In many parts of the world, there is a growing crisis in the hegemony of what has commonly been called the ‘neoliberal’ project and its domination of the global order. Whether we are talking about the unexpected lurches that have characterised British politics since Brexit, the crisis that seems to have descended on US governance with the election of Donald Trump, or the rise to power of populist demagogues like Modi, Duterte, Erdoğan, Orbán or Zuma, a new kind of politics appears to be afoot. As a result, we seem to be living in a world very different from the much more stable, possibly more conservative but certainly more legible world order presided over by the likes of Obama, Clinton and Mbeki. While the details differ from place to place – there’s worlds of difference, for instance, between the modalities of kleptocratic state capture in South Africa and the chaotic politics of Brexit Britain – there are also many uncanny resemblances and resonances, particularly at the level of political style and strategy.
Most fascinating and perplexing is the key role played in these new forms of populism of what is popularly called ‘post-truth’ politics. This in itself is a bit of an unsatisfactory term, often used as a short-hand for a wide range of dissimilar phenomena: the increased dissemination of gross lies and untruths in political discourse; the undermining and hollowing out of institutions of public science; the erosion of the authority of experts, scientists and professionals in political life; and an impatience with the limitations of constitutionalism, good governance and the institutions of statecraft. Much is often made of the connection between these phenomena and the increasing role of the Internet and social media. What are we to make of them? Are they coincidences? Are they merely dramatic manifestations of perennial aspects of politics (‘the big lie’, ‘disinformation’, ‘mob rule’) that are not very novel after all? Or are we witnessing something novel and distinctive, the development of new strategies of rule and contestation systematically different from those that characterised the global political since, say, the fall of the Berlin wall?
… To read more, go to my blog post at openDemocracy!