Right and left in the 21st Century

Ricardo Israel.

With that title, a Forum took place on April 26 in Miami, organized by the Interamerican Institute for Democracy and the Adam Smith Center for Economic Freedom at Florida International University. The timing was opportune for two days earlier Macron had been re-elected in France, but his rival’s political sector had obtained its best historical performance. It was the ratification of the obsolescence of socialists and republicans, who for decades had marked the political times in that country.

The very name of right and left had emerged with the dawn of the French Revolution to indicate the location of monarchists and revolutionaries in the National Assembly of 1789. Their duration was quite an achievement, since they were for a long time the best description of political options and a facilitator of understanding for many people, especially in electoral periods, and around the world.

In France and other countries, they were – at least in this second round – replaced by globalists versus patriots as a representation of the alternatives at stake.

It coincides with other changes and is an expression of what is best called Post-Democracy, and “post” is used whenever good conceptual tools are not yet available to explain an important transformation. Democracy undoubtedly has two great virtues: firstly, it is a conceptual universe that originated in classical Greece and where there is a certain unanimity in what is and is not, in addition to, secondly, it is part of the International and internal Law of many countries, in the way defined for example by the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Therefore, the surnames that are added to it are usually rather an unacceptable distortion, and even a mockery.

At the same time, and without a doubt, it is in trouble and with growing problems even in its best national expressions and clearly in retreat in Latin America, where the number of dictatorships rather increases than decreases these days, including the control of governments through organized crime, and the confrontation more than being right and left, is clearly between democracy and dictatorship, between respect for human rights and their violation.

Freedoms appear to us in danger not by the assault on power by the equivalents of the Winter Palace of the Bolsheviks of the twentieth century, but good or bad democracy is destroyed from within, often using the courts of justice or with the change of the constitution and the radical modification of the rules of the game. It is an agenda that does not need guerrillas to move forward.

There is a challenge to democracy from autocracies and illiberal regimes. It is also affected by polarization, since it needs dialogue and commitment to flourish, being also dirty money, including that of drugs, a serious problem for democracy. For its part, political Islam is a denial of it as is authoritarian populism.

It also coincides with a period of rearrangement on the international scene, not only because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but above all, because of what will characterize this twenty-first century, which is the geopolitical struggle between China and the United States as the undisputed superpower, which is not a repetition of the Cold War of the last century, at least for a double reason: the first is the economic power of China and the second is that in the level of development, rather than competing two systems, what there is is the market, but the difference is whether the process is conducted from freedom or control from above.

What Russia and Putin do is prove how wrong Fukuyama was in predicting the End of History, as it returns and reappears, at least as a geopolitical variable.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself seems to have many difficulties in imposing itself on positions that should be marginal or limited to academic exchange, and that have become massive, such as, for example, the untampered criticism of some opinions considered unacceptable. In the same way, Social Networks group those who think alike and push for confrontation, which is aggravated when from the companies themselves, executives and owners exercise censorship, not always with reason.

The emergence of self-proclaimed moral superiority greatly harms, since it introduces into the political debate quasi-religious criteria , so that differences are no longer processed between adversaries, but between good and bad, with whom there is and can be no compromise.
In short, the political center in the form of center-right or center-left is swept away in many places, from the moment that more than aspiring to the majority, it seeks to add different minorities. It also coincides with the reappearance of fascism not as an ideology or government, but as tactics of cancellation to those who think differently or those who are unpleasant to us, affecting not only freedom of expression but also imposing themselves in places as unexpected as universities.

It is difficult for the tradition of informed debate that the right and left represented in traditional politics, as alternatives of freedom versus equality to survive as part of a civilizational compromise. It appears confronting both a totalitarian danger, different from what was known in the twentieth century, but no less dangerous. It is a new form of totalitarianism, starting with the recreation of the Orwell dystopia of 1984. It is also a way of showing the analytical validity of Hannah Arendt, and not only because of her banality of evil, but also because of the actuality of what she wrote about the origins of totalitarianism.

In this disappearance of what left and right once represented and the familiarity of their former representation, there is undoubtedly a disenchantment with modernity and a deterioration of the idea that citizens must control power, all power, from the moment that the maximum expression, is when those who have power do not need to repress since they have the enthusiastic acceptance of the subjects who should question what happens to them. The control of language points not only to the religious vision of politics, but also to a “correct” thought that does not accept dissent, and, therefore, a debate on equal terms is not allowed, since the interlocutor is not recognized as legitimate.

Part of this new scenario is the large number of equivalents to flat earthers in almost all issues and in all debates of public importance, with the dangerous ubiquity of fake news, in an environment of increasing loss of importance of traditional media, helped by communicators who are perceived as biased and not as defenders of the common good.

We are witnessing a post-democracy that does not accept the limits of democracy, and where there is no equality of arms between reason and emotion, but where emotion has almost completely bent reason. It is a reissue, happily at the discursive level for now, of what was known in China with Mao’s Cultural Revolution, only it is not against Confucius, but in the current Western version it is against the process that we have lived the last centuries, known as the Enlightenment, which also has its own elite and which is sometimes shown in the fight against symbols and monuments, as in the Chinese version.

They are new elites that seek to impose their own version of cultural revolution, and, therefore, new oligarchies, which from these new forms of power have cornered the democrats in the defense of the democratic tradition and / or the liberal tradition, in the way the defense of these currents was understood, either from the left or from the democratic right. It is a cornering that leads to self-censorship and mono discourse, and where the tradition of exchanges within rules accepted by the left and right version of those rules of civility, today is presented as obsolete, since the facts have been replaced by narratives.

In this struggle, the exchange of democratic left and right and their meeting at an intermediate point of the center, has lost importance and relevance, being replaced by narratives. The success of these stories is that it is not necessary to convince but to impose, even if it is not done by violent or dictatorial means. Its success is manifested in the number of people who do not see alternatives, but accept narratives without resistance, as something “natural” of the times that are lived.

The above is the context where certain right and left have their continuity questioned in the twenty-first century. The problem is that it inevitably leads to the progressive capture of the state as well as democratic institutions, to politics as a new religion, albeit without God, and that the masters of truth in the twenty-first century are turning out to be as pernicious and intolerant as they were in past centuries.

“The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author”.