Continental Europe and Russia.
In Britain it takes the comic forms I emphasised last time. This has always been the secret weapon of the British Establishment: its blessed ‘eccentricity’. (Vide Monty Python, et al.) But don’t be fooled. That’s how the upper classes have always managed to survive: by persuading people in revolutionary times that they’re just too silly to be worth guillotining. They then lie low for a generation or two, change their feudal spots for capitalist ones, and pop up later. If we do get a Fascist dictator in the future he (or she) will be a scion of the old Public school-educated aristocracy. As, of course, our 1930s failed Fascist Führer, Sir Oswald Mosley, Bart – Winchester and Sandhurst – was.
Frankly I can’t see any of the present crop of leading politicians filling that slot – not even Johnson or Osborne or May. But one could emerge from the dark depths of the Tory or Ukip (or even Labour) backbenches; if Labour doesn’t sort itself out soon, and present a convincing and properly democratic solution to our present woes.