The New Authoritarianism
Previous Risk Watch articles, e.g.
(21-27 Sep 2016), have highlighted the growing threats to the fundamental democratic right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This article considers further the current phenomenon of the New Authoritarianism that is sweeping the Western world and whether it represents ‘real’ democracy or an unacceptable hegemony.
I was and remain a Euroskeptic who nonetheless felt that, on balance and ‘big picture’, the UK would be better off remaining in the EU. However, having acknowledged the pro-Brexit referendum win on June 23, we now have to make the Brexit process and its outcome the best we can. I do not believe in harking back to what might have been, nor to advocating a second referendum, nor to any kind of backsliding legal or political attempts to wriggle out of the clear result of the June referendum. While, for example, over the next few years there are some likely negative consequences of the Brexit decision emerging for the UK economy and other things, we have to do our best to minimise them and manage them. There is no point in crying over spilt milk. The clock cannot be turned back. Despite my clearly stated position, some of the nastier and more childish pro-Brexit and proTrump zealots of my acquaintance just cannot accept it. If I am not 100% with them then I must surely be 100% against them, so like little playground bullies they chant ‘commie’, ‘cry baby’, ‘get over it’ as if somehow I am refusing to accept the poll results. Utterly pathetic!
Nevertheless, post-referendum it is right and proper that both the substance and procedures of the Brexit process, which could well take several more years to complete, should be subject to analysis, discussion, debate, and, where necessary, challenge, whether among the public, in the media, among politicians, or in Parliament. That is surely democratic accountability at work. Moreover, in a parliamentary democracy it is right and proper that determination of matters of law and constitution on the Brexit process should be made not by the executive (i.e. government) but by the judiciary. The return of independent decision-making powers to British judges, which it was claimed had been purloined by the European Court, was after all a key plank of the pro-Brexit referendum campaign. The Brexiteers cannot cherry-pick when they accept British judicial decisions and when they do not.
But no. I have been told time and again by numerous fixated Brexiteers that, once the Brexit referendum result came in, that was the democratic result and no further discussion, debate, analysis or challenge could ever take place, including policy and strategy options, implementation options, coping with risks and contingencies and the thousand-and-one practicalities of getting to the final exit date and onwards. The evident growing muddle and hiatus of the British government on its Brexit strategy and the potential for a real crisis point up the need for democratic scrutiny. However, in the Brexiteers’ minds as expressed to me, the democratic process on Brexit related solely to achieving the referendum result and absolutely no further. They seem terrified of accountability. I am sure readers will be as amazed as me at the absurdity of such a position, for it is tantamount to declaring an elected dictatorship: they will accept democracy so long as it suits them to get into power or the policy decision they want, and then they suspend, cancel or manipulate democracy so that their wishes will prevail ad infinitum. Hitler gained absolute power via the democratic ballot box before immediately suspending democracy in favour of his totalitarian Nazi regime. Erdogan in Turkey and Putin in Russia are also heading down the elected dictatorship road, along with other lesser regimes.
We have seen a broadly similar authoritarian tableau to pro-Brexit played out by the Trump campaign in the recent US presidential election. The common theme of Brexit and Trump supporters is that ‘the Establishment’, i.e. government and the traditional political parties, are not listening to them about their concerns on such things as immigration, national control, job losses from cheap imports or jobs moving abroad. Some of these complaints may well be valid up to a point. However, as the respected columnist and former MP Matthew Parris wrote recently, many of their complaints do not bear much scrutiny in factual terms. It could be argued that many complainers fall into the ‘snowflake’ category who have an exaggerated sense of their own self-worth and entitlement and demand protection from imagined or inflated indignities. False beliefs and exaggerated fears among an electorate about immigrants, for example, are easy for skilled demagogues to whip up into nationalistic frenzy whereby voters become convinced that their only salvation is to vote for the authoritarian candidate who will ‘protect’ them. However, whatever the merits of their grievances, they have absolutely no right to demand pathological solutions and political leaders have absolutely no right to offer them much less deliver them.
It is often said that truth is the first casualty of war. It could equally apply to politics. It is generally accepted that politicians and their acolytes are likely to cherry pick ‘the truth’ and massage it and finesse it to their best advantage. Presenting their best case is, perhaps, the acceptable face of politicians. We tolerate it. However, what has been emerging in recent years and very much so in the US Presidential Election campaign is the ‘post-truth’ phenomenon, an altogether different proposition. Post-truth refers to the deliberate fabrication and dissemination of plausible but false news stories in order to assist in a black propaganda campaign against a political target.
The Russians have been running a sophisticated posttruth operation against the West for some years. Now, the Trump campaign and its ultra-right wing supporters such as Breitbart News have adopted it. One of the benefits for posttruth peddlers is that not only are many recipients likely to believe the lies, but also the targets would have to engage in time-consuming, costly and possibly ineffective efforts to repudiate the lies. Of course, if electoral candidates rely on post-truth tactics, it calls into question the true strength of their manifesto and trustworthiness.
So far in this article, I have referred to the New Authoritarianism that is sweeping the Western world, whether Trump in the US, UKIP and Britain First in the UK, Le Pen in France, Wilders in Holland, Hofer and FPOe in Austria, Orban and Fidesz in Hungary, the Italian Northern League or Golden Dawn in Greece. For New Authoritarianism I could easily have substituted neo-fascism. Traditionally, the fascism label has been applied almost exclusively to rightwing authoritarianism, such as the examples cited above, but it could apply equally to left-wing extremism. For example, the bullying and anti-semitism by the authoritarians now controlling the Momentum faction within the British Labour Party has all the hallmarks of fascism. Beware the Loony Left as much as the Loony Right.
I have had the privilege of writing up the wartime memoirs of a good friend Albert ‘Danny’ Hunter, now sadly dead, who was an early member of the Special Boat Squadron in the Eastern Mediterranean, Italy and the Balkans 19421945. His relevance to this article lies in three key things. First, the SBS teams were all utterly dedicated to the defeat of fascism. Second, the SBS patrol groups were an eclectic mix of nationalities united by a common purpose. In addition to Brit members, there was the Danish Anders Lassens, Mario an ex-Italian PoW, Karl an Austrian Jew whose family had been killed by the Nazis, an American medic and so on. Third, utmost bravery and self-sacrifice: whether Capt Lassens, who won a posthumous VC at Lake Commacchio, Lt Bob Berry killed in action on Piscopi or the many others. Regrettably, the fascists they fought against more than 70 years ago have re-emerged as the New Authoritarian insurgents, just as ugly, dishonourable and poisonous but desperate to acquire a cloak of respectabilty and normality. Heroes they are not!