Two op-eds have caught my eye today.
The first by Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times and reproduced in the AFR:
The idea that the middle-class and the young will always be the most stalwart supporters of democracy is also looking increasingly rocky.
The erosion of democratic values in the west was outlined last year in a much-discussed article by the academics Roberto Foa and Yascha Mounk, writing before the election of Donald Trump. The article highlighted the rise of anti-democratic sentiments in both the US and Europe.
Rachman describes democracy in broad terms – so not just regular election, but including the norms of western civilisation like the rule of law and so on.
Joseph Schumpeter argued:
Lawless violence the bourgeois stratum may accept or even applaud when thoroughly roused or frightened, but only temporarily.
Western values are being eroded because we have failed to practice those values. For a generation (or more) we have become accustomed to being frightened. Our governments have made full use of “the crisis” to introduce draconian legislation, to give itself greater powers to “protect” us from danger. The routine reversal of the onus of proof, the removal of the right to silence, the expansion of the administrative state, etc. etc. are all mechanisms whereby our own democratic institutions have undermined their own legitimacy. If our own institutions do not practice and uphold our own values why are we surprised to see them eroding.
That brings me to the second op-ed; Bret Stephens writing in the WSJ:
There was a time when the West knew what it was about. It did so because it thought about itself—often in freshman Western Civ classes. It understood that its moral foundations had been laid in Jerusalem; its philosophical ones in Athens; its legal ones in Rome. It treated with reverence concepts of reason and revelation, freedom and responsibility, whose contradictions it learned to harmonize and harness over time. It believed in the excellence of its music and literature, and in the superiority of its political ideals. It was not ashamed of its prosperity. If it was arrogant and sinful, as all civilizations are, it also had a tradition of remorse and doubt to temper its edges and broaden its horizons. It cultivated the virtue of skepticism while avoiding the temptation of cynicism.
And it believed all of this was worth defending—in classrooms and newspapers and statehouses and battlefields.
We’ve since raised generations to believe none of this, only to be shocked by the rise of anti-Western politics. If you want children to learn the values of a civilization that can immunize them from a Trump, a Le Pen or a Lavrov, you can start by teaching it.
I realise that it is becoming incresingly popular to blame our civilisational and cultural malaise on immigration and “peaceful invasion” and the like, but both of these arguments suggest that we should look to ourselves. These two authors are speaking in terms of Donald Trump’s election. One of them, at least – I think, sees his election as a cause of collapse, many around here see his election as the solution to collapse, while I think is is merely a symptom.