History doesn’t repeat, it rhymes

The flipside of the European dream is that by its nature, the vision of “non-imperial empire” as Barroso calls it is a powerful encouragement to the paranoid imagination. Curiously, the vision remains much the same across different paranoid styles; almost uncannily so.

In Britain, a surprisingly large number of people in the Conservative Party – not just UKIP and the BNP – think that the existence of “regions” is a secret plot to dismantle the UK, somehow associated with a scheme to reduce the British Army to 100,000 men, at which point it magically becomes “a defence force” – that the Israelis call their military that doesn’t seem to register.

In the United States, fascinatingly, the know-nothing hard right is gradually developing an ideological position that can be best described as American Euroscepticism. Supposedly, George W. Bush is scheming to replace the dollar with a new currency for a tyrannous North American Union; it will be called the “amero”. The upshot is that Mexicans are coming to take your stuff. It seems clear that the Gedankengut of the British far right is being repurposed in the US.

And in Turkey, right-wing generals apparently think the AKP’s drive for EU membership is part of a cunning plan to Talibanise Turkey. By joining the EU, the army’s role in politics will be terminated. Then, the AKP will unmask itself and convert Turkey into Afghanistan. It’s astonishing how similar these paranoid structures are. They clearly bear some similarities to well-known cultural tropes about the seductions of prosperity and peace, which go back to the ancient Greeks, and to the fascist idea sometimes described as the “city as whore”. After all, there is no real future for a military-ruled Turkey that beats EU membership.

But it’s an occupational hazard of being the Borg.

Book Review: “European Integration 1950-2003: Superstate or New Market Economy?”

Once upon a time, there was a large, intellectually hegemonic, somewhat totalising ideology rooted in a heterodox school of economics. Its advocates proposed to make massive changes to the structure of society and claimed that only such a revolutionary realignment could alleviate the contradictions and failures of the existing order and save the world from stagnation and misery. They claimed that their programme would produce immediate results, and that the only reason it wasn’t immediately implemented was because entrenched interests were manipulating the public against them.

Ultimately, advocates of these principles did gain power in many places and were able to implement elements of their programme. Some came to power through revolutions of various kinds that granted them the near-dictatorial powers they needed to make the changes they believed necessary. Others were able to convince electorates and even elites that theirs was the way of the future. They turned public dissatisfaction to their advantage, especially during economic downturns when people were willing to turn to new solutions and elites feared that the masses would turn against them.

And, they had some arguable successes, but no unambiguous ones. In some places, particularly those where effectively unlimited power had shifted to them, they often maintained highly inequitable regimes which grew harder and harder to justify, faced ever growing public disaffection, and turned to more oppressive and manipulative means to sustain control. This undermined their movement, but despite the best efforts of their enemies was not quite able to kill it off.

In states where more democratic methods had been used, the need to compromise with established interests and to sustain public consent forced them to accept measures often contrary to their initial programme. Their ideological identity tended to shift over time as winning elections grew more important than ideological purity and as the drawbacks of real power became apparent. Actually being held responsible for results forced many members of this tradition to accept their enemies’ interests as at least partially legitimate, and compelled them to less radical legislative programmes.

In some of those nations, these radical parties became increasingly manipulative and difficult to distinguish from their former enemies. But, in a few places, the necessary dilution of their programme brought about an ideological synthesis that appeared successful, and this success in turn showed that the radical programmes they had once advocated were perhaps unnecessary. In the end, ideology had no real hold on them, and the models and methods that seemed to work became the political and economic programme that they were identified with. Their former allies who operated more dictatorial regimes were easily repudiated.

But others were unable to accept that option. They included dissidents who had been burned by the growing authoritarianism of their own failed revolutions, or who were simply unable to accept that their early ideological purity had become superfluous. They were isolated and powerless, only able to function in the states where their former allies had become moderates, leaving them without meaningful public support. They fumed at the world’s unwillingness to go the way they wanted, and increasingly recast the history of the world in terms of their own ideological predispositions. The past became, in their minds, an unending conflict between an ideologically pure vanguard and scheming established interests, a story of their courageous champions betrayed by back-sliding traitors. Ultimately, the world moved on and these radicals virtually disappeared outside of intellectually protected milieux like privately-funded think tanks and universities.

Of course, by the now the astute reader will have recognised that I am talking about the history of neoliberalism.
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