The cuckold’s Horns or those of a Dilemma?
Political parties are like gay bachelors – always looking for a partner who will take their promises as good and smile when they break them. In most of the Western democracies the two parties in the largely two-party systems that emerged from World War II were in this sense always serial adulterers. The electorates’ have wearied of their infidelities with truth and over the last fifty years all over the West voters have turned their backs on the old love and looked to new loves to take their place.
Much of this courtship has been conducted in the shadow of wars – larger and smaller – colder and hotter. However, the collapse of the old Soviet Union brought an abrupt end to the military two-step and the world was meant to be a much safer place. Safety is always relative and the irony is that the event which Francis Fukuyama told us was meant to end history in fact inaugurated a period of political and institutional instability across all the most unstable regions of the world.
The end of the restraints of the old ideological armed neutrality of the nuclear powers and their allies that divided the world into two camps and kept order between east and West has left the West bereft. Its collapse unmasked an older order of division well known to history – religious extremism or fundamentalism or revolutionary nihilism – depending on your sympathies. Forces forced underground for much of the twentieth century have come back to the surface. It turns out the visceral hatreds which haunted societies touched by the Reformations and Counter Reformations now again stalks this modern world still wearing its matchless apparel of intolerance with heavily accessorised beliefs.
This should not have surprised us or caught us off guard since it has happened repeatedly in all three of the three great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It has also been a byproduct of the last two great secular philosophies – in Republican France and in Communist Russia. In very recent times violent certainties have again played themselves out in violent actions – in the former Yugoslavia – along the northern coast of Africa – in the Middle East. – in Pakistan, in Afghanistan – along the border lands of what was once Soviet Russia – in Tibet and China – and most tragically and terribly of all in central and west Africa. Everywhere the collapse of civic society has brought bestowed on people a bloody chaos.Even in the western democracies long immune to these spasms of violent upheaval there is unrest and disillusionment and fear. The over arching system of Free Market Economics which is the under-girding philosophy of the cultural elite of these prosperous nations has been shaken by its own inherent failures and contradictions. We have no answers to the problem – save more of the same. Like the alcoholic for whom the solution always lies in the next bottle of booze, our political masters can only advise us to trust more and more in a system that is delivering less and less to more and more of its people..
Celebrity and its fascinations are the opiate traded by the masters of our Universe to keep the people in good order – bread and circuses of Rome still after all these millennia. Yet the secular neo-agnostic-consumerism manufactured by the West is suddenly under a much more profound threat from those who reject the very moral basis of the market economies that now dominate the world and command its resources. This is a threat weapons cannot match nor diplomacy play. This is a world of ideas that is not sated on delights of fast food and even faster sexual morality.Rather it walks to the pace with an older sensibility informed by religious fundamentalism.
The West is aghast as it seems to us who hold that the world of things is the only substantial world and the world of ideas is a shadow world hardly worth a breath of recognition let alone worth wasting a last breath upon. That rational men and women might die in a just cause seems irrational to those resting on the soft couches of plenty stuffed as they are by dint others’ poorly paid efforts.
It is these new zealots look at us as savages consumed by immorality and slaves to luxury. We see them as ideologues consumed by fundamentalism and burning with alien ideas. They are weirdly indifferent to glossy couture labels that we wear. They cover their women and practice Sharia law. To us, they’re all nascent terrorists. We invoke the word Islamist as once we shrieked from under the bedclothes – Jacobin or Communist or even IRA terrorist.
Of course because we are so pragmatically worldly we will in time wish to accommodate them into our value systems. Whether they will be bought so easily is a piece of market economics for which we have as yet no balanced equation. The missiles fire; the gun fire rounds on innocents; the bombs explode the brokered peace – such peace as there is – in the desert made of Iraq and the inferno of Syria and in the Lebanon and Palestine and Egypt and even Israel.
Midst this mayhem our neutered political institutions – the parties which govern us – if increasingly unrepresentative of us – flap uselessly around like eunuchs in a harem. Like all those who power dress they try to be like the Mighty Oz something they’re not. Pulling the levers of patronage and applying ever thicker veneers of so called policy they make-it-up as they go along in the hope no one will see the Emperor has no clothes.
The vainest of all these petty vanities is the reshuffle which largely consists of handing out plums of office to a select few and taking them from select others. As theatre is commands the stage of comedy. As politics it holds the mask of tragedy. As a sign of effective government it is a meaningless sham designed to grab headlines and pass off old peas long past their sell by date as the newly minted peas of summer.The public is so inured by these powerless rights and so contemptuous of the Punch and Judy politics which we are offered it has ceased to believe matters can ever be changed let alone be different or even made better by good old human endeavour.
In history these long trails of decline and fall – of courts and courtiers – stories of governing classes who can no longer govern themselves let alone anything else – sad tales of their petty corruptions and endless self-obsessions – and their ever narrowing cultural and social base – when the socialite has become the philosopher king – then the path leads to only one end: Revolution. When societies are governed by elites who can no longer fulfill their elite function as the Red Queen in Alice memorably might have put it – there’s only one way for them to end – off with their heads….