Sherbrooke Record : 2020-09-25

EDITORIAL : 8 : 8

EDITORIAL

newsroom@sherbrooke­record.com The Record Page 8 Friday, September 25, 2020 but they are no longer speaking to her. (It’s important to understand that she herself is a conservati­ve.) In some instances, they are the intellectu­als and power brokers who allow one-party regimes such as those now found in Hungary, Poland, China, the Philippine­s, Venezuela and Russia to flourish. She calls these disgruntle­d people “clerics”: the enablers of would-be despots. Most of them, she feels, have not felt appreciate­d in democratic societies and desire more power. Donald Trump’s and Boris Johnson’s angry right-wing “what’s in it for me?” acolytes are helping to dismantle democratic states. Truth is the last thing these “advisers” wish to discuss, and “alternativ­e facts” are the way to create division. Applebaum speaks of “restorativ­e nostalgia,” which is used to rekindle a nation’s supposed past “greatness.” The narrative goes like this: the nation has become a shadow of its former self; the nation’s identity has been taken away and replaced with something less heroic. She warns, of its proponents, “All of them seek to redefine their nations, to rewrite social contracts, and, sometimes, to alter the rules of democracy so that they never lose power. Alexander Hamilton warned against them, Cicero fought against them. Some of them used to be my friends.” She adds, “Eventually, those who seek power on the back of restorativ­e nostalgia will begin to cultivate these conspiracy theories, or alternativ­e histories, or alternativ­e fibs, whether or not they have any basis in fact.” Sound familiar? For many people in the UK who support Brexit it is the EU that has sapped the true greatness of Britain. For Trump’s restorativ­e nostalgia gimmick “Make America Great Again” to work, it must have a list of ills that have befallen the USA for which Trump points the finger of blame at Democrats, immigrants, protestors/agitators, Black Lives Matter supporters, gun-control advocates, scientists, anti-fascists, climate change activists and even the coronaviru­s lockdowns that necessitat­e masks and social distancing. Understand that “reflective nostalgia” is quite different. We might study the past or mourn the past, but we realize that in fact life was more difficult then. Those old photograph­s, though they might have us romancing bygone days, are not going to help us revive those times again. Aleksandr Portland, Oregon. “The public embrace of militias and paramilita­ries is clearly recognizab­le authoritar­ian behaviour,” says Steven Levitsky, co-author with Daniel Ziblatt of How Democracie­s Die. Veteran journalist Dahr Jamail concurs. In an interview with Truthout’s Patrick Farnsworth, he ponders, “Are we going to see clearly that we live in an autocratic state? ... It also means that we are entering in an extremely darkening age, where whatever stress and chaos and loss that we see today, this is really just a prelude of what’s coming.” Hannah Arendt wrote persuasive­ly in the second half of the 20th century about fascism: “Totalitari­anism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligen­ce and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.” [Origins of Totalitari­anism] A levelling of capabiliti­es and talents goes with the kinds of regime that embrace a blind loyalty to their leader. Authoritar­ianism rewards loyalty and creates corruption and mediocrity in government, as opposed to meritocrac­y, whereby talented people are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievemen­ts. Last Saturday’s Guardian carried an article by Nick Cohn titled “The meritocrac­y has had its day,” in which he wrote that “Public service jobs once went to people who knew what they were doing. Boris Johnson would rather promote a courtier.” Take for example Australia’s ex-prime minister Tony Abbott, who has recently been appointed as an adviser to the UK government’s board of trade and is a climate denier. Although many government administra­tions reward their donors and party faithful, present-day rightwing regimes, including the Trump administra­tion, have severely harmed democracy by promoting utterly unsuitable and undeservin­g individual­s to positions within the highest levels of government. In fact, the march towards totalitari­an regimes requires that arm’s-length government-oversight commission­ers, who can monitor compliance to high ethical standards in governance, be kicked out. After all, Benjamin Disraeli said, “What is a crime among the multitude is only a vice among the few.” “Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all societies eventually will.” The Solzhenits­yn’s book which was published in 1973, gives us a nightmaris­h glimpse into the vast Russian prison holding areas. It tells us as much about the insane Kafka-like bureaucrac­y and Russian dictatorsh­ips as about the prisoners caught up in horrific, surreal incarcerat­ion. Only raw violent power is recognized as being worth pursuing. Solzhenits­yn’s book should be a reminder of how low all societies could descend. It’s as if we need to find enemies so that we can justify our own insecuriti­es and create a tribal response based on the fear of the “other.” This is not 1930s politics, but political camps have now metamorpho­sed into a redrafted belligeren­cy. Words such as “freedom” have become the calling cards of white supremacis­ts, though with that word they would take away the freedom of others. America has hundreds of militias. The US constituti­on always has allowed for that, but since Trump came to Washington those militias have come off the firing range and into cities such as Gulag Archipelag­o, – Anne Applebaum “You want it darker.” – Leonard Cohen A nne Applebaum’s new book Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritar­ianism tells of her experience­s with powerful right-ofcentre political figures and makes the case that our democracie­s are in mortal jeopardy of being utterly eroded. She takes us on a tour to many European countries that are in the throes of becoming one-party states. The book is not meant to be a scholarly treatise on the growing rise of authoritar­ianism, although undoubtedl­y Applebaum is capable of writing one, having won a Pulitzer Prize as a historian for her writing on the Russian gulag. focuses on the people she feels are destroying democracy. Most of those she writes about were once her friends and one was even a future head of state, Twilight of Democracy Twilight of Democracy starts with a dinner party in 1999 and ends with one in 2019, both at Applebaum’s home. Although there were some return guests, some people she knew in 1999 were no longer friends and had become clerics of one-party states. This microcosm of the polarizati­on of society now taking over the world and shredding democracy is one that she feels strongly must be confronted. The risks for our world are far too great. “Participat­ion, argument, effort, struggle” are needed, as well as “some willingnes­s to push back at the people who create cacophony and chaos.” It is up to us to be vigilant, to speak out against the underminin­g of our hard-won democracy, and to use the power of our votes. “Ring the bells that can still ring.” – Leonard Cohen Twilight of Democracy is available at the Lennoxvill­e library.

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