When crisis hits, seemingly rigid beliefs can be overturnedby Jonathan Lis / April 30, 2020 / Leave a comment
The premise of drama is that you situate a group of characters with individual attributes and motivations in a specific set of circumstances and see how they respond. Nature is a cruel kind of dramatist. We were going about our ordinary lives, and a sudden event over which we had no control has now transformed them. Each of us is experiencing something new, and each is forced to adapt. But that adaptation is not only personal; it is profoundly political. The virus is compelling our leaders to alter their habits, even their beliefs, in real time.
The last month has brought a global battering of ideology. Proudly liberal democracies are instituting police states and economically conservative governments are applying de facto socialism. In the space of a few weeks Britain has implemented a new left-wing consensus: the government has effectively renationalised the railways, commandeered the provision of private healthcare, guaranteed the immediate future of thousands of small businesses and paid the wages of millions of private employees. It has done so with the near-full support of the right-wing media and Conservative grassroots. The virus gave the government no option but to change, so it did.
This strange apparent death of ideology is all the more pointed for the moment of its demise. Specifically, ideology had not been so powerful for a generation. For two decades following the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, we arrogantly assumed things would never again change. Some thought we had reached the end of history itself. But the so-called liberal consensus was as transient as any other. The last few years have brought authoritarian and xenophobic nationalism on the right, popular anti-elite movements on the left, and economic protectionism transcending both. Blocs and ideologies once again crystallised as the nations of the world drifted further apart from one another.
In this country, ideology’s contemporary pin-up has been Brexit. It has derived its entire force from privileging political ideals over economics. At each step, the UK government has expected the EU to act in Brussels’ economic interests while studiously disregarding its own. The Brexiters promised interventions from the German car manufacturers, then global trade deals to replace our prosperity in the single market, and if all else failed a no-deal Brexit to safeguard our…