Friday, April 28, 2017

The Barbarians at the gates of the Liberal Democracy Empire

Portrait of Locke in 1697 by Godfrey Kneller
For some time, I have wrestled with the thought that we are living in a political era different to one we knew in the 20th century. As I shall show, there are those before me.

The eighteenth-century philosopher John Locke (1632 - 1704) provided a framework for much of our thinking about identity and the self. He gave philosophers such as David Hume, Rousseau, and Kant, the basis for the idea of Liberal Democracy.  These and his wider range of interests is now brought into close focus in the new era of life changing transformative technologies and a post-Liberal Democratic Hegemony.

The nature of the Transformative Technologies now goes to the very essence of our understanding of wealth. Wealth is now measured in the accessible possession and manipulation capability of Big Data and its translation into intangibles such as knowledge capable of being implanted into the minds of men. The nature of Augmented Reality is such that the idea does not seem to be prosperous and thus can step by step pass from machine to man and seep deeper into our culture - what can be described as a post-knowledge economy. 

Thus, the nature of wealth is not always to be seen in transit to tangible advantage but as access to Big Data transfigurations from the evolution of content in 'The Cloud'.

The ability of technologies to augment the self is now evident in capabilities such as Artificial Intelligence in many of its applications (not least in assisting the medical profession in diagnosis and treatment of ailments such as cancer). AI is seen to be 'better' in many tasks. At the same time, the idea of many truths and liberal interpretation is challenged, even undermined, by unbreakable encryption including technologies accessible to most people in the form of Blockchain.

A Mckinsey view is here and offers some real world numbers of this changing economic world.

The population, in everyday use of mobile phones at al, are aware of the big changes now and in train. They touch them every day. Every day people deploy the cloud and touch new and emerging transformative technologies but they don't see its recognition among governing elites. Poor access to wifi is a simple example of the 'them and us' rupture. "Why can't they fix it?"

Meanwhile, evidence of the collapse of Liberal Democracy is seen in a number of ways:

There is the misplaced power of the State which is evident in day to day performance of the Executive.

One can draw the inference that the Government Executive (DVLA) is too powerful and/or independent of the elected Parliament and, thereby is perceived to be out of control or undermining the electorate and wider community.

The high levels of support for Marine Le Pen also show the frontal attack on the liberal, pluralistic model of society.

It is electors who are marking out the boundaries of a new and emerging 'Western Democracy'. Gone are the days of Left v Right. Many long-established political parties are not loosing support and votes, they have become irrelevant. There is vox pop evidence and opinion o support such a view which emerged in the 2017 election

The change has been a long time in the making but the pace of change is accelerating.  The present release valve for most nations is in the ballot box. The need for the basic of democracy, the universal (voting) franchise, is critical.

We are seeing the barbarians at the gate of the Liberal Democracy Empire.

Reason and tolerance, life and liberty is now cast into a post-industrial, post-knowledge capital era. The capability to develop and access unlimited accumulation of property without causing waste through spoilage is re-cast. 

My, most recent experience is a clue. I had my driving licence withdrawn by the  Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) base on, as it turned out a misdiagnosis of epilepsy.  On informing the Agency of the misdiagnosis and with evidence of two of the Nation's leading Neurologists, the wheels of the agency ground exceeding slow but not exceeding fine. It took the Agency a further six months to restore the licence. I raised this apparently systemic fault with y local Member of Parliament who duly wrote to the Agency for an explanation. The result was two letters from DVLA one to my MP and one to me. The letter from the Agency, an Executive arm of government, to a Member of Parliment was a template and platitudinous and noted that the Agency was undergoing some reforms. The letter to me was courteous and outlined the many approaches I had made to the Agency and offered an explicit apology and noted the upcoming reforms. The two letters could have been about two different cases. In its way, the Agency had deceived the Member of Parliament as to the extent of its failings. Having cited my case to a number of people, I have heard of many similar cases.

Donald Trump described his perspective as: 'Drain the Swamp' to describe his plan to fix problems in the US Federal Government and in doing so touched a nerve in the US electorate.  It was an argument similar to the one provided by Bian Binley (MP) when he noted "(The European) Commission has conceded that the bureaucratic costs of business compliance with European legislation could be equivalent of 5.5 per cent of EU GDP – equivalent to the size of the entire Dutch economy." Such evidence also touched a nerve among the British electorate.  We see similar evidence in other areas of public life, no less than the French Presidential Election results.

This so-called Brexit phenomenon is a reaction to Liberal Democracy as a large proportion of voters see it. 

Dr Robin Niblett at Chatham House invites us to consider that, the liberal international order has always depended on the idea of progress. Since 1945, Western policymakers have believed that open markets, democracy and individual human rights would gradually spread across the entire globe. Today, such hopes seem naïve.

In Asia, the rise of China threatens to challenge US military and economic hegemony. In the Middle East, the United States and its European allies have failed to guide the region toward a more liberal and peaceful future in the wake of the Arab Spring. And Russia’s geopolitical influence has reached heights unseen since the Cold War, as it attempts to roll back liberal advances around its periphery.

But the more important threats to the order are internal. For the past half-century, the European Union has seemed to represent the advance guard of a new liberalism in which nations pool sovereignty and cooperate ever more closely with one another. Today, as it reels from one crisis to the next, the EU has stopped expanding, he says.

Already it takes us back to Locke

In The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Edward Luce talks of the weakening of western hegemony and the crisis of liberal democracy―of which Donald Trump and his European counterparts are not the cause, but a symptom. Luce argues that we are on a menacing trajectory brought about by ignorance of what it took to build the West, arrogance towards society’s economic losers, and complacency about our system’s durability―attitudes that have been emerging since the fall of the Berlin Wall (in my view - long before and a reason for the failure of Nazi and communist forms of government). We cannot move forward, suggests Luce, without a clear diagnosis of what has gone wrong. Unless the West can rekindle an economy that produces gains for the majority of its people, its political liberties may be doomed. "The West’s faith in history teaches us to take democracy for granted. Reality tells us something troublingly different", says Luce.

In Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra looks further back to the eighteenth century before leading us to the present.

He shows that as the world became modern, those who were unable to enjoy its promises--of freedom, stability, and prosperity--were increasingly susceptible to demagogues. The many who came late to this new world--or were left, or pushed, behind--reacted in horrifyingly similar ways: with an intense hatred of invented enemies, attempts to re-create an imaginary golden age, and self-empowerment through spectacular violence. It was from among the ranks of the disaffected, suggests Mishra, that the militants of the nineteenth century arose--angry young men who became cultural nationalists in Germany, messianic revolutionaries in Russia, bellicose chauvinists in Italy, and anarchist terrorists internationally.

These authors are delving deep into the nature of modern civilisation. There is change in the air.