Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A Great Variety of Morbid Symptoms

Nick Cohen might at last be starting to get it:

Whoever first came up with the saying, “the left won the culture war, the right won the economic war and the centre won the political war,” deserves some kind of prize for encapsulating the politics of the late 20th century. It is a sign of the extent of the shock the current crisis has brought that none of this trio of truisms now holds true.

The left won the culture war?

So it once appeared. But look at the boomerang that has whirled back through the air and smacked the children of the 1960s in the face. As liberal-leftists they knew that racists, homophobes and misogynists were bad people with terrible ideas and so they built a cultural order that accepted excessive restrictions on free speech to protect marginalised groups. They ought to know better now. Because they decided that they must do more than fight bad ideas with better ideas, and allowed “offence” rather than actual harm to be grounds for censorship, they could not defend liberalism against Islamists, who were indeed a marginalised group but also racists, homophobes and misogynists.

The right won the economic war?

So it seemed until 2008, now the right’s policy of allowing banks to run riot and extremes of wealth to build up at the top of society without compensating pay rises for the middle and working classes has left half-ruined economies awash with debt. I think it is fair to say that conservatives have yet to come to terms with the collapse of their illusions.

The centre won the political war?

Well, that victory turned out to be short-lived, and not only because the centre combined leftish cultural attitudes and conservative economic policies. The crisis in the Eurozone is most emphatically a crisis of the political centre. This why the journalists with the most awkward questions to answer are not my colleagues at the leftish Guardian and Observer, whose number have always included Larry Elliott, William Keegan and other clear-headed Eurosceptics but the reporters of that most centrist of organisations, the BBC, who failed in its duty to question the received wisdom of the European elite. A measure of the failure of the centre can be found in this fine piece from the current issue of Der Spiegel on the disillusion of the young:

"And now those who in the past showed very little interest for the European Commission, the Parliament and the bureaucracy in Brussels -- because they assumed that they weren't expected to be interested in these things -- are reading daily about the strange things European statesmen have done with the European idea: things like circumventing their own regulations, falsifying statistics and breaking promises. They are responsible for an impressive number of rule breaches and untruths. Can anyone blame Europeans who, in the last few months, have learned more about Europe than they ever wanted to know, for being distraught -- to put it mildly -- over what their governments have done in their names and with their money?"

Everyone is searching for a new order but no one seems to know what it will look like. If I may quote the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, in a Tory journal, he said in the 1930s that “the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”. Given Europe’s recent history, we can expect the symptoms of its latest crisis to be very morbid indeed.

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