By Amir Taheri
December 30, 2018
As the year 2018 draws to a close, what are
the trends that it highlighted in political life?
The first trend represents a growing global
disaffection with international organizations to the benefit of the traditional
nation-state. Supporters of the status quo regard that trend as an upsurge of
populism and judge it as a setback for human progress whatever that means.
Today it is not the United Nations alone
that is reduced to a backseat driver on key issues of international life. Its
many tentacles, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank,
too, have been reduced to a shadow of their past glory. In the 1990s, the two
outfits held sway on the economies of more than 80 countries across the globe
with a mixture of ideology and credit injection. Today, however, they are
reduced to cheer-leading or name-calling from the ringside.
The European Union, too, is clearly on the
decline. Despite Pollyannish talk of creating a European army and closer ties
among member states, the EU has lost much of its original appeal and faces
fissiparous challenges of which the so-called Brexit is one early example. I
believe that the only way for the EU to survive, let alone prosper, is to
recast itself as a club of nation-states rather than a substitute for them.
Less than a decade ago, the German
philosopher Jürgen Habermas and the German Pope Benedict XVI claimed that the
nation-state was dead and that in Europe at least, the way to salvation was a
revival of Christianity as a cultural bond if not as a traditional faith.
However, the trend towards decline has also
affected almost all Christian churches, especially where and when they tried to
cast themselves as political actors.
A similar decline could be seen in all
other international groupings ranging from the African Union to the
Organization of the American States, and passing by the Arab League, the Russian-led
Eurasian bloc, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the South American Mercosur.
Another significant trend concerns the
virtual collapse of almost all political parties across the globe. Even in the
United States and Great Britain, which have the oldest and most solidly
established tradition of party politics, the system has been severely shaken.
In the US the Democrat Party has morphed
into a hodgepodge of groups from crypto-Marxists to bleeding-heart liberals
held together by little more than their common hatred for President Donald J
Trump. For its part, the Republican Party, first shaken by the so-called Tea
Party, has been reduced to second fiddle for the Trumpist
In Great Britain, Brexit has divided the
two main parties, Conservative and Labour, into three factions that could, in
time, morph into separate parties. For at least two centuries, Britain's power
was mainly based on the stability of its institutions and the ability of its
political elite to meet every challenge with a firm attachment to the rule of
law plus moderation. All that edifice has been shaken by Brexit.
In France and Italy, insurrectionary
parties have wrested power away from the traditional ones. In France, the
Gaullist and Socialist parties that governed the country for seven decades have
been pushed to the sidelines by the République En Marche movement of Emmanuel
Macron which, in turn, is now shaken by the "Yellow Vests"
In Italy, too, all traditional parties,
have been driven off stage by populist groupings of both left and right.
In Germany, the Alternative für
Deutschland(AFD) has cut across the left-right divide to win a leading role in
national politics. Even a well-established regional party such as Christian
Social Union (CSU) is now in decline in its home-base of Bavaria.
Within the year now ending, a number of
mostly new parties forced their ways into the center of power in several
European countries notably Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Holland
Interestingly, the more ideological a party
is, the more vulnerable it is to the current trend of decline in party
politics. This is why virtually all Communist and nationalist parties have
either disappeared or been reduced to a shadow of their past glory.
Separatist parties, including in the Basque
country and Catalonia in Spain, have achieved nothing but an upsurge of
chauvinism within the ethnic Castilian majority.
Another trend that took shape in 2018
concerns the emergence of single-issue politics, replacing debate on large
overarching policies, as the norm in many countries.
Once again, Brexit in Britain was the most
glaring example. Those seeking withdrawal from the European Union appeared
prepared to ignore all other issues provided they could promote that single
quest, not to say obsession.
The massive development of cyberspace has
given single-issue politics an unexpected boost. Today, almost anyone anywhere
in the word could create his or her own echo-chamber around a pet subject from
Frisian secession to saving the polar bears from extinction, shutting out the
outside world and its many other concerns. Here, the aim is to fight for one's
difference with as much passion as possible.
That trend is in contrast with another
trend, promoted by the traditional or mainstream media, offering a uniform
narrative of events.
Turn on any TV or radio channel and go
through almost any newspaper and you will be surprised by how they all say the
same thing about what is going on. Thanks to a sharp decline in field reporting,
mostly caused by financial constraints, mainstream media today have to depend
on a narrow compass provided by a few agencies and/or "citizen"
That, in turn, encourages the growing
belief that facts are nothing but opinions expressed in the manner of
All that leads to an impoverishment of
political debate. The weakening of political parties, trade unions,
international organs, and institutions like parliaments that provided platforms
for debate and decision-making, has deprived many societies of both a space and
a mechanism for the battle of ideas and the competition among different policy
The bad news is that 2018 was not a good
year for pluralist politics. The good news is that 2019 may expose the
fundamental flaws of fissiparous populism.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran
from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications,
published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted
by kind permission of the author.
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