Hot on the heels of our article yesterday QED – yet again, yet another member of the elite has shown that he doesn’t get it.
Indeed, he cannot get it due to his wrong approach to politics and history.
Writing in TIME magazine’s Top 100 most influential people in 2005, the historian Niall Ferguson writes that
This, of course, was meant as praise, but is precisely the problem – as we constantly point out, the systematic and structural failure of the elites to talk to ordinary people has contributed to the current mess and is now one of the biggest problems in Western society.
And sure enough, after kicking off an article in The Guardian with a perfunctory mention of a conversation with a shop assistant in Menlo Park, California, Timothy Garton Ash quotes one member of the elite after another, including a former Finnish prime minister, to bolster his theory on the Brexit and Trump phenomena that
The transatlantic difference is, in the first place, between Britain’s madness of the thing and America’s madness of the man. Theresa May may be wooden, rigid and out of her depth, but compared to Trump she looks like Mother Teresa.
It is the thing itself, Brexit, which is an act of collective madness and national self-harm. Every passing week brings new evidence of just how damaging it will be to almost every area of national life, and most of all to the left-behind working-class Brexit voters. They will be the ones worst hit; by what is already a decline in real earnings.
In some ways, Garton Ash is right, but by what right does he set himself up as an expert qualified to pass judgement on what constitutes “collective madness” and “national self-harm”?
The fact is that ever since Marx, leftist intellectuals have found it impossible to understand the “false consciousness” that makes people put culture and nationalism ahead of their “true economic interests” – as defined by leftist intellectuals.
The classic case is the outburst of nationalism at the beginning of the First World, which has puzzled leftists ever since. This is a classic statement of the genre from the early 1990s:
The people have now voted against us four times! What is wrong with them?
Question put to the future British Prime Minister Tony Blair by a Labour Party member in 1992.
Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair Debate, at 1:39:02 on YouTube
Peter Hitchens, the younger journalist brother of the late Christopher Hitchens and a former Trotskyite who moved to the right and got religion, has said that he would be more than willing to accept a few percentage points knocked of GDP to reduce on immigration and return the country to something like its formal self.
Precious few of those who voted for Brexit and Trump have therefore recanted, despite constant media messaging that, as Garton Ash maintains here, both represent disasters.
And while Garton Ash likes quoting members of the elite, President Donald Trump’s new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci rightly told the BBC earlier this week that
Americans are fed up with this city [Washington D.C.].
At 4:36 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqa4kykOsEk
Garton Ash goes on to tell us that
The 19th century belonged to Britain, the 20th century (at least post-1945) to the United States. The neoliberalism which exercised a kind of global ideological dominance between the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the financial crisis of 2008 was a characteristic Anglo-Saxon product. It is itself the root cause of the genuine, widespread discontents which populists have exploited to gain power in both Britain and the United States. So the argument goes, not without some schadenfreude – especially in France.
This view is astonishing simplistic, even for a short newspaper article. The term néo-libéralisme was used in French in the 19th century and entered into English before 1900.
Since then, it has undergone multiple metamorphoses and, like fascism, is all too often used to show disapproval of policies with which the writer or speaker disagrees.
But whatever its meaning, Ash wrongly believes that neoliberalism is the root of the discontents.
In fact, the very opposite case is often true.
In the United States, millions of discontents are against the liberal/leftist “narrative” and thesis” which has been dominant since the mid-1960s, notably welfare, political correctness, immigration.
Many middle-class Americans have seen their medical premiums shoot up under Obamacare and do not accept that they should subsidise poor people who have made what they see as the bad choices which have led to their poverty.
This group is furious at the Democrats and Obama and cleaves to “American values” such as respect for the law, hard work and self-reliance. Garton Ash gets this right – there is no work, hence the opioid epidemic.
He then warns his fellow leftists to
be careful, chers amis, what you wish for. You may envisage a post-Anglo-Saxon 21st-century gloriously illuminated by the enlightened policies of Macron and Justin Trudeau. Yet the Fortinbras who commands the stage after the self-destruction of the Anglo-Saxon Hamlet is more likely to have the face of a Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
As we have argued, Macron is hardly “enlightened” in the way “progressives” believe.
Since Edmund Burke, conservatives have been warning that revolutionary change can destroy a society.
And it is not just that the stage will “have the face” of various authoritarian rulers – the progressive project itself will be over – something progressives have utterly failed to understand.
Garton Ash thus knows full well that many intellectuals want to see the end of Western society – the one which laid the foundations for the wealthiest and healthiest nations in global history and handed out the template for free for the rest of the world to emulate.
But he fails to understand that a growing minority of intellectuals and vast swathes of British, American and European society are bitterly opposed to Western cultural, civilisational, economic and geopolitical decline and the denigration and dismantling of the West – including his colleagues at Hoover.
On the intellectual side, such scholars reject the linguistic turn in philosophy and the cultural Marxism propagated by the Frankfurt School, the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci and the French post-modernists and post-structuralists.
All this, they argue, has had a catastrophic effect on the humanities and the social sciences, and as a result on the graduates entering politics, the media, academia, business and the wider society.
Like all members of the elite, Garton Ash, a graduate of and Professorial Fellow at Oxford and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, needs to get out among the people regularly and talk to them, rather than merely exchanging pleasantries with shop assistants.
Were he to do so, he would quickly find many people just as well educated and qualified as he is who are also absolutely furious about the direction the West has been taking not just since the 1990s, but since the 1960s, 1945 and even since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.
The result is the rage, populism and resurgent culture wars we are now seeing.