Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Trump Victory. Part 1: Folksy Levellers.

Brexiters see themselves as folksy levellers opposing the establishment intelligensia

About nine years ago on this blog I did a series of posts called “Mathematical Politics” (See March 2007 to July 2007). It was my attempt to grapple with the subjects of politics and economics – not my favourite topics at all, as I don’t find it easy to think outside the mathematical box and these subjects are difficult, if not in principle impossible, to render in formal terms. In fact my series never really got finished; that may be because I felt that the socio-politics of the day was in a relatively stable state, part of the benign environmental furniture among which I lived. Therefore I had no sense of urgency to get to grips with the whys and wherefores of this environment in any more detail. But how times have changed recently! Today in the West the spectre of right-wing dictatorship, although admittedly it still seems a remote prospect, is not an entirely unreal scenario if a little imagination is applied. With people like Trump and Farage rocking the establishment boat in what vaguely resembles the course taken by pre-World War II Germany I’m beginning to feel just a little sea sick and thinking that I ought to stop and take stock of the “new world order”.  But what is this new world order? Does it have any real substance? Here is a small sample of characters who capture something of the new mood which has brought us to this juncture.

Donald Trump
US president elect. Pseudo-libertarian*. Glories in political incorrectness. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Wants to "drain the swamp" of the ruling liberal establishment elite. His campaign played on anxieties generated by social & economic disequilibrium caused by global trading and immigration. Trump attracts the disaffected, the fundamentalists, racists and neo-nazis, all of which brings me to :
Nigel Farage
UK independent party. Friend of Trump. Detests the Euro-elite. Outsider to the liberal establishment elite and the quasi-aristocratic conservative party. Farage played on anxieties over immigration during the Brexit campaign. His party has attracted fundamentalists, racists and the extreme right, although Farage has distanced himself from these extremists (He’s a clever politician – unlike Trump). Anthropogenic climate change sceptic.
Milo Yiannopoulos
British Pundit for the slippery and diffuse Alt-right tendency. Arguably neo-fascist. Pseudo-Libertarian. Social Darwinist. Brexiteer and Trump supporter. Against the liberal establishment elite.  Anti-feminist. Catholic (!). An enemy of academia. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic
Matt Ridley
Libertarian social philosopher, Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Sceptical of the liberal establishment elite. Socio-economic evolutionist. See the following links:
Denise O’Leary
De facto-Intelligent Design pundit, Canadian Trump supporter. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Probably Pseudo-libertarian. Anti-political correctness. Against the liberal establishment elite and particularly hates publically funded academia.
Ken Ham
Christian fundamentalist. Probably a Trump voter. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Against the liberal establishment elite. Has obvious reasons to particularly hate academia.
Kent Hovind
Christian fundamentalist. Probably a Trump voter. “Sovereign Citizen”. Pseudo-libertarian. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic, Against the liberal establishment elite. Has obvious reasons to particularly hate academia. Extreme fundamentalist Steve Anderson is an ally of Hovind. Likely to be at odds with Ken Ham.

Put these people in a room together and it wouldn’t be long before each person was rowing violently with everyone else (Although Trump and Farage are chums at the moment); such are their differences. And yet these characters are the figureheads of trends which have a common interest in seeing the overthrow of the political and academic establishment. With Brexit followed by the election of Donald Trump as US president, each of them probably feels that the worlds they are striving for are now just a little closer.  It is ironic that the outspoken and arguably crypto-fascist Milo Yiannoploous may in fact express sentiments common to all of the above. This is what Yiannoploous’ Wiki entry says:

As a "cultural libertarian"[5] and "free speech fundamentalist", he is a vocal critic of feminism,[6] Islam, social justice, political correctness, and other movements and ideologies he claims to be authoritarian or belonging to the "regressive left".

That protest against authoritarianism is ironic. Of course, few people will admit to being authoritarian, but it hardly needs pointing out that the neo-fascists, Trump, and Ken Ham are among the most authoritarian personalities out there and I can’t imagine that their societal vision is anything other than repressive. Ken Ham, for instance, has no qualms about trying to intimidate with spiritual threats about divine displeasure being upon who disgaree with him, whether they be professing Christians or otherwise.  

What brings this diverse group together? There are, after-all, huge differences between them about the ultimate nature of reality, but they all have a common antipathy toward the public establishment and in particular the publically funded liberal academic establishment of which they are antagonistic outsiders.  Matt Ridley is by far and away the most intelligent and reasonable among the characters above and I had to think long and hard before including him in the list, but in the final analysis he’s an academic outsider who shares enough of the anti-establishment association complex for him to qualify for my list. Moreover, his concept of evolution as an information-less (= undirected) process which somehow poofs things into existence is not at all unlike that of O’leary’s and Ken Ham’s straw man concept of evolution.  Like the others, Ridley is sceptical about the climate change science of the intellectual establishment. Ridley also has much faith in decentralised libertarianism (a flaky concept in my opinion – see part II) and this is something which the above clients try to make a show of courting one way or another and use as an ideological cudgel with which to hit the much hated political and academic establishment. “Libertarianism” is intended to conjure up a vision of a peaceful decentralised free trading idyll, an idyll untrammelled by the strictures of “big government” which, it is implied, is out to cramp one’s style in favour of its continued existence. The extreme wing of libertarianism is into conspiracy theorism; here government is portrayed as a self-serving conspiracy of the elite. However, knowing human nature I’m sceptical of these aspirational decentralised social idylls: “Libertarianism” is an appellation which is to the right-wing as “Dictatorship of the proletariat” is to the left wing; in fact “Libertarian Marxism” strives for a peaceful post-revolution government-less communist paradise where having done away with the inherent conflicts of interest in capitalism it is believed that an era of peace and cooperation will reign. The extreme right wing and extreme left wing worldviews have a common vision of a cosy decentralised folksy idyll which, given human nature, seems a wholly unlikely scenario. These sorts of vision, when implemented by zealous partisans, have a tendency to descend into autocratic nightmares, as evidenced by some of the religious cults ruled by authoritarian patriarchs.

But why aren’t those Marxists who seek the overthrow of the established status quo and the ultimate dismantling of the state also part of my list?  In their view the state is necessarily an outcome of the social conflicts which have their roots in laissez-faire capitalism and therefore they explicitly stand against the free market evolutionism of the right-wingers listed above. Moreover, Marx did at least bring to bear a worthy critique of capitalism, a critique that has some merit in its own right even if you feel that a Marxist society is utterly untenable. There is some mileage to be had from Marx’s critique of social history if not from his prescriptions which were largely vague wishful thinking. There is also the matter of the respect for Marx among liberal academics which, needless to say, further distances the anti-establishment right-wing from academia who they think of as extreme "lefties".**

There are several ironies in the positions taken by the characters in my list: Denise of O’leary is likely to look favourably upon decentralised free market evolutionism as described by Ridley and yet she cannot accept conventional evolutionary theory as a decentralised process. Ridley is a free market evolutionist and sees centralised human interventions in the market as disrupting and harmful. And yet he is not on the side of those anthropogenic climate change lobbyists who suggest that inadvertent human intervention in the (decentralised) climate system has harmfully disrupted it. Also, it is ironic that Yiannopoulos is a social Darwinist and yet he’s attached himself to a political culture that in the final analysis is likely to be inexorably drawn to promoting the most authoritarian and centralised government system one could imagine.

I would style myself as a “Liberal-left capitalist”,  whiggish in outlook. We have much to be thankful about the way the decentralised market economy encourages innovative entrepreneurial effort and tries to sync production and demand. But Marx was probably right about some of those capitalist ills; the free market is not unlike an old banger of a car that is very useful but liable to breakdowns, breakdowns which are sometimes compounded by ill-judged human attempts at repair. But although I appreciate what the free market has done for us,  my critical take on capitalism and a willingness to accept competent attempts at repair when it breaks down is likely classify me as a “socialist” as far as the extreme right are concerned.

I’ve actually been staring at this public-civic sector vs private sector polarisation for some time without really understanding its socio-political significance:  Over the last tens years as I have considered the intelligent design/creation debate in this blog it has become clear that the de facto IDists and various Christian fundamentalists were very anti-public establishment and in particular hated, above all, publically funded academia. Initially it seemed to me that this attitude was just bound up with their anti-establishment take on the natural sciences.  So, at first it seemed just a strange coincidence that the de facto IDists and fundamentalists were also taking a stand against anthropogenic climate change science – after all, what does climate change have to do with ID? The deeper connection, however, is that libertarianism provides a philosopohical rationale against the spectre of government emissions regulations and taxes that are justified using anthropogenic climate change science. Hence, certain conservatively oriented business interests therefore had common cause with the IDists and fundamentalists against the establishment intelligentsia. Some fundamentalists have also tried to bundle their climate change theory with their Young Earth Creationism which perhaps gives YEC more appeal to some conservative business interests.

Christian fundamentalists voted Trump: they wanted to 
return to the traditional social certainties and securities of 
a time when society could unequivocally be called "Christian"

Since the 1960s Christians have become more and more culturally marginalised. Therefore alternative narratives involving so-called Intelligent Design, Young Earth Creationism and prophetic conspiracy theorism helped to focus and give rationale to their sense of marginalisation and alienation from the public intelligentsia. Thus, dualist “anti-naturalist” creation accounts and anti-climate change attitudes have been neatly woven into seamless conspiracy narratives that sit well with right-wing Christian alienation from the secular intelligentsia of public and civic life. Popular rank and file disaffection with this elite governing community has also been exacerbated by market instabilities precipitated by globalisation and immigration related xenophobia. Worst of all, however, is that the neo-fascists found themselves in the same boat as the IDists, Christian fundamentalists, libertarians, some conservative business interests and the disaffected white working class who have suffered under global market instabilities.

There are, I believe, some parallels here with the situation in England during the seventeenth century. On more than one occasion during that century the middle class interests represented in parliament found themselves at odds with Royal demands for money needed to finance the King's pet projects (in effect taxes). Coupled with Charles I and James II belief in their absolute soveriegnty this lead to the 1642 civil war against Charles I and the 1688 Bloodless Revolution against James II which ultimately resulted in the installation of a constitutional monarchy. In spite of good intentions Cromwell failed to set up a democratic republic and instead became a dictator; he was repulsed by the untidy constitutional row that any democratic government must ultimately become and so suspended parliament. At the puritan extremes were found the Fifth monarchsists who awaited the eminent return of Christ and even sought the overthrow of Cromwell's puritan dictatorship. Just as today, the political situation yielded neatly to the interpretation of conspiracy theorists and Christian prophetic ministries which saw the government as the instrument of Satan and/or malign forces which seek to dominate the individual believer. There was also an historical adjunct: After the restoration of the (constitutional) monarchy many disillusioned and disenfranchised puritans settled in North America seeking religious freedom from state religion, only to find in time that the Mother country was burdening them with taxes in order to finance the war against France. The American revolution followed, of course. Since those days politics, taxation, religion and the apocalyptic in the US have had a tendency to get bound up with one another.

In the next part I’ll take a closer look at so-called “libertarianism”

Relevant links:

Other links:

* Pseudo-libertarian: This means that they would fail the Chinese or African test question: Viz: Would they be prepared to accept Chinese or African produce without tariffs? Matt Ridley is probably the only genuine libertarian in my list

** Marx and Academia: See here:

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