After the General Election (and sometimes before), lots of column inches have been devoted to how we need to make a case for capitalism, as the new generations don’t see it as quite so obvious how good it is as those who experienced alternative systems. What all the commentariat seem to have missed, is people becoming more comfortable with authoritarianism. It seems a trope on the Right that the new fascists will be the anti-fascists. What people seem blind to, is that these groups set themselves up as vigilantes, therefore using the methods that can effectively defeat their enemies. And while we all thought they were crying wolf, the fascists were growing in number behind the scenes. Before you knew it, Nazi flags were waving at what would otherwise look like a fairly innocuous (if obnoxious) right-wing rally, under the auspice of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
On the other side of the Atlantic, where chances are that if you are taking a group photo of Tories someone will shout “Free market economics and the rule of law”, reactions to the events in the US were of disbelief. In fact, half of Twitter seems to have been engaged, at some point or another, in pointing out the hypocrisy of Nigel Farage stating that. Except it’s no hypocrisy, and that’s the problem. In the way we assumed capitalism had won the war against the spectrum of authoritarian socialism, so we thought Liberty had won. The Nazis, helped by the fact we’re approaching the 100 years from WWII (and those who were alive during their heyday are all transitioning to the afterlife), have become figures of history. They are our idea of pure evil, but they are a historical one. It’s like the raids of the barbarians in the Roman empire. Judging from the pictures of Charlottesville, a large chunk of these people would have no recollection of something as recent as the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Something that affected my grandparents’ generation looks so remote it could be Medieval. For anyone over the age of 50 it’s not quite so historical: it was their parents’ experience. They know it happened, they know it’s wrong and they can’t see why anyone would think it’s a good idea. As humans, we are hardwired to think everyone else thinks like us. That’s why those of an older generation who think their views are just common sense against an arbitrary left-wing agenda threatening the world-as-we-know-it-and-as-it-should-be just didn’t see how far the alt-right would go. For them, there is a line that no decent person, no matter what their beliefs are, won’t cross. For people to the left of them, it’s hard to see that, because we instinctively see their prejudices as already very right wing. In the way we thought capitalism had won and it was self-evident, clearly such a line that you don’t cross isn’t evident to everyone.
People are saying Trump made white supremacists come out in the open, but sadly I think they’re the ones who made Trump in the White House happen. The commonly held idea seems to be that, with Trump in the White House, they feel safe to be out in the open. That they feel like they have a fighting chance for their grievances. Yet, the US system is such that Trump’s candidacy itself is a sign of what was bubbling under the surface. When nobody took him seriously, I knew that if he secured the candidacy he’d be in the White House.
The dark corners of the internet that historians of colonialism know too well were full of such people that the mainstream ignored. Trump is the evidence that Pandora’s box is open. Of course they are out in the open now, they managed to put their man in the White House.
The first reaction to the outbursts of this anger, when no Nazi flags were on the horizon and no innocent blood had been spilled, was to say we should listen. Maybe these grievances are legitimate, we thought. For the liberal Right, with its emphasis on the individual, frustration with identity politics certainly feels so. In hindsight, it clearly wasn’t the right reaction: while some of the population that elected Trump certainly qualify for it, it’s evident many are happy to engage in identity politics instead. They like to make themselves out as an oppressed group, oppressed by a society that divides people in categories, in a hierarchy of privilege and labours to push the interests of those at the bottom of the hierarchy before those at the top. It would be simplistic to say that the Left created them. Every civilisation in history has evidence of in-group mentality one way or another.
And in-group mentality is what this is all about. They’re more than happy to live under a state that tells them what they can or cannot do, as long as the winners look like them. Instead of looking at the great tradition of liberalism that gave them the country they claim to represent, and the meaning of being an American, and the constitution that allows them to go around with a symbol that’s outlawed in half of Europe, they looked at a system of thought that played identity politics to rise to power at a time of economic downturn and uncertainty. Instead of fighting identity politics, which they would tell you is what they are against, they used it to their advantage (or tried to). The problem with that, and why societies have fought for Liberty throughout history, is that it’s too arbitrary. If one day you’re a winner, the next you could be a loser, and then what? It’s not like regimes haven’t turned against their own before…
The only thing that can make us a winner and protect us from ever becoming a loser is our shared humanity. That’s the basis of human rights, which became the foundation stone of the United Nations: our forefathers’ way of saying “never again” to the atrocities of the last century.
Human rights seem to have become the prerogative of the Left, but the Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins with these words: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. Condemning the violence and the use of Nazi symbols is all well and good, but it’s not enough. It can be understandable that a forceful response to such a resurgence is seen as a good option, such is the threat that it poses to the world, but there is a reason why such document exists. The previous generation knew what they were doing when writing it. We need to remember that and fight for Liberty.