The role of liberals in the rise of authoritarianism

The role of liberals in the rise of authoritarianism

John Gray writes:

The denial by liberals of any responsibility for the conditions that have fuelled rising anti-liberal movements is the cardinal fact of contemporary politics. What this denial presages is not any higher phase of history – a revamped liberal order, or some purer version of socialism – but a new authoritarian era. The world has reverted to a condition not dissimilar to that which prevailed towards the end of the 19th century. Harnessing unchanging human needs for security and identity, great powers are deploying new technologies in the pursuit of primacy and survival.

As during the Cold War, this is a period in which there is no longer any clear distinction between war and peace. But this is not a struggle whose prize is ideological victory. As in the pre-1914 world the goals are power and profit won on battlegrounds of ethnic and religious conflict. At the same time, politics is being shaped by the return of the worst pathologies of the early 20th century. Not only on the far-right but also in progressive parties and movements, political poisons from the past are being recycled in new and virulent forms.

The renormalisation of anti-Semitism is part of this process. In France, Marine Le Pen was able to command over a third of the votes in the run-off in last May’s French presidential election after reverting to the hate-driven politics of her father in the closing phase of her campaign, when she denied French responsibility for the notorious Vel D’Hiv round-up in July 1942, in which 13,000 Jews were arrested and confined in a Paris sports arena before being sent to their deaths in camps. [Continue reading…]

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