‘Defenders of the open world order need to make their case more forthrightly. They must remind voters why NATO matters for America, why the EU matters for Europe, how free trade and openness to foreigners enrich societies, and why fighting terrorism effectively demands co-operation. Too many friends of globalisation are retreating, mumbling about “responsible nationalism”. Only a handful of politicians… are brave enough to stand up for openness. Those who believe in it must fight for it.’
Paradigm shifts are like Berkeley’s proverbial trees; they exist only when someone has the prescience or insight to give them voice. A political shift has been brewing for some time in the growing Western appetite for populism and the increasingly embattled liberalism that counters it; throwing mud in the face of traditional labels and tribes as it has progressed. No longer easy bedfellows with globalisation, democracy has this year, The Economist observes, ‘helped elect an ultranationalist government in Hungary and a Polish one that offers a Trumpian mix of xenophobia and disregard for constitutional norms. Populist, authoritarian European parties of the right or left now enjoy nearly twice as much support as they did in 2000, and are in government or in a ruling coalition in nine countries.’
If the struggle for individuals has been to politically re-locate ourselves through the old lens of Left and Right, Old and New – to confront and reconcile, in the face of Capitalism’s recent failures, difficult realities and increasingly incompatible values, as Martin Wolf explores in this excellent piece – it has also been to articulate this re-location. In more ways than one, 2016 has struck us politically dumb.
Not for the first time, The Economist has come to our aid. In its article ‘The new political divide’, it concisely articulates the new fault lines of global politics: ‘Farewell, left versus right. The contest that matters now is open against closed.’ Open to the world, or building walls to keep it out. A line has been drawn, and its implications – for the way we must understand ourselves and our role in this new reality – are vast.
Labels count in this fight. Uncertainty of our party, our place or our politics has drained our focus and ability to effectively counter the biggest threat to the things we hold dear – ‘The multilateral system of institutions, rules and alliances… [that] has underpinned global prosperity for seven decades.’ While far from perfect, ‘It enabled the rebuilding of post-war Europe, saw off the closed world of Soviet communism and, by connecting China to the global economy, brought about the greatest poverty reduction in history.’ Opennes bridges the Left and the Right; to win in the fight, our efforts must reflect this. A united definition is the first step to a united front.
The second, as The Economist powerfully argues, is to stop apologising for what’s flawed, and fight for what’s right. A recurring feature of modern hand-wringing liberalism, this language of equivocation and moderation is the rhetorical equivalent of a wet towel. It might quell flames, but it won’t light fires. Brexit is hard proof of that. In being Open, there are challenges to meet and problems to own; but building walls is not the answer.