Domestic politics in metamodern times

The postmodern years have been marked by a slow but steady development towards political stability and economic prosperity, at least from a western perspective. After the turmoil of the 1960s and, to a lesser extent, the 1970s and, to a much lesser extent, the 1980s, the 1990s might be described, in the words of Charles Krauthammer, as ‘a holiday from History.’ The so-called ‘peace’ brought by the steady rise of Empire and the formation of the European Union, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall; and the so-called ‘wealth’ brought by the deregulation of the financial system and the transition to a white-collar economy, the flexibilisation of the job market and a credit-driven consumerism all seemed to confirm Fukuyama’s End of History.

These trends and tendencies might be best illustrated from the perspective of national politics and domestic policy, as these domains can be conceived as a mediating level between the global and local, the point of contact between the space of flows and the space of places, the moment of intersection between World History and personal life narratives. Seen from this perspective, then, it can be argued that the postmodern era led, slowly but surely, to the appeasement of political oppositions and the blunting of ideological contradictions, up to the point where the differences between Adam Smith and Karl Marx, the invisible hand of the market and the clinched fist of the commune, liberals and socialists, progressives and conservatives were slowly but surely rendered invisible by political stability and economic prosperity.

Consider, for example, the continuation of Thatcher & Reagan’s Neoliberalism by Blair & Clinton’s Thirdway-ism, a development that seemed to legitimize Thatcher’s slogan that There Is No Alternative and a development that was neatly summarised by Dutchman Wim Kok (former-Union-leader-cum-Prime-Minister and ‘spiritual father’ of the Third Way) as ‘shaking off the ideological feathers’. All was quiet on the Western front. Or, so it seemed.

This is not to say that all postmodern tendencies are over and done with. But we do believe many of them are taking another shape, and, more importantly, a new sens, a new meaning, and direction. History, in other words, has resumed its course. For the 2000s were haunted by the specters of immigration and multiculturalism, terrorism and populism, climate crisis and credit crunch, the failed attempt to establish a Constitution for the European Union and the Euro-crisis, the demise of American unilateralism and the rise of economies such as Brasil and Russia, India and China, the so-called BRICs.

Looking back at the end of the decade it is easy to see that the realm of domestic politics altered accordingly, as the political centre collapsed and political contradictions resurfaced. Let me illustrate these points by means of a few examples.

In the US, recently, the election of President Obama rallied the country behind a progressive agenda of social reform, leading to attempts to restructure the financial sector, reform Health Care and balance the government books. Meanwhile, the Republicans have won heavily in the recent mid-term elections thanks to a radicalized conservative wing, spearheaded by Sarah Palin, Fox News and the infamous Tea Party.

In the UK, recently, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats formed the first coalition since the Second World War to govern the country. Meanwhile, Labour is redirecting its course after the apparent failure of Blair’s Thirdway politics and the disastrous spell of Gordon Brown. After a dramatic race between the Milliband brothers, the natural heir to Blair’s legacy, David, lost to the favorite of Labour’s left wing, Ed, who was elected the new Party leader, and this is telling, as the result of the support of the Unions.

In the Netherlands, recently, the first minority cabinet since the Second World War got installed, headed by the first Liberal (rightwing) Prime-Minister since the First World War and made possible by the support of Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam party. Meanwhile, Labour distanced itself from their former Thirdway politics by means of a dismissive speech of Wouter Bos (still leading the party at that time) and the Unions organized the longest strike since the Great Depression.

We could go on and on and on. We could go on about the consecutive minority coalitions in Denmark, supported by the rightwing populists of The Danish People’s Party, the need for much contested reforms concerning the climate crises and the credit crunch,
the wave of strikes that will undoubtedly engulf Europe, the historical first seat for the extreme-right in Swedish Parliament, the recent start of the debate concerning the multicultural society in Germany and so on so forth… But the list is intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive. All of the above mentioned examples, however, point towards a similar political reality: the constant need to both create an re-create small majorities or large minorities and position and reposition oneself within an increasingly polarized political landscape.

Image: courtesy GettyImage

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