Steve Bannon’s faith in global war

Time reports: Sometime in the early 2000s, Bannon was captivated by a book called The Fourth Turning by generational theorists William Strauss and Neil Howe. The book argues that American history can be described in a four-phase cycle, repeated again and again, in which successive generations have fallen into crisis, embraced institutions, rebelled against those institutions and forgotten the lessons of the past–which invites the next crisis. These cycles of roughly 80 years each took us from the revolution to the Civil War, and then to World War II, which Bannon might point out was taking shape 80 years ago. During the fourth turning of the phase, institutions are destroyed and rebuilt.

In an interview with TIME, author Howe recalled that Bannon contacted him more than a decade ago about making a film based on the book. That eventually led to Generation Zero, released in 2010, in which Bannon cast the 2008 financial crisis as a sign that the turning was upon us. Howe agrees with the analysis, in part. In each cycle, the postcrisis generation, in this case the baby boomers, eventually rises to “become the senior leaders who have no memory of the last crisis, and they are always the ones who push us into the next one,” Howe said.

But Bannon, who once called himself the “patron saint of commoners,” seemed to relish the opportunity to clean out the old order and build a new one in its place, casting the political events of the nation as moments of extreme historical urgency, pivot points for the world. Historian David Kaiser played a featured role in Generation Zero, and he recalls his filmed interview with Bannon as an engrossing and enjoyable experience.

And yet, he told TIME, he was taken aback when Bannon began to argue that the current phase of history foreshadowed a massive new war. “I remember him saying, ‘Well, look, you have the American revolution, and then you have the Civil War, which was bigger than the revolution. And you have the Second World War, which was bigger than the Civil War,'” Kaiser said. “He even wanted me to say that on camera, and I was not willing.”

Howe, too, was struck by what he calls Bannon’s “rather severe outlook on what our nation is going through.” Bannon noted repeatedly on his radio show that “we’re at war” with radical jihadis in places around the world. This is “a global existential war” that likely will become “a major shooting war in the Middle East again.” War with China may also be looming, he has said. This conviction is central to the Breitbart mission, he explained in November 2015: “Our big belief, one of our central organizing principles at the site, is that we’re at war.” [Continue reading…]

The cover of Time magazine brands Bannon as “The Great Manipulator,” and however accurately that might describe him, it is an image that serves Trump’s interests in this regard: it turns Bannon into Trump’s insurance policy by availing the so-called president with the option of firing Bannon rather than admit the failure of his presidency. Indeed, it’s reasonable to assume that Trump will sooner declare the failure of America than ever take responsibility for his own actions.

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Trump’s hard-line actions have an intellectual godfather: Jeff Sessions

The Washington Post reports: In jagged black strokes, President Trump’s signature was scribbled onto a catalogue of executive orders over the past 10 days that translated the hard-line promises of his campaign into the policies of his government.

The directives bore Trump’s name, but another man’s fingerprints were also on nearly all of them: Jeff Sessions.

The early days of the Trump presidency have rushed a nationalist agenda long on the fringes of American life into action — and Sessions, the quiet Alabam­ian who long cultivated those ideas as a Senate backbencher, has become a singular power in this new Washington.

Sessions’s ideology is driven by a visceral aversion to what he calls “soulless globalism,” a term used on the extreme right to convey a perceived threat to the United States from free trade, international alliances and the immigration of nonwhites. [Continue reading…]

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The man who could make Marine Le Pen president of France

Angelique Chrisafis writes: On the night of the US election, Florian Philippot, the closest adviser to the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, was watching the results from his apartment on the Left Bank in Paris. Before dawn, when Donald Trump’s victory was not yet official but the liberal establishment was beginning to panic, he tweeted: “Their world is crumbling. Ours is being built.”

Around 8am, Philippot phoned Le Pen to discuss the good news. She was in a jubilant mood at the headquarters of her party – the nationalist, anti-immigration Front National – preparing to deliver a speech congratulating Trump. His victory, on promises of trade protectionism and the closing of borders, looked like a major boost to her presidential campaign. Meanwhile, a car arrived to take Philippot, the party’s vice-president, to the village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, 250km from Paris, to lay a wreath at the tomb of France’s great postwar leader, General Charles de Gaulle.

Trump’s victory happened to coincide with the anniversary of the death of de Gaulle, who led the French resistance against Nazi Germany. Philippot idolises de Gaulle: his office, which adjoins Le Pen’s, is plastered with de Gaulle memorabilia – one of many things that sets him apart as an oddity in a party that has long regarded de Gaulle as a traitor for allowing the former French colony of Algeria its independence.

Philippot’s elite credentials should have been another strike against him within a party that proclaims its loathing of the establishment. A graduate of the exclusive Ecole Nationale d’Administration, which produces presidents and prime ministers, Philippot didn’t start out in the Front National in the traditional way – driving around the countryside sticking election posters to fences. Philippot is also gay, in a party whose co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen once called homosexuality “a biological and social anomaly”. And yet, at 35, he has become the voice of the party, its media star, and the first to claim Trump’s victory as a sign of a new world order. [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s far-right leaders unite at dawn of the Trump era

Time reports: After a few weeks of reading online about Donald Trump’s transition to the presidency, Marco Kopping, a 36-year-old apprentice at a car-parts supplier near Frankfurt, decided to get involved in German politics. He had never sympathized with a political party before, let alone joined one. But in December he received his glossy membership card from Alternative for Germany (AfD), one of the far-right movements now riding the updraft from Trump’s ascent. What drove him, Kopping says, “was the feeling of a revolution.” He didn’t want to be left behind.

Across the European Union, politicians on the right-wing fringe have been invigorated by Trump’s victory, which has given them a chance to attract new supporters, build coalitions and argue that, despite the often-glaring differences between them, they are all part of a movement with seemingly unstoppable momentum.

The most striking proof yet of that movement came on Saturday in the cross-section of far-right populists who met for the first time, at the AfD’s invitation, at a convention in the German city of Koblenz. A day after Trump’s Inauguration, the stars of the European right drew a direct line between Trump’s success at the ballot box and their own looming electoral battles. [Continue reading…]

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Under President Trump, we’ll enter an age of global confrontation

Timothy Garton Ash writes: Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House reflects a wider phenomenon: a new era of nationalism. He joins Vladimir Putin of Russia, Narendra Modi of India, Xi Jinping of China, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and a score of other nationalist leaders around the globe.

While it might be unfair to describe Theresa May as a nationalist, her announcement that she’s going for a hard Brexit reflects the pressure of English nationalism on the British right, and will encourage the nationalism of others. Of course, eras of nationalism are nothing new. But precisely because we have experienced them before, we know that they often start with high hopes and end in tears.

For now, the nationalists are giving one another the Trumpian thumbs-up across the seas. Paul Nuttall, the Ukip leader, says he is “massively excited” by the advent of President Trump, who in turn tells Michael Gove in the Times that he thinks Brexit “is going to end up being a great thing”. In a photograph that should become notorious, the Brexiteer Gove gives Trump a sycophantic thumbs-up, with a curiously goofy expression on his face, making him look like a teenage Star Trek fan who has caught 10 seconds with Patrick Stewart. The vice-president of France’s Front National responded to May’s Brexit speech by declaring: “French independence soon.” And so it goes on. [Continue reading…]

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The rise and fall of European meritocracy

Ivan Krastev writes: … it is loyalty — namely the unconditional loyalty to ethnic, religious or social groups — that is at the heart of the appeal of Europe’s new populism. Populists promise people not to judge them based solely on their merits. They promise solidarity but not necessarily justice.

Unlike a century ago, today’s popular leaders aren’t interested in nationalizing industries. Instead, they promise to nationalize the elites. They do not promise to save the people but to stay with them. They promise to re-establish the national and ideological constraints that were removed by globalization. In short, what populists promise their voters is not competence but intimacy. They promise to re-establish the bond between the elites and the people. And many in Europe today find this promise appealing.[Continue reading…]

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China takes center stage at Davos and says ‘no’ to protectionism

Christopher Dickey writes: … global leaders are looking elsewhere for a stable anchor in a stormy world, and the country that’s stepping forward at Davos to present its case for leadership is not the United States, not even Russia, and not any European country or collection of them, but China. Xi Jinping will give the opening address for the conference, the first time a Chinese premier has ever taken such a role.

“We’re at an inflection point,” says Adrian Monck, a member of the WEF [World Economic Forum] managing board and longtime director of communications.

Yes, Secretary of State John Kerry, a Davos regular, will be making an appearance, but he’s the lamest of lame ducks. The United States is pulling back. And where President Barack Obama tried to lead from behind in order to build broad consensus in global affairs, Trump may decide simply to walk away if the world won’t play by his ad hoc and sometimes arbitrary rules.

So, says Monck, “What China has to say about its role in the global economy is hugely important. The potential lies there for trade wars, and some warn of shooting wars. But even if the Chinese meet Trumpian truculence with Mandarin delicacy, much of the planet may start looking to them to set the tone for international affairs. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reports: Chinese President Xi Jinping cautioned against protectionism as he pushed back against criticism of globalization by Donald Trump and other Western populists.

“Protectionism is like locking yourself in a dark room, which would seem to escape wind and rain, but also block out the sunshine,” Xi told the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, the first Chinese head of state to address the annual gathering in the Alpine resort town of Davos. “No one is a winner in a trade war.” [Continue reading…]

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Putin’s puppet: Trump says NATO is ‘obsolete,’ doesn’t care if EU breaks up, calls refugees ‘illegals,’ and wants ‘good deals with Russia’

Bloomberg reports: Donald Trump called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would follow the U.K. in leaving the bloc, and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to two European newspapers which conducted a joint interview with the president-elect.

Trump, in an hourlong discussion with Germany’s Bild and the Times of London published on Sunday, signaled a major shift in trans-Atlantic relations, including an interest in lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia as part of a nuclear weapons reduction deal.

Quoted in German by Bild from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted that Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination designed with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade. For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent to whether the EU stays together, according to Bild.

The Times quoted Trump as saying he was interested in making “good deals with Russia,” floating the idea of lifting sanctions that were imposed as the U.S. has sought to punish the Kremlin for its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and military support of the Syrian government.

“They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,’’ Trump said, according to the Times. “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.’’

Trump’s reported comments leave little doubt that he’ll stick to campaign positions and may in some cases upend decades of U.S. foreign policy, putting him fundamentally at odds with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on issues from free trade and refugees to security and the EU’s role in the world. [Continue reading…]

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Human Rights Watch: Trump, European populists foster bigotry, discrimination

Human Rights Watch: The rise of populist leaders in the United States and Europe poses a dangerous threat to basic rights protections while encouraging abuse by autocrats around the world, Human Rights Watch said today in launching its World Report 2017. Donald Trump’s election as US president after a campaign fomenting hatred and intolerance, and the rising influence of political parties in Europe that reject universal rights, have put the postwar human rights system at risk.

Meanwhile, strongman leaders in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and China have substituted their own authority, rather than accountable government and the rule of law, as a guarantor of prosperity and security. These converging trends, bolstered by propaganda operations that denigrate legal standards and disdain factual analysis, directly challenge the laws and institutions that promote dignity, tolerance, and equality, Human Rights Watch said.

In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights not as an essential check on official power but as an impediment to the majority will.

“The rise of populism poses a profound threat to human rights,” Roth said. “Trump and various politicians in Europe seek power through appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and nativism. They all claim that the public accepts violations of human rights as supposedly necessary to secure jobs, avoid cultural change, or prevent terrorist attacks. In fact, disregard for human rights offers the likeliest route to tyranny.”

Roth cited Trump’s presidential campaign in the US as a vivid illustration of the politics of intolerance. He said that Trump responded to those discontented with their economic situation and an increasingly multicultural society with rhetoric that rejected basic principles of dignity and equality. His campaign floated proposals that would harm millions of people, including plans to engage in massive deportations of immigrants, to curtail women’s rights and media freedoms, and to use torture. Unless Trump repudiates these proposals, his administration risks committing massive rights violations in the US and shirking a longstanding, bipartisan belief, however imperfectly applied, in a rights-based foreign policy agenda. [Continue reading…]

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Is Europe disintegrating?

Timothy Garton Ash writes: Had I been cryogenically frozen in January 2005, I would have gone to my provisional rest as a happy European. With the enlargement of the European Union to include many post-Communist democracies, the 1989 “return to Europe” dream of my Central European friends was coming true. EU member states had agreed on a constitutional treaty, loosely referred to as the European constitution. The unprecedented project of European monetary union seemed to be confounding the deep skepticism that I and many others had earlier expressed. It was amazing to travel without hindrance from one end of the continent to another, with no border controls inside the expanding zone of states adhering to the Schengen Agreement and with a single currency in your pocket for use throughout the eurozone.

Madrid, Warsaw, Athens, Lisbon, and Dublin felt as if they were bathed in sunlight from windows newly opened in ancient dark palaces. The periphery of Europe was apparently converging with the continent’s historic core around Germany, the Benelux countries, France, and northern Italy. Young Spaniards, Greeks, Poles, and Portuguese spoke optimistically about the new chances offered them by “Europe.” Even notoriously euroskeptical Britain was embracing its European future under Prime Minister Tony Blair. And then there was the avowedly pro-European Orange Revolution in Ukraine. As I watched peaceful protesters in Kiev waving the European flag, with its yellow stars on a blue background, I could inwardly intone the European anthem — Beethoven’s music for the “Ode to Joy.”

Cryogenically reanimated in January 2017, I would immediately have died again from shock. For now there is crisis and disintegration wherever I look: the eurozone is chronically dysfunctional, sunlit Athens is plunged into misery, young Spaniards with doctorates are reduced to serving as waiters in London or Berlin, the children of Portuguese friends seek work in Brazil and Angola, and the periphery of Europe is diverging from its core. There is no European constitution, since that was rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands later in 2005. The glorious freedom of movement for young Poles and other Central and Eastern Europeans has now contributed substantially to a shocking referendum vote by my own country, Britain, to leave the EU altogether. And Brexit brings with it the prospect of being stripped of my European citizenship on the thirtieth anniversary of 1989.

A young liberal hero of 1989, Viktor Orbán, is now a nationalist populist leading Hungary toward authoritarianism and explicitly praising the “illiberal” example of Xi Jinping’s China and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Border controls have been reimposed between Schengen countries (“temporarily,” of course), in response to the flood of refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan — areas where our so-called European foreign policy has proved little more than waffle. To cap it all, a brave attempt to complete the unfinished business of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine has been rewarded with Russia’s unilateral armed seizure of Crimea and ongoing violent intervention in eastern Ukraine — actions recalling Europe in 1939 rather than 1989. Ichabod! Ichabod! The glory has departed from our common European home. [Continue reading…]

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With Trump and Putin, Europe is now between a rock and a hard place

Natalie Nougayrède writes: European capitals have been busy sending discreet emissaries to New York to sound out Donald Trump’s intentions. Angela Merkel, who on 9 November delivered a blunt warning to the US president-elect, sent her close adviser Christoph Heusgen to meet General Michael Flynn, the new national security adviser, in late December. François Hollande, who commented during Trump’s campaign that it made him want to “throw up”, sent his diplomatic adviser, Jacques Audibert. Now Theresa May has announced that she will travel to Washington to meet Trump directly in the spring. But European leaders are still at a loss as to what to expect from the man – hardly surprising when major foreign policy pronouncements are made via Twitter. “We’re in another world” one German official recently told me, after pointing to how closely Merkel had worked with Obama on Ukraine and other issues.

Everything that is mind-boggling and distressing about Trump for liberal Americans is even more so for democratic Europeans, and that’s because of the angst attached to geopolitics. With Trump about to settle in the White House and Putin gloating in the Kremlin, two illiberals who like zero-sum games, Europe finds itself dramatically caught between a rock and a hard place.

The rock is Trump’s propensity to disparage alliances and show sympathy for illiberal European politicians. The hard place is Putin’s expectation that more, not fewer, opportunities lie ahead to further his foreign policy goals – not least a rewriting of Europe’s architecture, to Russia’s benefit. Noises in central Europe that Trump will be keenly interested in the region because his wife was born in Slovenia smack of either irony or despair.

For Europe, two dangers arise. The first is that the principles on which the transatlantic link was founded in the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, including the pledge to uphold “democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law”, might head for the dustbin. The second is that Europe may witness a return to spheres of influence, something that has historically plagued it, and essentially amounts to saying this: might makes right, and the strong do what they can while the weak suffer what they must. Not much seems to separate Trump from Putin on that account.

If this is the new normal, expect an unseemly European scramble, with governments rushing to try to secure their own interests whatever the cost to neighbours and the continent’s future. Putin will be waiting with open arms for those who, whether out of admiration or fear, might want to compensate American strategic withdrawal by seeking lofty arrangements with the great eastern neighbour. Peeling Europe away from the US is an objective Putin has long made clear. A strong, coordinated Europe is in Putin’s interest only if it is ideologically favourable to him – with cultural nativists such as Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Viktor Orbán calling the shots. If liberal democracy can resist, however, especially in France and Germany, then he will continue working to achieve a weak and fractured Europe. [Continue reading…]

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Italy’s Five Star Movement part of growing club of Putin sympathisers in West

The Guardian reports: Ten years ago, in the wake of the murder of the leading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a popular comedian-turned-blogger in Italy named Beppe Grillo urged tens of thousands of his readers to go out and buy Putin’s Russia, her searing exposé of corruption under the leadership of Vladimir Putin.

“Russia is a democracy based on the export of gas and oil. If they didn’t export that, they would go back to being the good old dictatorship of once upon a time,” Grillo wrote in a mournful 2006 post about the journalist’s murder.

But today, Grillo’s position on Russia has radically changed. He is now part of a growing club of Kremlin sympathisers in the west – an important shift given that the comedian has become one of the most powerful political leaders in Italy and his Five Star Movement (M5S), the anti-establishment party he created in 2009, is a top contender to win the next Italian election.

Some of Grillo’s lieutenants in the Five Star Movement are vocal supporters of Putin’s policies, including in Syria, where the party’s top spokesman on foreign policy, Manlio Di Stefano, has praised the shelling of Aleppo as a “liberation” of the city. [Continue reading…]

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‘America first’ and global conflict next

Nouriel Roubini writes: Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States does not just represent a mounting populist backlash against globalization. It may also portend the end of Pax Americana – the international order of free exchange and shared security that the US and its allies built after World War II.
That US-led global order has enabled 70 years of prosperity. It rests on market-oriented regimes of trade liberalization, increased capital mobility, and appropriate social-welfare policies; backed by American security guarantees in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, through NATO and various other alliances.

Trump, however, may pursue populist, anti-globalization, and protectionist policies that hinder trade and restrict the movement of labor and capital. And he has cast doubt on existing US security guarantees by suggesting that he will force America’s allies to pay for more of their own defense. If Trump is serious about putting “America first,” his administration will shift US geopolitical strategy toward isolationism and unilateralism, pursuing only the national interests of the homeland.

When the US pursued similar policies in the 1920s and 1930s, it helped sow the seeds of World War II. Protectionism – starting with the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which affected thousands of imported goods – triggered retaliatory trade and currency wars that worsened the Great Depression. More important, American isolationism – based on a false belief that the US was safely protected by two oceans – allowed Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to wage aggressive war and threaten the entire world. With the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the US was finally forced to take its head out of the sand.

Today, too, a US turn to isolationism and the pursuit of strictly US national interests may eventually lead to a global conflict. Even without the prospect of American disengagement from Europe, the European Union and the eurozone already appear to be disintegrating, particularly in the wake of the United Kingdom’s June Brexit vote and Italy’s failed referendum on constitutional reforms in December. Moreover, in 2017, extreme anti-Europe left- or right-wing populist parties could come to power in France and Italy, and possibly in other parts of Europe. [Continue reading…]

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In Donald Trump, Alexander Dugin trusts

Matthew d’Ancona writes: Russian hacking, White House warnings, angry denials by Vladimir Putin’s officials: we are edging towards a digital Cuban crisis. So it is as well to ask what is truly at stake in this e-conflict, and what underpins it.

To which end, meet the most important intellectual you have (probably) never heard of. Alexander Dugin, the Russian political scientist and polemicist, may resemble Santa’s evil younger brother and talk like a villain from an Austin Powers movie. But it is no accident that he has earned the nickname Putin’s Rasputin. His books and posts – often, it must be said impenetrable or plain madcap – are required reading for those who seek to understand the new landscape of Brexit, Donald Trump’s victory and the global surge of the far right.

Born in Moscow in 1962, Dugin is a ferocious champion of Russian imperialism, or what he calls Eurasianism. He supports tradition against liberalism, autocracy against democratic institutions, stern uniformity against Enlightenment pluralism. In The Fourth Political Theory (2009), he claims all this adds up to a new and coherent ideology, supplanting liberal democracy, Marxism and fascism – though he still seems pretty fond of fascism.

The extent of Dugin’s personal access to the Kremlin remains opaque: it has certainly waxed and waned over the decades. What is beyond dispute, however, is the influence his geopolitical vision has enjoyed in the general staff academy and the Russian ministry of defence. Putin’s intervention in Georgia in 2008, his invasion of Ukraine in 2014, and his tightening grip on Syria are all entirely consistent with Dugin’s strategy for Mother Russia.

All of which is alarming enough. But what makes Dugin so suddenly significant is his growing influence in the west. It has long been alleged that he acts as a covert intermediary between Moscow and far-right groups in Europe, many of which are believed to receive funding from the Kremlin.

The purpose of operations like the hacking of the US election has been to destabilise the Atlantic order generally, and America specifically. And on this great struggle, Dugin is positively millenarian: “We must create strategic alliances to overthrow the present order of things, of which the core could be described as human rights, anti-hierarchy, and political correctness – everything that is the face of the Beast, the anti-Christ.” [Continue reading…]

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Welcome to the age of anger

Pankaj Mishra writes: … as a polarised intellectual industry plays catch-up with fast-moving events that it completely failed to anticipate, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that our search for rational political explanations for the current disorder is doomed. All of the opponents of the new “irrationalism” – whether left, centre, or right – are united by the presumption that individuals are rational actors, motivated by material self-interest, enraged when their desires are thwarted, and, therefore, likely to be appeased by their fulfilment.

This notion of human motivation deepened during the Enlightenment, whose leading thinkers, despising tradition and religion, sought to replace them with the human capacity to rationally identify individual and collective interests. The dream of the late 18th century, to rebuild the world along secular and rational lines, was further elaborated in the 19th century by the utilitarian theorists of the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people – and this notion of progress was embraced by socialists and capitalists alike.

After the collapse of the socialist alternative in 1989, this utopian vision took the form of a global market economy dedicated to endless growth and consumption – to which there would be no alternative. According to this worldview, the dominance of which is now nearly absolute, the human norm is Homo economicus, a calculating subject whose natural desires and instincts are shaped by their ultimate motivation: to pursue happiness and avoid pain.

This simple view always neglected many factors ever-present in human lives: the fear, for instance, of losing honour, dignity and status, the distrust of change, the appeal of stability and familiarity. There was no place in it for more complex drives: vanity, fear of appearing vulnerable, the need to save face. Obsessed with material progress, the hyperrationalists ignored the lure of resentment for the left-behind, and the tenacious pleasures of victimhood. [Continue reading…]

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Stephen Hawking: This is the most dangerous time for our planet

Stephen Hawking writes: As a theoretical physicist based in Cambridge, I have lived my life in an extraordinarily privileged bubble. Cambridge is an unusual town, centred around one of the world’s great universities. Within that town, the scientific community that I became part of in my 20s is even more rarefied.

And within that scientific community, the small group of international theoretical physicists with whom I have spent my working life might sometimes be tempted to regard themselves as the pinnacle. In addition to this, with the celebrity that has come with my books, and the isolation imposed by my illness, I feel as though my ivory tower is getting taller.

So the recent apparent rejection of the elites in both America and Britain is surely aimed at me, as much as anyone. Whatever we might think about the decision by the British electorate to reject membership of the European Union and by the American public to embrace Donald Trump as their next president, there is no doubt in the minds of commentators that this was a cry of anger by people who felt they had been abandoned by their leaders.

It was, everyone seems to agree, the moment when the forgotten spoke, finding their voices to reject the advice and guidance of experts and the elite everywhere.

I am no exception to this rule. I warned before the Brexit vote that it would damage scientific research in Britain, that a vote to leave would be a step backward, and the electorate – or at least a sufficiently significant proportion of it – took no more notice of me than any of the other political leaders, trade unionists, artists, scientists, businessmen and celebrities who all gave the same unheeded advice to the rest of the country.

What matters now, far more than the choices made by these two electorates, is how the elites react. Should we, in turn, reject these votes as outpourings of crude populism that fail to take account of the facts, and attempt to circumvent or circumscribe the choices that they represent? I would argue that this would be a terrible mistake. [Continue reading…]

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