Can Europe Make It?

The "extreme centre" is collapsing under its own contradictions

In an article in The Economist, the author examines the rise of new political movements in the west; his analysis is revealing about the degree of self-deception, ideological blindness and departure from reality of western elites.

Tommaso Segantini
18 September 2016
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Jeremy Corbyn speaks to a crowd outside SOAS, London. PAimages/Rick Findler. All rights reserved.

The emergence of new political parties, movements and figures across Europe and in the United States is creating some cracks in the political and economic order of the last three decades.

The establishment parties of the "extreme centre" (as British journalist Tariq Ali has described the political spectrum occupied by traditional centre right and centre left parties) that have alternatively served the interests of the top 1%, corporations and financial institutions, are being threatened by the rise of a broad range of diverse political forces, ranging from far right nationalist parties to progressive radical leftist movements.

It is interesting to see how The Economist, the notorious free market advocate weekly news magazine and representative of the ideology of the "extreme centre", analyzes the new western political landscape.

In an article called "The new political divide" which appeared in The Economist, the author argues that we are witnessing the formation of "a new political faultline: not between left and right, but between open and closed". The basic argument put forward is that political contestation in most western countries today is between the "open ones", the parties and the individuals in favour of free trade, globalization and openness, and the "closed ones", defined as the "anti-globalizers", the "wall-builders", "those who argue that the world is a nasty, threatening place".

In the group of "populist" and "closed" parties and movements, the author includes very different political forces, ranging from the far right to the radical left, from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump, without making any sort of distinction or nuance; a very populist, in fact, and intellectually dishonest depiction of reality.

Curiously, the author doesn't offer an explanation for the rise of "closed-world types", although he considers their rise as "the gravest risk to the free world since communism". The reason for this is, I think, rather obvious: the upsurge of these new political parties is a direct symptom of the policies and the worldview promoted by the "open ones", especially during the last 30 years; to admit it would be to disavow the whole intellectual edifice defended by the magazine and by the author himself.

The author recalls what is at stake, according to him, and offers some solutions to counter the rise of new political forces: he calls for the defense of the "system of institutions, rules and alliances, led by America", and the economic system of the last decades that has brought us close to nuclear war and on the brink of environmental disaster.

He then describes the European Union as "the world’s most successful free-trade club", which could collapse, according to the author, because of the rise of "nationalist" forces; he forgets to mention, however, the extraordinary contempt for democracy and the destructive economic policies implemented by European officials, the primary catalyst for the rise of "wall builders" across Europe.

Then, he accuses Trump of "threatening to block new trade deals" (in reference to the TTIP and the TPP), probably one of the few reasonable things said by Donald Trump during his campaign.

Towards the end of the article, the author states that "trade creates many losers", and reasonably suggests to implement "bold policies" to "preserve the benefits of openness while alleviating its side-effects", such as strengthening the social safety net and "invest in public infrastructure".

It is hard to imagine, however, how those policies could be part of the agenda of the best "open types" according to the author, such as Emmanuel Macron, the former French finance minister who left the government led by Francois Hollande to form his own centrist political movement, 'En Marche'.

Emmanuel Macron participated in a government led by the Socialist Party, which, since it took power in 2012, has brought forward an austerity agenda completely in line with the previous Sarkozy government. Macron situates his movement to the right of the current French government.

The author then mentions Hillary Clinton, the prototype representative of corporate interests and of the "Washington Consensus", which the author claims, quite incredibly, is "equivocating" openness.

If individuals like Macron and Clinton are the kind of "open types" the author has in mind, the chances that the advocated "bold policies" get implemented are very, very low, to put it euphemistically.

The "free world", with its international and economic order as we have known it for the last century, is crumbling. If the emergence of "closed ones" appears to be such a great danger, the author is undoubtedly promoting the "free world's" self destruction, as the solutions he puts forward to counter their ascendancy are the continuation of the causes that generated it.

The author's ideological blindness, like the one of western elites, impedes him in making any kind of lucid and rational self-criticism. The establishment, through its delusions and lies, is digging its own grave, and appears to lack the internal ideological resources, political will and the integrity to change its course of action.

Given the catastrophic results of the "open ones" in the last century, the collapse of their ideological structure and economic system is good news. Unlike what the author suggests, the forces contending the political vacuum that is being created are very diverse. The direction the winds of change will take will be crucial. Progressive radical forces still offer some hope and are the only genuine alternative to the weakening centrist parties and the far right forces that feed on each other in a vicious, toxic circle. 

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