The news of a possible military coup in Turkey was not greeted with any great measure of disappointment by most members of the global ‘liberal’ establishment – a network that includes politicians, journalists, intellectuals and bureaucrats. The sentiments of this union towards Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have been known to be far from appreciative. So much so that his convincing victory in the 2014 presidential election was greeted with rounds of disbelief similar to ones that emerged out of the hallowed lanes of Lutyens’ Delhi when another election result was declared earlier in the same year.
We now know that the coup was ultimately unsuccessful, not because of any lack of preparation or coordination on the part of the rebels, but because the coup itself was devoid of any serious level of support among the Turkish public. The final word on the consequences of the continued reign of Erdoğan and his Islamic support base is yet to be written, but what is a hard fact is that this is the second time in recent months that the popular will of the masses has delivered a political verdict which went squarely against the wishes of the global liberal establishment – the other being the decision of the United Kingdom (UK) to leave the European Union (EU).
As a matter of fact, numerous recent events across the globe have followed a similar narrative of popular verdicts delivering serious blows to the sanctimonious global Leftist intelligentsia. The continued popularity of Vladimir Putin in Russia, the election victories of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, David Cameron in the UK and of Narendra Modi in the Indian general election two years ago are some recent examples of events in which the plot deviated significantly from the ‘progressive ideal’.
Most observers have dwelt in great detail - and rightly so - about the impact economic circumstances of the electorate have had on the verdicts they delivered. While the influence of economics is always a major part of any electoral result, what is worthy of note in these cases is that these economic impulses do not fit into any particular ideological prism.
The election of Narendra Modi and the re-election of David Cameron were driven by economic visions which leant towards the Right, but in the case of Brexit, and also the rise of the ludicrous Donald Trump (and the equally ludicrous Bernie Sanders), the popular sentiment seems to be clearly against globalisation and the free market. The irony here of the Left’s hatred towards the Brexit campaigners and Trump even when both clearly tout a populist economic agenda is too stark not to mention.
Yet, if one were to look beyond the obvious economic drivers, it would be possible to notice two further commonalities which have accompanied the above events.
The first is the rise in the nationalist sentiments of the electorate the world over. It is precisely this emotion which has manifested itself in decisive mandates being given to leaders and ideas which resonate with the voters’ notion of their national, cultural and historical identities. In the case of Erdoğan, it has been his authoritativeness in debunking the steely secularism of Atatürk and reigniting the Turkish memories of the times when the Ottoman Empire ruled the roost over the Islamic world.
Putin has centred his popularity on being the strong and patriotic ex-KGB man who kept Russia in one piece and restored its global standing after successive decades of Communism had left the USSR crumbling. One assumes there is no need to inform Indian readers how the Narendra Modi campaign orchestrated a deft merger of the nationalistic message of the Prime Minister with his image as a no-nonsense economic reformer to power his rise to 7 RCR.
Similar themes can be found in the politics of Netanyahu in Israel, in Cameron’s convincing win over a rapidly radicalising Labour last year and in the level of popularity Boris Johnson was able to tap into during the Brexit campaign.
This public rejection of the pet Leftist theme of internationalism could be one of the reasons for the second point of commonality with the events mentioned earlier – the condescension and repudiation with which the global Left and its ‘useful idiots’ have reacted to these unpleasant verdicts and the electorates which delivered them.
Brexit supporters – even its working class, Labour-supporting members – have been called everything from ignorant illiterates to fascists. The Economist responded to the referendum with the subtle headline, “Anarchy in the UK”. Joseph Harker of The Guardian – Britain’s leading Left-leaning newspaper – felt that Brexit was like a “first they came for the Poles moment”. The Vox’s Zack Beauchamp wrote, “The force that has been driving [‘Leave’ voters] is xenophobia”.
Some ‘liberal’ types - our own budding liberal export Ishaan Tharoor included - even suggested that, in the grand spirit of multiculturalism, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to disenfranchise senior citizens, a section of the electorate among whom the ‘Leave’ campaign had massive support. Among protest marches launched by Leftist groups in London, there were also laughable attempts made to call a second referendum (not ruled out even as recently as this week by Jeremy Corbyn) because, obviously, we need to keep trying till we get it right – or rather, left.
In India, we have heard similar breast-beating around the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) percentage share of the popular vote in 2014 (an argument which seems to have disappeared right around the time of the Kerala state election results) and, of course, the Lutyens’ pontification about how a ‘communal’ Narendra Modi and BJP duped the uneducated voters of North India with their splashy rallies, multi-crore election bounties and polarising techniques.
What these reactions reflect is the fact that the Left-liberal elites – who are opinion makers in powerful circles the world over – seem to have little respect for the will of the people if it does not match their own. The emotions of the common folk, like nationalism and religiosity, are always rubbished by the Left as irrelevant once a progressive agenda is put in motion. They believed that, once exposed to a progressive ‘experience’, the masses would gradually see the errors of their past and fully embrace the supposedly higher morality of the global Left.
Now, with rude rejections being delivered to the existing, forced liberal consensus across the world, one would have expected the truth to dawn on the international progressives to see the world for what it truly is.
However, the experience has been different. The sentiments from within the Marxist echo chamber are often of mutual aggrandisement and demonisation of those who deviate from their ‘liberal’ ideals.
In short, the Left, it would seem, has different standards for different people. Those who agree with them are deemed to be fellow-liberals and intellectuals while those who don’t are haughtily cast away as regressive or the proverbial ‘fascist’.
The tragedy of the situation is that – sans the political agenda of Communism – liberalism, by itself, does have aspects which may be both necessary and palatable to societies across the world. What would be worth noting for the evangelists of liberalism is that instead of attempting to push a uniform, monolith-like liberal agenda across the entire world, a more deft approach could be to allow societies to evolve into their own unique versions of progressiveness.
Had the bureaucrats in Brussels understood this when David Cameron was pleading with them for some measure of latitude in addressing his country’s immigration and national security concerns, the UK would still have been part of the EU.
Praful Shankar is a political enthusiast and tweets at @shankarpraful.
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