I have refrained from talking about Donald Trump’s electoral victory partly because everyone else has not so refrained, and there are enough words out there to sink – or launch – a battleship.
My conviction, politically, is that social democracy, however defined, has had the greatest success in bringing the greatest contentment, productivity and social advances of any major political philosophy in the history of mankind, rooted as it is in some very fundamental factors – the desire to support and help one another that is part of whom God created us to be, and the desire to be with each other, because in that way we reflect more of the character of the Trinity into our society. It is a wholly constructive, basically unselfish setting aside of our own desires to serve the common good, that has been authored and sponsored by people, mainly on the left, who have fought hard since, probably, 1848, for its place as a serious political philosophy against the rise of fascism, militarism and communism. It has had some great manifestations, and has been a hallmark of peaceable international relationships in Europe for two generations. Lately, and devastatingly, it has also of late fallen foul of a strong neo-liberal philosophical position that has its main manifestations in such things as the G7 meetings, the G20 and the World Economic Forum held annually at Davos. The story of how and why well-meaning social democracies in Europe fell headlong into the inequalities of neo-liberalism is best told in two books: Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land and Yanis Varoufakis’ And the weak must suffer what they must?
I have re-read the first last month and finished the second last week. Both together constitute a serious polemic on behalf of a renewed social democracy of the sort that would create jobs as a public investment, that would see a wholly responsible, compassionate role for the state that stood its ground against the banking sector and did not think it a good idea to steal from the poorest, as European governments (including ours) have done, in order to fund massive bailouts to the banks. Both books make me angry and both make me understand why Americans in their droves voted for the one of the most uncouth, untutored, uncultured, unsuitable leaders on the planet. Varoufakis’ book is a must-read for anyone who, like me, finds the terminology of the trading floor indecipherable, and has no real clue about how international finance has played out in the last 60 years since the Bretton Woods conference set up the post-war international finance system in 1944.
Then today I have read an excellent article by George Monbiot on the Guardian website that fundamentally reaches the same set of conclusions as Judt and Varoufakis. Like Judt, Monbiot focuses on the negative political philosophy of Friedrich Hayek (in particular his book The Constitution of Liberty, 1960, beloved of, and carried around by, Margaret Thatcher) and its impact on the Chicago group of economists that came from Hayek, and upon Reaganism, Thatcherism and their inheritors, so that competition was seen as key in the markets, that inequality did not have much political significance, that markets should not be interfered with, and that it was the right and duty of every individual to have the “freedom” to get as rich as they could.
This is, sorry, a vile philosophy that is wrong about humanity (it is only right about our worst instincts, not our best) and which does nothing to recognise the social nature of man, or the willingness that we have to be compassionate and reach out to support and help others. Monbiot sees a huge irony in the fact that in the widespread voter repudiation of the political class’ enthrallment to the banks and to wealth (at the expense of the poor) the Americans have elected a man whose values are very close to that espoused by Hayek:
If the dominant ideology stops governments from changing social outcomes, they can no longer respond to the needs of the electorate. Politics becomes irrelevant to people’s lives; debate is reduced to the jabber of a remote elite. The disenfranchised turn instead to a virulent anti-politics in which facts and arguments are replaced by slogans, symbols and sensation. The man who sank Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency was not Donald Trump. It was her husband.
The paradoxical result is that the backlash against neoliberalism’s crushing of political choice has elevated just the kind of man that Hayek worshipped. Trump, who has no coherent politics, is not a classic neoliberal. But he is the perfect representation of Hayek’s “independent”; the beneficiary of inherited wealth, unconstrained by common morality, whose gross predilections strike a new path that others may follow. The neoliberal thinktankers are now swarming round this hollow man, this empty vessel waiting to be filled by those who know what they want. The likely result is the demolition of our remaining decencies…
Monbiot concludes with this intriguing statement which has some profound theological implications.
(We) can discern what may be the beginning of a story. It’s too early to say much yet, but at its core is the recognition that – as modern psychology and neuroscience make abundantly clear – human beings, by comparison with any other animals, are both remarkably social and remarkably unselfish. The atomisation and self-interested behaviour neoliberalism promotes run counter to much of what comprises human nature. Hayek told us who we are, and he was wrong. Our first step is to reclaim our humanity.
Reclaiming our humanity may be, at root, something of what the revolt against the elites has been about. We are not numbers or economic units, but real people with real voices and real desires that count, and must count, in a democracy.
If Trump has in any way begun to recognise this, see it for what it is, and enact policies that meet the need, then there may be hope for the US. Otherwise, it looks awfully dark over there.