When push comes to shove

Has a big divide opened up between the traditional grassroots electorates of left movements and a liberal left?

Carmel Vassallo
20 September 2017, 7:30am
In the last few decades, Western european nations have dismantled their capacity to ensure that territorial integrity is respected by both other nations and uninvited individuals
In the last few decades, Western european nations have dismantled their capacity to ensure that territorial integrity is respected by both other nations and uninvited individuals
In a recent article entitled ‘John Lennon is dead’, published in International Politics and Society, a respected publication founded over 50 years ago associated with the German Social Democratic Party, ─Żuboš Blaha, a Slovak Marxist philosopher and MP wrote: “The liberal vision of a borderless world serves only the monied, not the poor.”

In the article, the author points out that the Left’s ultra-liberal wing embraces a kind of liberal globalism with socialist characteristics while fighting hand-in-hand with right-wing neoliberals for a world without borders in which some sort of transnational regulatory body will oversee a brighter tomorrow, but this latter body has yet to materialize.

Put in another way, ultra-liberals are ‘imagining’ or ‘dreaming’ a borderless world, as John Lennon did in his song Imagine, without putting forward any viable structure that would replace the socially protective measures of nation states.

Blaha goes further and declares that “… liberal cosmopolitanism is not just a utopian concept, but also a dangerous one.” For a tiny elite their place of birth is of no consequence as they surf smoothly across the globe but the vast majority do not share this cosmopolitan identity. This majority but particularly those belonging to the lower social-economic strata are firmly rooted in their homelands, partly by inclination but also because they lack the resources or the education to live the global lifestyle.

A big divide has, as a consequence, opened up between the traditional grassroots electorates of left movements and a liberal left that is more focused on urban liberals, minorities, the LGBTIQ community, NGOs and other groupings which have come to the fore in our societies in recent decades. The latter groupings have in common that they are very vocal in defence of their own interests or in support of the particular causes they espouse but what they also have in common is that they are considerably outweighed, at least demographically and consequently in the polling booths, by those who in the normal course of events quietly get on with their lives without feeling compelled to make a fuss every time they feel that they are not getting their due.

This ‘silent majority’, a sleeping giant always at risk of being awoken by some demagogue, tends to focus somewhat more on the duties side of the citizen equation rather than on the entitlements side and is firmly rooted in traditional communities which also provide the core of shared values which constitute the moral compass which guides its daily life. 

Blaha’s discussion focuses on the West, but one could go further and note that over and above the fact that the ‘liberal cosmopolitan’ elite is a minority in the West itself, it is even more so in the wider scheme of things, with the rest of the world embracing a wide range of options, often at variance with Western democratic values. In such a world, ‘liberal’ Europe is leaving itself completely defenceless in the face of both those who would supplant Western democratic values and those whose preoccupations are far more immediate and mundane than the rarefied ‘moral high ground’ seemingly occupied by the liberal cosmopolitan elite whose basic material needs have already been satisfied.

"Peddling 'soft power' unilaterally in a rough neighbourhood is foolish and this is an issue that will come to haunt Europe as the century unwinds"
In the last few decades, the latter have nevertheless set out to systematically dismantle Western European nations’ capacity to attend to the most basic function of a nation state, namely, ensure that territorial integrity is respected by both other nations and uninvited individuals.

The clearest indicator of this are the pitiful amounts dedicated to defence, with leading EU members like Germany, the UK, and Italy spending considerably less than the average of 2.2% of GDP spent worldwide while assertive neighbours such as Russia spend more than 5.3% of GDP on defence. Peddling ‘soft power’ unilaterally in a rough neighbourhood is foolish and this is an issue that will come to haunt Europe as the century unwinds and the world’s demographic situation evolves particularly as regards changes afoot in Africa.

 

Out of Africa 

In the run-up to the recent G20 summit in Hamburg, EU Council President Donald Tusk stated that Europe had been struggling with the unprecedented wave of illegal migration for two years and declared that the EU objective is to stop this wave at its source but failed to specify how this is to happen. Having first created the conditions for an uncontrolled influx of considerable numbers of immigrants, the EU is now cutting deals with immediate and often not particularly savoury neighbours to act as buffer states to keep other aspirants out. 

Most of the focus in the last few years has been on refugees originating in the Middle East but a Financial Times Health Special Report on 7 July, 2017 used June 2017 UN Population Division projections to show that Africa will be the continent that will dominate global population growth in the 21st century with its share of world population set to rocket from its current 13% to 36% of the world’s total as a result of a fourfold increase in population from its current 1bn. The main reason behind this projected growth is a sharp decline of infant and child mortality unaccompanied by a reduction in birth rates. The end result is that according to the IMF up to 25 million new jobs – roughly equivalent to the entire population of Angola – will be needed in Africa every year over the next 25 years. Extrapolated until 2050 the new jobs would represent the equivalent of Europe’s entire present-day population. 

Some east Asian countries have reaped a so-called ‘demographic dividend’ that has enabled them to benefit from their population increase but it is not clear that Africa is following in Asia’s footsteps. Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British telecoms billionaire is quoted as saying that the people most responsible for the wellbeing of their people are Africa’s own leaders and governments but there are no indications that Africa’s kleptocracies will implement the necessary policies to address this issue and it does not seem that enough jobs will be created or population growth slowed down sufficiently to defuse this population time bomb. As for help from outside, given the scale of the challenge, the well-meaning EU aid projects aimed at creating jobs in Africa to convince young people to stay put are but a drop in the ocean; the ‘wave’ that Europe has experienced so far is but a ripple compared to the ‘tsunami’ that it faces in the future.

The key question we need to pose to our elected leaders given this scenario is how they propose to deal with the increasing demographic pressure that is heading Europe’s way particularly from across its southern borders in the coming decades? I started this piece by referring to one song and I shall end by referring to another; borrowing from the popular 1985 song by Billy Ocean, when the going gets tough how do the ‘tough’ propose to get going?  Will they keep on trumpeting the benefits of a borderless world or will they accept that their primary responsibility is to ensure the wellbeing and safety of their constituents? I for one am not optimistic that the latter will come about given that most politicians are far too preoccupied with ensuring their own and their government’s survival in the short run to be bothered with the medium and long term and yet it is mostly the policies applied in a country that will determine the prosperity of that territory, as has been pointed out by MIT economist Daron Acemoglu, co-author with James Robinson of Why Nations fail.  

 

Prof. Carmel Vassallo is an academic     

Prof. Carmel Vassallo is Head of Spanish and Latin American Studies at the University of M...