There’s a lot more to world politics than just elections, and 2018 was eventful on a number of fronts. So in addition to this week’s review of the top ten elections, I’ve compiled here ten of my favorite stories of the year on other topics. Many of them will be still relevant for this year, so this might be a good time to go back and catch up on what you missed.
The trials of social democracy (February). One theme carried forward from 2017 was the sad condition of mainstream centre-left parties, particularly in Europe. Here I take a look at the problem in the runup to the Italian election.
The more unreconstructed leftists like Jeremy Corbyn are half right – politicians, social democrats among them, have given far too much ground to business and allowed it to milk the consumers and taxpayers. But the solution is not to turn the clock back to anti-market thinking; the solution is to dismantle monopolies and special privileges and let markets do their work.
Happy birthday, Dr Marx! (May). A review, for his 200th birthday, of Karl Marx’s significance, from a critical but not unsympathetic position.
Marx’s philosophical work is still important today – historical materialism has proved itself to be a fertile source of ideas. Much of his journalism is still lively, and even his economics has nuggets of interest. But his lasting influence has come not from any of these things, but from his status as a prophet of revolution.
Neoliberalism and socialism – compare and contrast (June). The strange fortunes of the term “neoliberalism” were a recurring issue; here’s one of my attempts to understand what’s going on.
The difference is that while the first response is well known and can be intelligently argued about, the second response is rarely heard and poorly understood. And one reason for that is the construct of “neoliberalism”, which allows its user’s meaning to slide from market liberalism to crony capitalism, so that a key step (perhaps the key step) in the argument passes by definitional fiat rather than by any sort of evidence.
Germany and the doomsday scenario (July). The age of Trump has brought an increased interest in mid-twentieth century history; this is one look at how the Trumpist agenda engages with European politics.
History matters. Germany’s experience with the extreme right is so traumatic that mainstream politicians of every stripe know better than to risk going there again. German policy may shift rightwards, but it will not shift Trumpwards.
Time for honesty on immigration (July). Immigration was another perennial in 2018; here I revisit the Australian debate over “border protection”.
But it was all a con. Others, of whom I was one, argued that while it might work in the short term, demonisation of certain categories of arrivals was bound to affect attitudes to immigration in general. Xenophobia can’t be neatly contained; once unleashed, it tends to spread, and the genie resists being put back in the bottle.
France, Zionism and antisemitism (August). Inextricably tied up with the immigration debate was the question of racism, with its many angles. Here’s a post dealing with one of them (although there were several others – try this for example).
But it would be foolish in the extreme for France’s Jewish population to think that the old animosities have disappeared. As Donald Trump and his white nationalist supporters have demonstrated, whenever there is demonisation of minorities, antisemitism sooner or later pushes its way to the forefront.
Socialism with a human face? (August). A retrospective on the Prague Spring of 1968 and its continued relevance.
The reality, however, is that socialism in the traditional sense has never been successfully combined with democracy and civil liberties. Every serious move to collectivise the economy has undermined democracy; every move to liberalise an authoritarian state-run economy politically has ended (if it did not begin) with economic liberalisation as well.
Mr Corbyn goes to Liverpool (September). Of course, you can’t mention 2018 without the enthralling saga of Brexit. Here’s one report on how it all played out; there have been a number of subsequent updates, such as here and here.
And so we have the remarkable spectacle of Corbyn, doctrinaire leftist and natural isolationist, outflanking the Tory Party on the cosmopolitan, open market side. … The Conservatives are regressing to their nativist and anti-market roots – either awkwardly and reluctantly under May, or more enthusiastically under an alternative such as Johnson.
Worrying about the far left (October). This was a three-part series (here are parts two and three) about the role of far-left parties and their similarities and differences with the more topical far right.
Of course, if the Marxists are right, and socialisation of capital really will usher in an earthly paradise, then maybe it’s worth compromising in the short term. You might have to accept a few bigots as allies today, but tomorrow (or whenever the revolution comes) everything will be just fine. But that’s a big gamble to take.
Do the Liberals have a history? (October). And finally, one about Australia, which had an interesting year in politics. Here I look at David Kemp’s interpretation of Australian history, with obvious contemporary relevance.
Whatever Kemp’s own credentials, it is impossible to imagine most of today’s Liberals, if magically translated to the 1830s, joining in the campaigns for representative government or an end to transportation. They would have been on the other side. And they and their like have run the Liberal Party for a long time; the progressive current is the preserve of a small minority, and it is delusional to think otherwise.