The left loses the world’s cultural wars
Five years ago, demagogues waging a cultural war against metropolitan elites and minorities broke into mainstream politics in Britain and the United States. The result was Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Eric Zemmour’s meteoric rise as challenger to French President Emmanuel Macron confirms that vicious culture wars have become at the heart of major Western political democracies.
More worryingly, liberals and progressives invested in economic and social progress are too disunited and distracted by factional struggles to effectively combat these prophets of decline and sellers of ethno-racial regeneration. The hearts of Western democracy are thus becoming more and more dysfunctional, and the language of majoritarianism takes hold of public discourse.
Sentenced twice by the French courts for inciting racial hatred, Zemmour believes that France is overwhelmed by Muslims and that an unpatriotic media “constantly spits” on French history and culture. Solicited by Macron himself for his point of view on immigration during the shift of French political culture to the right, Zemmour was recently carried by his appearances in the French version of Fox News. Even if he does not become president, he has already played the crucial role that Nigel Farage played in British politics: consolidating voters behind white nationalism and forcing established parties to satisfy them.
What does this convergence of styles of government reveal with demagoguery in France, the United Kingdom and the United States? On the one hand, the traditional political categories and the left and right constituencies have dissolved.
In recent months, for example, when old-fashioned Tories were in dismay, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has radically reshuffled the Tory Party for a more desperate and ideologically promiscuous era. Offering to raise corporate taxes, he offers voters a quasi-socialist program of lavish public spending in what he calls “one of the most unbalanced societies and unbalanced economies.”
Like Trump, Johnson works with the intuition that today the most crucial political divide exists between those who have benefited from three decades of turbulent globalization – largely well-educated urban classes – and those who have not. not profited. Elections, it seems, will be won by those who can get enough votes among those left behind.
The dominant political parties that once advanced economic and social liberalism – Democrats and Republicans in the United States, socialists and center-right in France, and Conservative and Labor parties in Britain – have struggled since the 2008 financial crisis to to heal the disaffection of their societies. Amid widespread bewilderment, fanciful and often marginal figures such as Trump, Johnson and Zemmour bypassed party political processes to rally older voters in suburbs, cities and rural areas.
None of these impresarios has a coherent plan to make their nation great again. But then, a thoughtful economic policy does not seem adequate to the voters seized by existential fears. Shameless supremacists have found in culture wars – essentially, the baiting of racial and ethnic minorities and their supposedly ‘awakened’ patrons among metropolitan elites, as well as the boasting of national, racial and civilizational glory – a reliable political resource.
Rooted in false promises and fiery slogans (“Take back control!” “Build the wall!”), This radicalized political culture is difficult to uproot, as evidenced by President Joe Biden’s current struggles with the toxic legacy of the Trumpism.
The most flexible and resourceful forces shaping politics today appear to be on the right, while the traditional liberal-left opposition is in disarray. Some of the ideas of the progressive left rejected during three decades of triumphant neoliberalism have reappeared in the political prescriptions of the Biden administration. But the left, confined to academia and small sectors of the political establishment, media and think tanks, cannot begin to match the institutional mass and ideological reach of the right.
There is no left-wing version of Fox News, or even left-wing media platforms that come close to the vast echo chambers of the right. Nor do liberals and leftists have an enthusiastic retort to the region and country’s emotional invocation of the right, no galvanizing symbols to match the freshly powerful myths of national and racial glory.
Liberals, defenders of an international order, cannot persuasively synchronize white nationalist bromids against immigrants, refugees and Muslims. The self-proclaimed “centrists” began to blame the “awakened” left for their own political failures. But rowdy blame games that attribute leftists more influence than they have, distract from the real forces that pollute the public and private spheres with despicable conspiracy theories and prejudices.
The implications are grim: the right in the US, UK and France ruthlessly sets the parameters for political cultures, while liberals and leftists bicker with each other. Zemmour is unlikely to be the last demagogue to push Western democracy further down the path of majority rule.