Apathy and chaos
Are the people taking revenge? A new book charts the demise of a liberal ruling class because of abuses suffered by disaffected voters. Kapil Komireddi reports
Western liberalism is in peril. Europe is disintegrating. America is in retreat. Liberal democracy is shrinking. Russia is on a rampage. China is positioning itself as the de facto leader of the world. How did we get here?
In The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Edward Luce advances answers as potent as hand grenades – and he hurls them without a sliver of sympathy at the nabobs who make the annual hegira to Davos. They have seceded from reality, he argues, and their insights are anachronistic piffle. These are not the judgements of a polemicist. They are the opinions of an enviably erudite observer who is intimately familiar with the world he is assailing. Luce is an exceedingly distinguished journalist who has spent more than two decades writing for the Financial Times. When he took a sabbatical from his day job in the mid 1990s, it was to serve as a speechwriter in the US Treasury Department. The following decade, he published In Spite of the Gods, one of the most entertainingly edifying books to date on the peculiar rise of India. He has spent the last decade writing from the United States and Time to Start Thinking, his superb work of reportage and analysis published in the first year of Barack Obama’s second term, warned presciently that the “window on America’s hegemony is closing”. Luce was still hopeful in 2012. This distressing new essay is nothing short of a deeply felt threnody for a rapidly perishing world order.
Luce views the presidency of Donald Trump as the terminal phase of an incurable sickness: elite apathy. Every page of The Retreat of Western Liberalism bristles with quiet rage at the technocrats, plutocrats and politicians who enabled, through their indifference to the concerns and anxieties of ordinary
The Retreat of Western Liberalism Edward Luce Little, Brown, Dh80