29 June 2016

Post-Brexit: The Newfound Clarity of Purpose of the Ruling Class

The headline of this article in Foreign Policy yesterday is It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses. Contrary to my first impression, it is not just a satirical jab at the Remainers who can’t accept the vote. It is in earnest.

It is the clearest statement I’ve seen of the intentions of the ruling class at this time of crisis. They intend to deliberately curtail democracy and further entrench technocracy, and many people are lining up to support them: everyone who rejects the result of the Brexit vote, everyone marching with “I Love EU” placards, everyone who complains about the old and the poor sabotaging their children’s future, everyone who blames the rise of Donald Trump on the stupidity of the proles, everyone who repeats the vicious ageism and classism disguised as anti-racism or cosmopolitanism, everyone who sees the far Right threatening everywhere and in everything, everyone who thinks politics ought to be a matter for experts, big decisions being too difficult to be left to ordinary people.

It is exactly when things seem obvious that one is being swept along on an ideological tide. It is precisely when it seems socially acceptable among your friends to hold a group of people in contempt that you are falling for the most dangerous prejudices. It’s happening now.

But whatever side you’re on, it ought to be clear how misjudged Traub’s strategy is. One cannot solve a problem born of a resentment at elitist government, by piling on more elitist government (except through force).

I have to deal with a small problem at this point. Unfortunately, the article will be seized on by nutters as evidence of a New World Order conspiracy. I want to stress that I’m not making that case and that my analysis is not a conspiracy theory (I know they probably all say that, but hear me out). By “ruling class” I am not referring to a sinister cabal of the hyperpowerful, controlling world events according to a plan. There is no such cabal and no such plan, and I have no time for such theories—which, incidentally, always lead back to antisemitism (or lizards). Those in power are mostly as clueless and incompetent as anyone else—though they have moments of clarity, as exemplified by this article. When I say that it reveals the intentions of the ruling class, I don’t mean that a group of people called “the ruling class” had a summit and worked out this plan of action. I mean that there is an ideological trend that is gaining ground in the halls of power and growing in perceived legitimacy in parts of the wider society (the media, the academy, the liberal middle-class), and that such ideologies become guides to the decisions and actions of people in government and in transnational institutions.

And I hope I’m not over-dramatizing things. I’m not issuing dire warnings of civil war, and this article is not a call to arms except in the metaphorical sense: if we get back to debating rather than sneering at each other we can get through the coming crises peacefully and build something good out of this. So long as there is no credible alternative to capitalism, this is not the time for revolution or anything like that. Violent class conflict has been avoided before, in relatively benign and progressive ways, notably in the European and American post-war era.

Actually, I’m a bit torn on that point. I don’t want to be too soft and all let’s-hold-hands about it, because real divisions are being exposed that won’t just end in a draw. For my side there can be no compromise on democracy itself or on the very possibility of decision-making founded on open contestation in a living public sphere. And…this:

Those who speak of harmony and consensus should beware of what one might call the industrial chaplain view of reality. The idea, roughly speaking, is that there are greedy bosses on one side and belligerent workers on the other, while in the middle, as the very incarnation of reason, equity and moderation, stands the decent, soft-spoken, liberal-minded chaplain who tries selflessly to bring the two warring parties together. But why should the middle always be the most sensible place to stand? Why do we tend to see ourselves as in the middle and other people as on the extremes? After all, one person’s moderation is another’s extremism. People don’t go around calling themselves a fanatic, any more than they go around calling themselves Pimply. Would one also seek to reconcile slaves and slave masters, or persuade native peoples to complain only moderately about those who are plotting their extermination? What is the middle ground between racism and antiracism?
Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right

It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses

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