By Joe Kennedy
We are entering, we are told, a post-liberal age. So-called illiberal democracy and authoritarian populism are in the political ascendant; the shelves of our bookshops groan with the work of attention-grabbing thinkers insisting that permissiveness, multiculturalism and “identity politics” have failed us and that we must now fall back on some notion of tradition. We have had our fun, and now it’s time to get serious, to shore our fragments against the ruin of postmodernist meaninglessness.
It’s not only the usual, conservative suspects who have got on board with this argument. Authentocrats critiques the manner in which post-liberal ideas have been mobilised underhandedly by centrist politicians who, at least notionally, are hostile to the likes of Donald Trump and UKIP. It examines the forms this populism of the centre has taken in the United Kingdom and situates the moderate withdrawal from liberalism within a story which begins in the early 1990s. Blairism promised socially liberal politics as the pay-off for relinquishing commitments to public ownership and redistributive policies: many current centrists insist New Labour’s error was not its capitulation to the market, but its unwillingness to heed the allegedly natural conservatism of England’s provincial working classes.
In this book, we see how this spurious concern for “real people” is part of a broader turn within British culture by which the mainstream withdraws from the openness of the Nineties under the bad-faith supposition that there’s nowhere to go but backwards. The self-anointing political realism which declares that the left can save itself only by becoming less liberal is matched culturally by an interest in time-worn traditional identities: the brute masculinity of Daniel Craig’s James Bond, the allegedly “progressive” patriotism of nature writing, a televisual obsession with the World Wars. Authentocrats charges liberals themselves with fuelling the post-liberal turn, and asks where the space might be found for an alternative.