It’s time to consider Nietzsche’s view of liberal democracy. It couldn’t work, it couldn’t bind a nation together, he said. Why not? Because of its excessive moral idealism. The belief in equality and social justice, which he rightly saw as deriving from Judaism and Christianity, would lead to fragmentation. For politics would be dominated by various disadvantaged groups demanding respect. Any sort of unifying ethos would be treated as oppressive, the ideology of the ruling class. If virtue lies in weakness, and victim status, healthy politics is doomed.
It is emerging that he was largely right. Progressive politics, which affirms the liberal or humanist vision, seems to be collapsing. And it is collapsing in the way that he predicted: its rhetoric is dominated by concern for various victim-groups. And about half the nation (here and in the US) dislikes such rhetoric. Their dislike is more powerful than the vague liberalism of the other half, and can overturn things.
The clearest example of this in the last week: in her concession speech, Hillary apologised to all the ‘little girls’ disappointed to see feminism frustrated. I’m all for little girls, but they tend to care more about puppies than progressive politicians. The comment confirmed the sense that liberalism lacks a big bold unifying vision, that its comfort zone is sentimental victim-championing.
And countless liberal sad-face pundits confirm it too. According to Owen Jones, the effect of Trump’s victory ‘is that every racist, woman-hater, homophobe and rightwing authoritarian feels vindicated’. This is what people dislike about liberalism: the sense that it is a loose alliance of various victims. Or rather, of various kosher victims – which does not include the white working class.
How can we renew the liberal vision? By restating it in bigger bolder terms (which I think means more honesty about its religious basis), and by ceasing to fetishise a few kosher victim groups.