Five More Things

I mentioned Whoops Apocalypse, the TV series, some time ago. At the weekend I finally found the time to watch the film. In this version the plot is updated somewhat to reflect the fact that it was made in 1986 — four years after the TV series — but the humour is still as dark and bitingly effective as an increasingly farcical sequence of events drags the world ever closer to nuclear armageddon.

As a satire made and set during the Cold War, the film is very much of its time and you probably need to have lived through the 1980s for some of the jokes to work. It does, however, manage an accidentally contemporary moment when the US president (played by Loretta Swit) incredulously asks: “You’re telling me that the entire population of Great Britain went and elected a deranged psychotic to the highest office of the land? Again?”

Remaining with the ongoing disaster that is British politics, N Piers Ludlow asks whether the UK ever understood how the EU works. Given that the UK has been a member of the bloc for over 40 years, the conclusion is damning, to say the least.

On a more positive note, Jo Swinson was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats this week and Timothy Garton Ash is optimistic about her chances of leading a fightback for liberal Britain. We live in hope.

Returning to the subject of films, for a moment, Marvel has revealed their Phase 4 MCU lineup and Den of Geek has the details. Ignoring the Disney+ releases — I absolutely am not going to get tied into signing up to endless streaming services — the upcoming Black Widow film is long overdue and I am really looking forward to seeing how they handle Thor: Love And Thunder. Also: Blade is coming back!

And finally, Ian Stewart’s article on social physics reminded me of a book I read some time ago, namely Critical Mass by Philip Ball. The takeaway from both is that you may be an individual but, in aggregate, we are a lot more predictable than we realise.

The strange rebirth of Liberal Europe

Over at Thinking Liberal, Matthew Green asks if 2019 will be the year of the Liberal backlash.

This liberal backlash is based on two things. Firstly that younger people don’t hold with the anti-liberal movement. For them global warming is a real threat, and diversity a real asset. This needs qualification: less educated youngsters are picking up on the right-wing attack, and indeed they are behind a lot of the associated violence. But they form a lower proportion than they used to, and are prone to apathy. Meanwhile a large part of the original backlash comes from older people. This gives the potential for the pendulum to swing back. Time may be on the liberals’ side.

I’m not entirely convinced. While it is true that illiberal and anti-liberal populists rely on an angry but shrinking demographic, these people still appear to be willing to give a pass to their leaders. Given that the more committed people are to a worldview, the harder it is to turn away from it I think that the retreat from authoritarian thinking will be long and slow.

This, however, is very true:

[I]t is clear that the anti-liberal populists don’t have long term solutions for the main problems afflicting society. In fact, beyond the headlines, their solutions involve the breaking down of democratic institutions to provide cover for crony capitalism in league with a crony state.

Populists don’t have solutions. They are adept at channeling (often legitimate) anger in order to win power but once they gain power the paucity of their programmes quickly become apparent. The speed with which many Brexiters fled the scene once the referendum was won is a reflection not only of this paucity but also the extent to which they know that they have nothing beyond a few well-chosen slogans.

I don’t share Matthew’s faith in the strength of democratic institutions — the ongoing disaster of the Trump presidency shows just how weak these institutions can be — but these can be rebuilt.

The populist tide will recede but I don’t think this is going to happen quickly or consistently across countries. Emmanuel Macron demonstrated that it is still possible to defeat the far right with liberal, optimistic and internationalist programme. We need more of this.

Quote of the Day: The opposite of populism

Properly understood, liberalism has at its core a profound belief in the empowerment of, agency of and respect for every individual. It is not a license for individuals to do whatever they want. The social and economic liberal order has not been merely imposed by a decadent elite who have been its sole beneficiaries. It is a philosophy that has helped to enrich, emancipate and improve the lives of the overwhelming majority of people in the west.

Ryan Shorthouse