The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost. Liberals and liberalism are on the retreat. The western world that has politically changed little in three decades has been sent a tremendous shock with the dual seismic events of Donald Trump and the vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. For the first since at least President George H. W. Bush declared a “new world order” with the fall of the Soviet Union is that order in doubt.
The events of 2016 are stunning to most people. After all, if you would have told someone two years ago that the UK would have left the EU and Donald Trump would be president after running on a populist-nationalist platform they would have thought you were mad. However, if one studies history, such events are not unprecedented. In fact, they are not surprising, especially if one is paying attention to the mood of the ordinary people. Unfortunately, for rulers however, they rarely are paying attention to the people, and that is why they are so often toppled by strange forces (whether it be the French Revolution, 1849 or the Bolshevik Revolution for example) they had never given a second thought to.
Liberalism, however, is unlikely to be wiped out like the French Bourbons or the Tsar. Nor is it desirable it be so, as liberalism has been a mostly positive force in human history. However, it is imperative it reform so that its demise does not undermine the stability of the west and of the whole world. For the historical analogy most comparable to Liberalism’s present state, I think it best we look back 500 years ago to Christendom and the dawn of the Reformation.
Contrary to what is often taught today, Christendom brought stability and order to the chaotic void left by the fall of the Roman Empire. It gave a sense of morality to the barbaric tribes that roamed Europe. Though it had many faults, by the late Middle Ages Christendom was a place where civilisation was beginning to return. Universities such as Oxford, Bologna, Salamanca and Paris were established. The old forgotten knowledge of the Greeks and Romans were being rediscovered which led to the Renaissance emerging in Italy. G.R. Stirling Taylor, author of Robert Walpole and His Age further stated that: “The mediaeval society, taken as a whole, had been perhaps the most stable institution that man has yet produced; to which our transition commercialised world is as tin chapel to a gothic cathedral.” Why then, if society was improving so much did the Reformation happen? Again, Stirling gives us our answer: “[The Church of Rome] had made one most serious error in its attempt to train the human mind: it had forbidden mankind to think; it had ordered its children to obey; it had kept them in dogmatic cradles, until it had lost the power of intelligent movement.” Thus, with the intellectual rigidity of the Church, along with the rampant corruption of much of the powerful figures in the Church, the absolutely unthinkable happened- people revolted and the Church lost their intellectual and temporal dominance of a sizeable portion of the formerly united Christendom.
A similar phenomena is occurring today with Liberalism (or what Socialists call “Neoliberalism”). With its roots in enlightenment thought as well as the philosophy of John Stuart Mill, the Liberal philosophy has been mostly good for western civilisation. It has empowered formerly subservient groups to be free to pursue the life of their choosing. It has created a society that is the most tolerant and outward looking in human history. It ideologically triumphed over the twin evil philosophies of Communism and Fascism in the 20th century. It has simultaneously led to enriching people as entrepreneurs and lifting people out of poverty the world over at a rate never been seen in human history. However, like the Church of the 16th Century, Liberalism is undergoing serious problems.
As with any dominant and unchallenged institution, whether it be the Church of Rome of the Reformation or the Roman Empire of Antiquity, an institution unchallenged begins to become intolerant, lazy, and corrupt. Liberalism today, far from being the traditional pluralistic philosophy is extremely intolerant. It is intolerant of traditional western belief sets. Its adherents believe anyone who believes in a future involving nations or traditional religious beliefs is a dinosaur and has no place in their 21st century world. People who dare to dislike the European Union or hold traditional social beliefs (whether they be at values or the way of viewing history) or are patriotic are not only not people debated with, but are to be shouted down. Which goes to the laziness of Liberalism today. Everyone who disagrees with the new orthodoxy is branded a racist, a sexist, a bigot, a homophobe a ____phobe, you name it, i.e. the modern equivalent of a heretic. As Jonathan Pie brilliantly pointed out in his post-US election rant, people are not debated with anymore- they are just brow-beaten to believing what is considered the right thing with no intellectual effort. Finally, all of this new liberal orthodoxy might appeal to ordinary people if its adherents practiced what they preached. But most liberal leaders are hypocritical. Rather than free markets people see their leaders cutting deals with powerful corporations who have access to government and often enriching themselves. They see people lecturing about Climate Change while flying around the globe in private jets. They see people banging on about free speech (for themselves) but then no-platforming speakers who they disagree with and creating “safe spaces” to hide from objectionable heretical views. They see liberals hatefully tweeting every five seconds but demanding the police censor twitter handles and curtail the right-leaning press under the guise that their opponents’ beliefs are “hate speech.” They see that small business owners going through a maze of regulations, high taxes, and lectures about their employees pay, while bigger corporations pay low taxes through loop holes and pay their workers little in countries that have little regulation. They see their leaders launching their countries into expensive distant wars that are fought not to win but to make the leaders look virtuous. In other words- people have seen the Liberal bishops are not celibate.
So if modern Liberalism is so rotten why not overthrow the lot of it? Why not crush the hypocritical system into oblivion? My answer to that question is largely two-fold.
First off, history is littered with ancien regimes being replaced with something far worse. During periods of discontent, people will listen to anyone who feeds their anger- even if it means throwing the baby out with the bath water. In Europe, what replaced the monarchs immediately following their being deposed was usually demagogues. Going down the line from the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution to the rise of Hitler to the Spanish Civil War, the people who filled the power vacuum were individuals who could convince the people to give them power. Whether achieved through bloodshed or at the ballot box, demagogues obtained power through claiming to have all the answers (and thus no one else can be trusted because they are part of the establishment), by painting the situation to be as bleak as it possibly can be, and then promising to implement heaven on earth after being given the power. Demagogues pathologically lie because power, and usually only power, is their end goal. When they fail, it is always the evil “others” fault. This situation is of course not limited to the history of Europe- it can be witnessed first hand in Venezuela and North Korea (among other places) today. Going back to our original example, if one looks at the Reformation, many of the Reformers were rather revolutionaries who brought discord. G.R. Stirling said this of the affects of the sudden shock of the Reformation: “Sudden Revolutions are always disagreeable; reformers are usually very objectionable persons; and true progress has very little to do with adventurers. It is very unsurprising that the seventeenth century found England in disorder, rather than reformed.” The last thing the world needs is the western world in disorder.
Secondly, Liberalism has many virtues, if, like with Christianity, its original tenants are applied. Internationalism, when it does not trample upon sovereignty, should be celebrated. Free markets and free trade should be the norm. Education should be, as John Stuart Mill put in On Liberty, a marketplace of ideas. What should be swept away is the intolerance, laziness, and corruption of modern liberal elite.
Theresa May recently gave a brilliant speech on her belief that Britain can make globalisation work for everyone. The Prime Minister recognised Britain’s unique post-Brexit global role and opportunity to make liberalism and globalisation more compatible with ordinary people’s needs. She proposed reforming liberalism by emphasising free trade, curtailing immigration, and having government and business act in a way that helps recognise the untapped potential of people in communities suffering from the affects of the modern globalised economy- such as the American “rust belt” or much of Northern England. This speech is a fine blue print for action but I would go further than the Prime Minister in three more concrete policy suggestions.
1. Keep America engaged with the world
It is important that America not drift away from the world or worse, become a state hostile to much of the world. Though I traditionally support Republicans in American politics, I could not bring myself to support Donald Trump’s presidency due to his very nationalistic and hostile rhetoric and policy ideas as well as some of his very unsavoury supporters such as the white nationalist “alt-right.” However, Mr. Trump has now won the Presidency and it makes no sense to be hostile to him at the moment before he has passed any laws. Furthermore, Mr. Trump and his Republican allies are very keen on being favourable to Britain in a trade deal and in their support of Brexit. The government should pounce on the opportunity. The UK should not only wish to enter into a free-trade agreement with the US, but to possibly enter a multi-nation expanded NAFTA that could also include Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, as examples. Free trade with America will not only serve to make the UK wealthier and leverage the exit “deal” with the EU, but serve as a catalyst to act as a good friend and adviser to America. As a close friend to America, the UK can encourage the US to act in a moral and fair way on the world stage.
Encouraging America to act in a fair and moral way does not mean attempting to manipulate them to preserve the global status quo. Though much of what Trump is wrong, he does speak up for the correct notion that the US is “getting ripped off.” John Bolton, who could possibly be Mr. Trump’s Secretary of State, has rightly pointed out that European partners in NATO, (besides the UK), have failed to meet their military obligations to the alliance and has called on the US to modernise and expand the alliance to allies around the world, including Japan and Israel. If, in fact, the US does expel dead-weight European partners from NATO, or leaves the alliance to form a new one with friendly nations globally the UK should stick with the US. The Eurozone, frankly, is fast becoming an irrelevance and a basket case, and the US remains the world’s sole superpower. The UK must encourage the US to trade freely with the world and use their massive military power and clout to ensure world peace and stability. The worst situation for the world would be a Trump-Putin axis with the UK and most of the free world left alone and (comparatively) defenceless.
2. Regardless of how America acts, the UK should strengthen the Commonwealth to act as a global force for good
One fortunate thing for the UK is its enormous ties to the world due to the Commonwealth and its traditional connections with those 53 countries. With the Commonwealth, Great Britain has a unique forum to spread free trade and pluralism and “true” liberalism. The Commonwealth brings opportunities the EU never did, because it reaches people on all corners of the globe and can act as a true marketplace of trade and ideas without infringing on the sovereignty of the individual nation states. A Commonwealth that trades and co-operates together could be a beacon of light to the whole world of how liberal but free nation states of all backgrounds can live and trade together in peace. The Commonwealth could also serve as a possible alliance and network of nations against terrorism or even if a global war should ever befall the world again.
3. For reformed liberal globalisation to work however, domestic cultural changes must occur
Last month, I wrote that Brexit was just the end of the beginning of improving the politics and cultural structures of the Untied Kingdom. In order for Liberal society to survive not only in the United Kingdom, but around the world, it must be reformed. Reformation can come in many forms, but the biggest I see is bringing back a healthy and non-jingoistic pride in the UK and western culture in general. Instead of preaching the modern liberal belief that western society is fundamentally bad, we must teach our children in schools and popular culture of all the good the UK (and other western nations) has brought the world- from literature of Shakespeare to the science of Newton to the dawn of the industrial revolution to the abolition of slavery and the defeating of tyrannies ranging from Philip II to Hitler. We must further encourage free, uncensored speech and the press, and do away with authoritarianism that chills ideas and thoughts that leads to pent up anger we are seeing in ballot boxes all throughout the world at the moment. We must further write laws that encourage true free markets with low taxes and free trade, and that treats small businesses and large businesses, white collar and blue collar workers, equal under the law. Only through instituting dignity to our people at home, and making liberalism about respect rather than virtue-signalling, can we export liberty throughout the world.
As with all titanic historical changes, 2016 has instituted a lot of unknowns into our lives. Brexit is positive and restores sovereignty to the people of the United Kingdom. Trump’s presidency is an unknown, and might possibly be dangerous for our world’s stability. If our liberal world order is to survive, it must be reformed or else we may see a truly dangerous world. 500 years ago, the Reformation failed to resolve theological disagreements and led to horrible bloodshed, division, and a fractured Christendom and Christian religion. The UK, with its large clout in the world, has the ability to save Liberalism before its leads to a terrible schism. The UK must waste no time in leading a Reformation of liberal ideas not to split the free world, but to save it from the current liberal ideology that is falling apart.