Culture versus Chaos

Author: Gary Hart

This is a political century in which virtually everything that happens is viewed by media and pundits alike for its political meaning.  By doing so, however, we may be missing more subtle truths.

Take Brexit, for example, the close vote in the United Kingdom to take it out of the European Union, its rules, its bureaucracy, and its distant government.  Distant because Brexit supporters made Brussels, the home of the EU organization, seem far distant from Manchester.

Viewed through the political prism, Brexit was pure nationalism and populism, a close cousin to Trumpworld.

But sober reflection by thoughtful people, including philosophers, sort through the Brexit ruble looking for deeper meaning.  For example, there is the factor of culture.  It is being suggested that at least some Brexiteers are localists versus globalists.

Localists are concerned, with varying degrees of sophistication, about the preservation of historic cultures against the tide of travel, trade, mass migrations, and instant communications that seem, almost overnight, to merge old cultures into a bland, hybrid, amalgam of international mush with no distinctive features, no history, no identifiable culture.

You don’t have to be terribly well read to know that England has an extraordinarily rich culture stretching back more than a millennium.

Those pushing back against cultural blurring more often than not use America as the ultimate global pattern where everything goes, there is a new style, movie, or food every day, yet nothing harkens back to a history or identity.

And perhaps this is about identity.  If everything merges and everything is like everything else, who am I, what are my roots, where did I come from?

This is not an argument for Brexit, America First, or any of the right-wing nationalistic populism that itself is damaging treasured histories of value.  It is an effort to explore whether nationalistic populism is the cheap authoritarian, often racist, tendency arising among the confusion brought on by globalization.

The impact of amalgamation is worrisome.  Why study American history, geography, and relatively brief culture if we are going to be like everyone else and everyone else is going to be like us?  Breaking down the meaning of history and events that have made us, as well as other nations, who we are is disturbing to many.

And that disturbance is being cynically manipulated by authoritarians who want to build walls, export immigrants in distress, and identify skin color with crime.

It will soon become necessary, if not already so, to separate out those seriously concerned with localism, national identity, and cultural preservation from the cynical politicians playing on fears and anxieties to acquire power.

The authoritarian tendency among Western democracies is a danger to democracy itself.

Whether in the United Kingdom, Hungary, or the United States, people of good will and good conscience must rise up to prove that history, national pride, and culture can be preserved even while the planet shrinks and borders are humanely maintained.

America with walled borders is our form of Brexit.  Make America Great Again, even though it was never not great, is our form of leave us alone, abandoning international trade and security agreements, and unnecessary and damaging trade wars.

When, possibly if, it finally happens Brexit will bring chaos to the U.K.  Another Trumpian term will do the same for us.

Presidents and Prime Ministers come and go.  Serious statesmen pick up after the ones who don’t know what they are doing.

We can both preserve the best of our respective cultures and identities even while adapting to a host of new realities.  That is how adults behave.

6 Responses to “Culture versus Chaos”

  1. Brian C. McCarthy Says:

    Senator,

    Thank you for the Brexit post. As a longtime follower of British politics, I find what is happening across the pond every day more and more shocking and head-spinning as things continue to go further and further off the rails. British politics can go in many directions, but one thing has been consistent about it the past 300 years or so: rules are followed, laws are obeyed, traditions are respected, and even if you call your adversary a jerk on the Commons floor, you still address him/her first as “the honorable gentleman/gentlelady”.

    “The authoritarian tendency among Western democracies is a danger to democracy itself.”

    Your quote above is the sentence of your post that struck me most. If the British Prime Minister can flagrantly announce his intention to ignore an Act of Parliament, the sovereign political power of the UK since 1688, and no one seems to know how to respond to that, or what to do if he actually does it, that is a Constitutional crisis. If the highest court in Scotland rules that the PM deceived the Queen—deceived the Queen!—to obtain a controversial prorogation of Parliament, and nothing is done about it, that is an unprecedented breach of constitutional government. If the Speaker of the House of Commons, normally an impartial, non-voting referee, has to announce his intention to suspend any and all rules necessary to ensure that the PM and Her Majesty’s Government do not flagrantly disobey an Act of Parliament, that is a huge red flag that something is very, very wrong.

    My concern is not only for the UK, and the collateral damage to be done to Ireland and the remainder of the EU. We have seen a sharp erosion of respect for institutions, tradition, and rule of law in the US as well. It is no surprise that Mr Trump counts Mr Johnson among his heroes, along with many other autocrats. The US Congress has so far shown far less inclination to push back than the British MPs have done. If Mr Johnson succeeds in forcing through a no deal Brexit, against the express edict of Parliament, and is not promptly removed for office for doing so, I think there is no telling how far democracy may fall in the UK … and in the US.

    BCM

  2. Jack DuVall Says:

    The branding of the content of Trump’s policies as representing populism and nationalism, which many of his grass-roots supporters are happy to embrace, is a political depiction rather than an objective description.

    When a president significantly shrinks the capacity of federal departments and agencies to perform their duties and responsibilities, as Trump has done, it is unlikely that Americans will be pleased in the long run. When it finally becomes obvious that substantial monies in the federal budget committed to support infrastructure, education and health have been diverted in no small part to reducing the taxes that the wealthiest Americans pay, it is likely that the administration in power will lose support. If at some point there is opposition at the polls or in the streets, and repression follows, then our democracy will at be risk.

    The facade of the federal governnment seems not to have changed very much in the past few years. But the substance of the services that the federal government provides to assist cities, communities, students, and retirees — and to meet other public needs — will be in serious jeopardy. Ultimately a majority of American citizens is very unlikely to be convinced that any of this is cause for their patriotic support.

  3. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    I have a few European friends, clients and colleagues and almost all of them told me that they would not be surprised of a UK vote to leave because of the resentment of the increasing power, as they saw it, in the European Union parliament.

    Most importantly, they told me about the high costs involved, from the translation of all documents to parliamentary elections and the high risk of corruption and outright corruption.

    If these feelings were and are widespread not only in the UK but throughout the EU, then the obvious answer is to reform the EU parliament and perhaps even put it out of existence and replace it with a much leaner body along the lines of an alliance of EU countries with representatives chosen like ambassadors …

    Just thinking out loud, so to speak. 🙂

  4. Michael Says:

    Alienation from a government which seems far away – whether it’s in Brussels or Washington – has more to do, I believe, with feeling ignored rather than any loss of native culture. I was living in West Berlin when the Wall fell, and remained in that city for a decade thereafter. A good friend of mine, an East Berliner whom I got to know while the city was still divided, made a comfortable life for himself with a small business in the reunified Germany. He was a supporter of a quick reunification back then, but soon became disillusioned. We were talking about it all several years later, and I said something to the effect that, at least now, in this democracy with all its flaws, you can express yourself freely and without fear. I remember very clearly him saying, “Yes, now we can say whatever we want, but no one listens.” Imagine how he’d have felt if his livelihood had been outsourced. (Actually, we don’t have to imagine: in recent elections, the far-right AfD surged to become the second largest political party in the eastern German states of Saxony and Brandenburg, which have been basically deindustrialized since reunification.)

    Clearly we live in a rapidly shrinking world; globalization is an inevitable result of various technologies, and perhaps human evolution itself. But when trade deals negotiated for geopolitical advantage end up devastating living standards, and creating economic injustice not seen since the 1920s, it should be no surprise when rage ensues. Nor should we be surprised when that rage is exploited by opportunistic demagogues who scapegoat the “other,” or the international institutions created out of the catastrophe of WWII, in order to gain power. Let’s just hope our better angels turnout in greater number at the polls next time because our collective historical memory seems to have an expiration date, and that date may have passed.

  5. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    A very special article, comments too.

    As a regular commentator here and admirer of the work of our beloved host, from the perspective of the UK national, here, with US family also, the commentary in this is close to home in essence and that is literally too.

    Brian above gets t the nub.

    The age Senator Hart was in his second run for the nomination being over, I find myself with the same view back and to the possible terrain ahead, wanting to do something new , aware, not like a politician whose days as such might now see a different sort of service, but, as a private citizen, in politics as this, who seeks a way of service in public.

    There are those like me, who relish that some like our host and commentators and contributors can see the connection in our countries, and so too, the disconnect amongst our citizens.

    Some who are feeling left out are not that. They are merely of a different opinion. They do not care about what is elsewhere, or do not much want that where they are. This is not fear of the other, but disinterest.

    Some are left out, and angry.

    You can be middle class, middle aged, well educated, and left out, if struggling, with lack of work opportunities, or after being let go from a role, or in competition with those younger, or better connected.

    There is corruption in the EU, but no more than in many individual countries governments in it. The EU parliament is democratic. The EU has a small bureaucracy, employs fewer staff than a large city. What is wrong is it is top down from the Commision, not bottom up from the parliamentarians.

    What has really taken us by surprise is this debate has become a division, a very uncivil, non civil war, not Cavaliers, or Roundheads, not Yankies, nor Confederates, Brexiteers and Remainers.

    It is a shambolic mess. It needs all good folk to engage. Even from afar. Further than Brussels and Manchester are one from the other.

  6. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    And as a private citizen who seeks a way of service as this, do any others feel it is possible to be more than this?

    I add, my frustration is that the professionals are making such a hash of things, my yearning is to become more involved . I have always been a member of a party, in my case, the Liberal Democrats, who, in my area, have little opportunity for getting elected. My party is doing well, but the area I reside in would not very likely elect Liberal Democrats.

    I think the issues raised here, about nationalism, vs internationalism, localism vs globalism, require responses that are this also, from people who are involved in their nations and their localities, and can exchange between nations, across the globe.

    I think I feel an international effort … a think and …do… tank…being started… as Elizabeth says… just…thinking aloud….

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