An old Chinese curse is “May you live in interesting times!” – interesting times are the times of troubles, confusion and suffering. And it seems that in some “democratic” countries, we are lately witnessing a weird phenomenon which proves that we live in interesting times: a candidate emerges and wins elections as it were from nowhere, in a moment of confusion building a movement around his name – both Berlusconi and Macron exploded like this.
What is this process a sign of? Definitely not of any kind of direct popular engagement beyond party politics – on the contrary, we should never forget that such figures explode with the full support of social and economic establishment. Their function is to obfuscate actual social antagonisms – people are magically united against some demonised “fascist” threat.
Decades ago, Vaclav Havel was the first to blurt out this dream: when, after being elected a President, he first met Helmut Kohl, he made a weird suggestion: “Why don’t we work together to dissolve all political parties? Why don’t we set up just one big party, the Party of Europe?” One can imagine Kohl’s sceptical smile.
This weird phenomenon is one of the visible effects of the long-term rearrangement of the political space in Europe. Until recently, the political space was dominated by two main parties which addressed the entire electoral body, a right-of-centre party (Christian Democrat, liberal-conservative, people’s something-or-other) and a left-of-centre party (socialist, social democratic something-or-other), with smaller parties addressing a narrow electorate (ecologists, neo-fascists, and so on).
[Extract. Appeared in Independent on June 26th 2017.]