The Big Shift: The decline of Western politics

Part I of II

Don Quixote de la Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863, by Gustave Doré
Gustave Doré, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Those of us who have read and studied political history, who have closely observed its evolution and especially those who have taken note of all the tactics and ploys used over the last couple of decades, will surely not be surprised by any of the findings and ideas I’ll outline in the following analysis. I would still encourage the reader to read on, though. Because for the majority of citizens, taxpayers, savers and investors, this all might still be “breaking news” and even for those who have considered these points before, it can still inform them of future possibilities they didn’t know were possible or never thought could be.

The illusion of choice

From Europe to Australia and to the US, our western democracies, our “enlightened” societies and “advanced” economies, are all fantastically diverse. They have different “origin stories”, different cultural backgrounds and different ways and reasons for emerging and for continuing to exist. Nevertheless, there is one common denominator, a single attribute we all share in our pursuit of the “democratic ideal”.

The whole system is based upon the assumption that we have a choice. This is the core belief that our sociopolitical systems were built on in the first place and the fundamental presupposition that they continue to rely on: the idea that we, as ordinary citizens, as individuals, have a voice.

Through our vote, we can endorse good ideas and reject bad ones. We can choose how we want to begoverned and which set of rules we want to live by. We have a say, we have a seat on the table and we are (at least to some extent) “the masters of our fate, the captains of our soul”, to paraphrase Henley. This is how our system is supposed to work, at least.

Does it really work like that though? Do we really have an actual, meaningful choice? If we think about it seriously, even in the most simplistic terms possible, what does it truly mean in this day and age to have the choice, if that choice is between between “Left” and “Right”? How are these options distinctand what sets them apart? What exactly is the “USP” of these supposedly “polar opposite” alternatives?

The “old Left”

If you were to ask your grandma or even your mother to identify the difference between the political Left and Right, they would most likely converge on one point, and justifiably so, as that point came to define a whole generation and a half:

As they would remember it and as they would describe it: Their Left was anti-war. It was anti-imperialism, anti-expansionism, anti-conformism and, even predominantly anti-statism, since the “State” was at the time (aptly) recognised as an oppressive and misanthropic force. Those Leftists were the “Resistance”, the protectors of weak and the poor and the unfortunate.

They were the pacifists, the flower children and the hippies, the conscientious objectors and the bravest amongst us that protested against State crimes and trespasses that affected people they never met. They were the architects of the counterculture that questioned the State’s propaganda, that abhorred the atrocities of war and objected to the violence against their fellow humans. Indeed, no matter how naive or how childish their economic/fiscal/monetary ideas might have been, the values and priorities of the “old Left” were honourable, benevolent and philanthropic.

Their remedies to all these ills and evils, their solutions of  “flower power” and “make love, not war” might seem juvenile, shallow and plain silly to us now. And of course they are. But at least they emerged from a place of human decency and compassion. No matter how misguided and practically counterproductive their “panaceas” were, the problems they identified and focused on were real, urgent and compelling – and most of all, they mainly plagued the weakest amongst us and they devastated their lives the most.

For example, their opposition to the Vietnam war sprang from basic human empathy. Naturally, there were sociopaths and opportunists among the protesters that saw an opening to gain power or to sell some extreme ideology, but the average student holding up a peace sign did for benign reasons. After all, it was the first time that the savagery of war was televised and they were the first generation to actually observe it.

The Left and the Right of the time were exposed to the same images. Many in the Right chose to prioritise their preexisting beliefs, political inclinations and (most cynically) their own interests over the evidence of their own eyes. Yet so many (if not most) members of that “old Left”, even if they were not directly impacted by it, stood up for something else, something other than themselves, something more important, more noble.

In fact, it can be argued that the “Leftie” reaction to these horrors made us all proud to be human. They were shocked and sickened by the true and unedited face of War, they were disturbed by its brutality and shaken to their core by its barbarism. And then were outraged. And then they were enraged. And then, crucially, they realised they could do something about it.

So many of them actually, truly cared – unlikely as it might seem to our cynical eyes today. So they mobilised, they organised, they recruited and they galvanised. And finally, they made a difference. Many of them (the optimist in me would hope “most”) were motivated by human empathy alone – others were radicalised by a toxic, collectivist ideology that was always doomed to crash and burn (just like it did every single time it was tried in real life).

However, there were also those precious few who did not simply follow what “felt right” or what was popular or convenient at the time, but instead made the effort to form their own opinion. They read everything they could have read, they actually doubted and argued and analysed and scrutinised the foundational principles and core tenets of the set of beliefs they eventually chose to adopt and abide by. It is thanks to those precious few that we have our idea of modern debate, of civilised, respectful, yet totally unshackled and unfiltered, real, meaningful dialogue.

Let us “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”

Many of us might feel that this is a time when the mainstream media, the establishment and the Zeitgeist in general are all hostile towards people who hold conservative values or towards those who simply wish to preserve their historical identity and culture, or even those who merely want to be left alone. And regrettably, all this is most likely true at the moment.

But there was a time when the same was true for the “other side”. There was a time, not so long ago, that speaking out against an unjust and illegitimate war was a “fringe” opinion. There was a time when fighting for civil rights (aka basic human dignity that today we take for granted) was not popular nor convenient and there was a time when defending the right of women to exist as equals, as sovereign individuals, and not as mere “grateful servants”, was clearly not the mainstream view. It took courage, it took selflessness, it took real grace and actual bravery to publicly embrace these opinions and to stick by them.

And this is why I admire and revere and so sorely miss those good old, decent, honourable “Lefties”. These good people, these true humanists, these hopeless romantics, these indefatigable Don Quixotes. We clashed and we differed in every conceivable way, apart from the only way that really matters. We had nothing in common, save for one thing: our unquestionable, unassailable respect for each other and for our fellow man.

That’s what I love and miss the most about this class of people: Like me, like you, no matter how deeply they believed in their ideas and how much they loved to win an argument, they loved humanity more. They would gladly be proven wrong if that meant that those around them would prosper, just like I could imagine nothing better than to see proof that the egalitarian utopia they envision (where everyone is provided for and nobody has to work anymore because of central planning or resource redistribution or Universal Basic Income or any other equivalent), could actually work for more than a week.

————- END PART 1

In the upcoming second part, we’ll look at the “big shift” that occurred over the last couple of decades, how it exposed the hypocrisy of political leaders and how it permanently damaged whatever credibility our current system had. 

This article has been published in the Newsroom of pro aurum, the leading precious metals company in Europe with an independent subsidiary in Switzerland.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Therefore please feel free to share.

Claudio Grass, Hünenberg See, Switzerland 2023