October 17, 2019
Author: Chilton Williamson
Liberals can talk all they want to about liberal democratic capitalism being the future of the world. If only for their own good, however, and that of their country they ought to ponder more deeply than they have done so far on the significance of contemporary social and political events in Great Britain and the United States, and shout less about them.
Great Britain is the fons et origo of political liberties and rights as we think of them in the West today, and the U.S. is her first-born child in the same tradition. Both countries enjoy the rule of constitutional government. Britain’s constitution is an unwritten one, a matter of settled law, precedent, and prescription; ours a painstakingly devised and carefully written document. Both have been celebrated for their strength, flexibility, endurance, and longevity, in the case of Britain over a span of nearly a millennium, in that of America for two and a quarter centuries. Today, however, they are being sorely tested by severe political crisis of a truly radical nature.
The late Kenneth Minogue says somewhere in his book The Liberal Mind that a society, once it has been infected by the liberal virus, never recovers from it. He was speaking of liberalism as it was at the beginning of the 1960s; still a form, though a late one compromised by socialist elements, of classical liberalism. Minogue lived long enough to witness liberalism in its post-modern form, “advanced” liberalism or “progressivism.” He didn’t like it, and said so in Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology (2008) and The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life (2010). In contemporary democracies, the rule of civil and constitutional law and of representative politics is being subverted, weakened, deformed, and supplanted by the revolutionary force of postmodern liberalism as social, legal, and political doctrine.
The proximate causes of the present political crisis in the Anglosphere (as the French say) are the British electorate’s vote in the referendum on June 23, 2016 to take Britain out of the European Union, followed by the election of Donald Trump as President five months later. In both instances, the instigator of was one and the same thing: the liberal establishment in the United Kingdom and the United States for whom the “wrong people” won at the polls, who for that reason refused to accept the result, and who even saw no reason why they should do so. For the Anglophone establishment, liberal democracy is our glorious inevitable future—for so long as democratically made decisions go their way. This is scarcely a recent development in democratic politics, but it took two huge and resonant defeats for the liberal agenda—and most of all, perhaps, for liberal pride—to embolden liberals to play their hand, and show it defiantly. Having done so, they will stop at nothing now. Nothing, at least, that they think they can get away with, which is a lot.
In the United States, the Democrats and other liberals have been fighting since before the election, first to derail Trump’s candidacy and then to have him expelled from the Oval Office. In Great Britain, liberals and establishmentarians representing all the major parties, the Tories included, have spent the past three years working to prevent the will of the electorate from being executed by taking the UK out of the European Union. In both countries, what is happening is plain to everyone. In both countries also, liberals make no attempt to disguise what they are up to, which is nothing less than trying to pull off a coup d’état. In America the conspirators are the permanent bureaucracy, encouraged and abetted by one of the two principal political parties and certain members of the other one. In Britain they are Parliament, three quarters of whose members are Remainers belonging to the several parties, and the highly cooperative Supreme Court whose members—unlike the justices who sit on its American equivalent—are not voted into office by Parliament after having been grilled on their legal and political views by MPs but appointed directly to the bench. In the two oldest democracies on earth, politics is being superseded by law (or legalism): political decisions are being ignored or overridden by legal ones. This is happening, as everyone understands, because postmodern liberalism cannot execute its agenda by democratic means. Liberal politicians, administrators, and bureaucrats simply do not have the popular votes necessary for liberals to get done what they want done in politics.
The difference between the political situations in the United States and Great Britain respectively is that in America the crisis (so far) is a political crisis only, while in the UK what began as a political matter has ripened unmistakably into a constitutional one. The encroachment of the American permanent bureaucracy on political practice is dangerous, but it is being resisted by the current Republican administration and no one has dared so far to defend it in theory. It is true that some of the Democratic aspirants for the presidency are calling for abolishing the Electoral College and packing the Supreme Court, but that too is merely talk—again, for now. What does threaten constitutional government in this country is the evolution of Democrats and Republicans, liberals and Republicans into what appear to be almost two human subspecies that divide the nation more or less evenly between them. Clearly, the members of the Constitutional Convention that met from May to September 1787 never imagined themselves to be drafting a founding document for a nation so radically divided and lacking in consensus on almost everything as the United States has become. Whether the plan of government they finally agreed upon is capable of governing a country in which a once fundamentally unified society has become two rival ones continually at each others’ throats is at best a matter for uncertainty.
In Great Britain, a far more homogeneous, less ethnically and socially complex, more intimate, and more integrated nation (even when one takes Britain’s traditional class system into account), social and political divisions were more limited and simple—until the summer of 2016. Since then, old class distinctions have been refurbished and new ones established. The result is the almost complete realignment of political opinion, and new social bases to support it. British politics is no longer divided by class and occupation—the working class v. the landowning one, the rich and middle class v. the poor, the aristocratic toffs v. the plebes, etc. The new divide is between Leave and Remain, although it is true that the two positions, though they have not yet coalesced as separate and distinct parties, are substantially grounded on social, occupational, and economic differences, plus the regional one of north v. south. (Racial and ethnic differences are not really an issue in the United Kingdom, save for the great English cities.) The current political crisis in the United Kingdom is down to one thing and one thing only: the intransigence of a Parliament of Remainers that shamelessly refuses to recognize and act on the will of the fifty-two percent of the country that voted Leave. Remain MPs, Tory ones included, are all liberal so far at least as they belong to Britain’s “enlightened” political, financial, judicial, intellectual, and social establishment, and to the extent that they share the confidence of liberal elites everywhere in the rightness of their own judgment, the justice of whatever course they choose to endorse, and their moral and political right to see their will prevail over that of the common herd. Their determination and their stubbornness to ensure that it does so has unbalanced the British Constitution by asserting the power of Parliament (the legislative chamber) over that of the executive (the monarch, the Prime Minister, and his Cabinet) who are only trying to carry on with their constitutional functions. They have done this, first, by tying the PM’s hands by the Benn Act, which by law requires him to petition Brussels for an extension of Article 50 (which Parliament itself had passed) in the absence of a “managed” withdrawal from the EU; and, second, by appealing their political dispute over Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament last month to the Supreme Court, an act the Court obligingly determined was indeed unlawful. In the political and legal chaos that followed this decision, some people in Westminster are wondering whether Great Britain shouldn’t have a written constitution after all. Perhaps the committee entrusted with writing one (should it ever be formed) will complete the job a few years from now, just when the U.S. Constitution is discarded wholesale by a Progressive Democratic government in Washington.
Thirty years after Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history with the global establishment of liberal democratic capitalism, liberalism in its “advanced”—its updated and supposedly improved form—is doing its best to destroy liberal constitutional government in the two countries that invented it. So much for what one might call the liberal dialectic, which seems to be not much longer lived than the Marxist one proved to be.