Revue de Presse: December 1

Tocqueville 21
1 December 2019

The crisis of liberalism lies in its inability to explain modern phenomena, Katrina Forrester argues in The Guardian. Attempting to understand the turbulent politics of recent years, liberals often point to a decline in norms and civility. Meanwhile, their calls for a more civilized politics often lead to little but a shrinking voting base for liberal parties. For Forrester, what is needed today is less a “revival” of liberalism than a new conception of it capable of reckoning with the fundamental ideological, social, and economic that has given us the likes of Brexit and Trump.

 

Meanwhile, with Brexit looming overhead, British voters have a choice between “Johnson plus Brexit” and “Corbyn plus two referendums” (i.e., second referendums on Brexit and Scottish independence). As David Runciman writes in the London Review of Books, this is a choice that is unlikely to lead to a satisfactory outcome regardless of who comes out on top. The December 12 election is an expression of a broken British political system, which appears to be stuck with weak minority governments, faced with parliaments that can do little other than constrain the executive. Unfortunately, meaningful change to the political system is not on the ballot in 2019.

 

In an interview with Médiapart, Jean-Claude Monod discussed his new book, L’Art de ne pas être trop gouverné. For Monod, the left should be wary of projecting its hopes for a global socialist revolt onto the surge of popular uprisings taking shape around the world. Each one is born of unique factors, and may very well still be captured by right-wing populists. If there is a common aspiration between these movements, Monod believes it is the desire to live in a non-corrupt democracy. In other words, participants in these movements are practicing what Foucault called “the art of not being governed too much” (hence the title of Monod’s book). Monod, however, is not an anarchist (nor as some interpreters of Foucault have described the latter, a closet neoliberal). These movements should not be seen solely as rejections of power, but rather require commitments to building equality and social protection.

 

François Ruffin—the provincial journalist turned parliamentarian who is now a possible successor to Jean-Luc Mélenchon for the leadership of France’s populist left—recently sat down for an interview with Reporterre to discuss his commitment to environmentalism. Though he has not always been known as an écolo, Ruffin weaves a narrative of green anti-productivism into his longstanding opposition to free trade and consumerism. In the midst of his campaign to build a Front populaire écologique, Ruffin explains that the people are no longer satisfied with a system that encourages endless production while leaving the working class behind. The gilets jaunes movement signaled that ordinary people want to build community and create new forms of collective happiness, not grow the economy. For this reason, Ruffin posits that environmentalism may be the missing link between the working class and the intellectuals that the French left has long sought to rebuild.

 

If Ruffin thinks that the environmental movement may spell a bright future for “populist” politics, Anton Jäger’s assessment of  recent left-wing populist movements in Jacobin reaches a different conclusion. Forged in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, left-wing populism quickly spread across Europe, but ultimately failed to create lasting political change. The problem with these would-be mass movements is that there are no masses today. Thirty years of neoliberalism have hollowed out public life, and as a result, populist leaders have swarms of Twitter followers, but not militants that can fill the streets. Unfortunately, right-wing populists have been more adept at navigating this disorganized public sphere, largely because they are not pushing for radical anti-systemic policies, and are content with feeding culture wars. Jäger concludes that the task for the left in this context is “pre-political”: rebuilding the structures of public participation that are necessary to make its political aims possible.

 

In the Atlantic, political theorist Danielle Allen revisits George Washington’s “Farewell Address” and asks how America has grown so factional, despite our first president’s best intentions. She suggests that a major rift occurred in the 1970s: The economization of American life on the one hand and a libertarian distrust of administrative planning on the other hollowed out our faith in public management. Allen issues a renewed call for unity, with a Washingtonian emphasis on public accomplishments.

 

In the New York Review of Books, the literary scholar David Bromwich discusses two recent books on Trump and the media. In Audience of One, James Poniewozik argues that television was the key to Trump’s rise, but Bromwich wonders if this is too simplistic. He instead points to Matt Taibbi’s new Hate Inc., which blames a good deal of the media establishment—including center-left organs like the New York Times—for falling into Trump’s snare. In other words, it’s not the medium, it’s the messengers: journalists are taking their cues from the whims of the entertainment industry, and so it’s no surprise that master entertainers like Donald Trump come out on top.

 

If the 220,000 tickets sold on the opening day of The Louvre’s exhibition “Léonard de Vinci” is any indication, Leonardo maintains mass appeal. But why? Writing for the New Criterion, the historian James Hankins speculates that Leonardo offers museum-goers a taste of Renaissance geniusbut without the Christian imagery or didactic classicism that defines most Renaissance art. Despite the many mysteries around his authorship, Leonardo seems a uniquely accessible Old Master, willing to forgive our contemporary “anxiety of ignorance.”

 

In Tablet, Tocqueville 21 contributor Blake Smith traces the role that the Dreyfus affair played in Emile Durkheim’s defense of liberal democracy. Durkheim saw a certain religious fervor in the Dreyfusards, and wanted to better understand their sense that something “sacred and inviolable” had been desecrated. Durkheim was not concerned with the French sacralization of liberal individual rights. Believing that religion is the foundation of politics, he saw nothing unusual in secular republicanism becoming the theological core of modern democracy.

 

Photo Credit: Markus Spiske, via Unsplash.

 

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