Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Domestic politics in metamodern times

'The 1990s', Charles Krauthammer once famously wrote, ‘have been a holiday from History.’ After the turmoil of the 1960s and, to a lesser extent, the 1970s and, to a much lesser extent, the 1980s, the 1990s were marked by relative (geo)political stability and economic prosperity, at least from a western perspective. The so-called 'peace' brought by the steady rise of Empire and the formation of the European Union, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall; and the so-called 'wealth’ brought by the deregulation of the financial system and the transition to a white-collar economy, the flexibilisation of the job market and a credit-driven consumerism all seemed to confirm Fukuyama’s thesis in The End of History and the Last Man (1989).
This was reflected in the realm of domestic politics. For it can be argued that the postmodern era led, slowly but surely, to the appeasement of political oppositions and the blunting of ideological contradictions, up to the point where the Left and the Right were barely distinguishable. Consider, for example, the continuation of Thatcher & Reagan’s 1980s rightwing Neoliberalism by Blair & Clinton’s 1990s leftwing Thirdway-ism, a development that was neatly summarised by Dutchman Wim Kok (former-Union-leader-cum-Prime-Minister and ‘spiritual father’ of the Third Way) as ‘shaking off the ideological feathers’. In the 1990s, all was quiet on the Western front. Or, so it seemed.
Meanwhile, however, History resumed its course. The 2000s were haunted by the specters of immigration and multiculturalism, terrorism and populism, climate crisis and credit crunch, the failed attempt to establish a Constitution for the European Union, the demise of American unilateralism and the rise of the BRICs. Looking back at the end of the decade it is easy to see that the realm of domestic politics altered accordingly, as the political centre eroded and political contradictions resurfaced. A few examples of recent trends and tendencies suffice, here, to demonstrate these developments...

In the United States of America, the election of President Obama rallied the country behind a progressive agenda of social reform, leading to bills that attempt to restructure the financial sector and to reform Health Care, while the Republicans appear to be winning heavily in the coming elections and the radical conservative wing of the Republicans, spearheaded by Sarah Palin, Fox News and the infamous Tea Party is gaining momentum.
In the United Kingdom, recently, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats formed the first coalition since the Second World War to govern the country. Meanwhile, Labour is redirecting its course after the apparent failure of Blair’s Thirdway politics and the disastrous spell of Gordon Brown. After a dramatic race between the brothers David Milliband, natural heir to Blair’s legacy, and Ed Milliband, favorite of Labour’s left wing, the latter was elected the new Party leader as a result, and this is telling, of the support of the Unions.
In France, Sarkozy’s keenness to further a Neoliberal social-economic agenda and his trademark populism is being increasingly met by demonstrations, rallies and general strikes. Although this willingness to protest perhaps is typically French, the most recent general strike of employees, students, and school kids seems to be both a rehearsal of a phenomena that had been long gone and a forebode of similar things to come.
In Germany, recently, the debate about the multicultural society, or its supposed failure, commenced; an event that provoked both encouragement and outrage in a country that had been burdened, for so long, with feelings of shame, guilt and nervousness concerning its xenophobic past.
In the Netherlands the decade held, amongst others and in chronological order, the start of the fierce debate on the multicultural society, the murders of rightwing politician Pim Fortuyn (by a leftwing fundamentalist) and filmmaker Theo van Gogh (by a Muslim fundamentalist) and, as of today, the installment of the first minority cabinet since the Second World War, headed by the first Liberal (rightwing) Prime-Minister since the First World War and made possible by the support of Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam party. Meanwhile, the government nationalized several banks, Labour distanced itself from their former Thirdway politics by means of a dismissive speech of Wouter Bos (still leading the party at that time), the Unions organized the longest strike since the Great Depression and many organisations are preparing similar events in the face of heavy social-economic setbacks.
We could go on and on and on by giving examples. Such as the political impasse in Belgium or the consecutive minority coalitions in Denmark, supported by the rightwing populists of The Danish People’s Party, or the historical first seat for the extreme-right in Swedish Parliament, or the need for much contested reforms concerning the climate crises and the credit crunch… But the list is intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive. All of the above mentioned examples, however, point towards a similar political reality: the constant need to create an re-create small majorities (much smaller, in any case, than in postmodern times) or large minorities in an increasingly radicalized, polarized and fragmented socio-cultural landscape. Metamodern times, it seems, have most definitely arrived. 

Image: courtesy GettyImage

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