It's easy to become intolerant to those who think differently. But there's a way to acknowledge difference—while still focussing on what we have in commonby Brendan Cox / January 23, 2018 / Leave a comment
Western politics is being reshaped by an insurgent political force. From Donald Trump to Viktor Orbán, what unites these movements is their central strategy of using hatred against minority groups to gain favour with the majority population.
We have taken to calling these forces “populist,” though in my view that sanitises their hate-based strategy, and falsely suggests that all their views enjoy real, popular support. If this were happening in one or two countries, we might put it down to national dynamics or charismatic leaders, but it’s not. It’s a pattern being replicated across Europe—and, of course, in the United States. That’s not to say that there is a single cause; rather, in each a range of factors are combining in different and dangerous ways.
First there are the myriad factors that breed anxiety: stagnant wages, waning economic optimism, the threat posed by Islamist-inspired extremism, the pace of cultural change. Second, is the reality that all these anxieties are playing out in deeply divided societies, which are less able to cope with the pressure—the institutions that used to forge societal cohesion have weakened, and social media is sorting us into narrow silos. Third, there has been a collapse of trust in institutions that used to uphold democracy, from politics to the media. Even support for liberal democracy is sinking.
Some states are already succumbing to a wave of authoritarianism that draws strength from these three factors. Hungary is lost as a liberal democracy for the foreseeable future, Poland is hanging on by a thread, as is Austria. In France, a third voted for the far-right Front National last year; Donald Trump lashes out against the courts and the media, two crucial pillars of democracy. Even in Germany, the extremists are making progress.
Over the last two years, an organisation I co-founded called “More in Common” has done research across Europe and the US into this new political wave. One of our less obvious conclusions is that we cosmopolitans—a descriptor that covers me, and probably many but not all Prospect readers—are ourselves an important part of the problem.
For one thing, we have become intolerant of people who think differently to us, and who harbour anxieties about change. We are too…