Why is it that, even when supported by a majority, the “new left” parties of today’s democracies seem so powerless and ineffective? These failings have gathered more significance now that their implications extend beyond the philosophical musings of academia to threaten the trajectory of our species.
If an effective and practical alternative to the “history ending” construct of post-Soviet capitalist democracy cannot be found, articulated and formulated… we will be “left” in the hands of fiddling tinkerers or patently failing but readily presentable nationalchismo and egocentrism that is so familiar it feels “right”.
The problem is rooted in the context of the “new left”. After the obvious failure of communism crystallized by the fall of the Berlin wall, the void in alternative thinking caused by half a century of war was deafening. The space was empty, and was promptly filled the “ideas lying around” at that time. The last two decades of the 20th century saw the sublimation of democracies into dependent clients of corporate capitalism. This context became the assumptive base on which all subsequent democratic rationales were built. Our politicians in the early 21st century grew out of this context, and inherited it as the de facto state of the world. All that remains to distinguish between today’s “new” political philosophies is whether or not to tinker with the details at the edges of the “established” wisdom. The “left” became self-described as missioned with the broadening of “opportunity” and the protection of “dignity”. The “right” became the guardians of the purity of the great manna machine that was the raison d’être of the system and without which all else was naught. And so was cast the mould from which our modern politics emerged.
The essential dilemma of this construct is that the “new left” cannot deliver on promises for change, because at its root it accepts the de facto model of democracy as a gift of capitalism. Only aspirations for a friendlier face on the head of capitalism is honestly deliverable, once you adopt capitalism (an economic, not a political, concept) as the core of your political philosophy. To offer to deliver an alternative reality from within the confines of this established hegemony is at worst bare faced lies or at best vainly naïve. Indeed a combination of those lies and thin promises are regularly offered up at election time by every shade of politician, short of the brazenly fascist. And we eat it up, at least we have until now.
At some point, one would assume, we will tire of the disrespect, the shallow illusions and the failed and broken promises. But will we do so in time? I believe we will. The percentage of the population of most democracies that are willing to suck it up one more time, to risk suffering the humiliation of disappointment garnished with a dressing of pompous ignore-ance, is waning. The number who have lost their forbearance for disrespect has climbed steadily this century, and in recent years has reached upwards of 20% of the voting constituency and a majority of the population below the median age. The time will come, and that time will come soon, when a sufficiently large majority of the voters in today’s democracies will have had enough of being lied to, had enough of going in what is obviously the wrong direction. At that time we will once again be grasping for the best ideas lying around. Without good ideas we all risk being seduced by the crude appeals of savage instincts, special natures, chosen myths and other aspects of the illusion of our disconnected selves – all of which would presage our demise and descent.
The best good ideas will not be bound by the strictures of 20th-century constraints on the limits of available models. Alternative frameworks that can actually deliver sustainable prosperity will be big ideas, they will start with what is and aspire to something completely different. A whole new framework that redraws the big picture is what will deliver the change we need.
Capitalism and communism have failed differently but equally. Not because either is without merit or devoid of place, but rather because there are only aspects of a whole. They are nascent ideas springing from the well of possibilities and were dressed in suits before they were rightfully out of diapers. A century of gestation allows us to develop a new model for our societies, our economies and our democracies that includes and values each aspect, in its proper position in the constellation of our natural natures.
The “new center” starts with the premise that the big picture needs to change. That’s what distinguishes it from both the left and the right of old politics.