Why is it so hard to conceive of a radical alternative to the kind of government on offer?
The French Presidential runoff, like the recent Dutch election and others, brings to mind the question of German sociologist a century ago when he asked: Why is there no socialism in America? Some of that is to do with the size of the country: shared purposes are hard to sustain on an imperial scale without a major loss of freedom. Then there’s their inherent cultural suspicion of government.
It is not by chance that social democracy and welfare states have worked best in small, fairly homogenous countries, where issues of mistrust and mutual suspicion do not arise so acutely. A willingness to pay for other people’s services and benefits rests upon the understanding that they in turn will do likewise for you and your children: because they are like you and see the world as you do.
Where immigration and visible minorities have altered the development of a country, we typically find increased suspicion of others and a loss of enthusiasm for the institutions of a welfare state. It is incontrovertible that welfare states face serious practical and political challenges today. Their survival is not yet in question, but confidence is weakening.
The French Presidential runoff between Le Pen and Macron is now starkly lit by the hard right populist – and failing – President Trump. He has been our best reminder that deeply radical governments are deeply unstable. The degree of instability is what people are voting for when they choose the degree of radicalism.
Macron, fully in the mold of Clark and Key, Gordon Brown, Hillary Clinton and Merkel, is a centrist who seeks to strengthen civic institutions and retain the push of global free trade. He’s pretty to look at, fresh within his own political party, and interesting. But he won’t change much.That is the best to hope for.
In this world where many democracies are sliding to the very hard right, we get to conceive radical alternatives in power. Right now that small c conservative position is a good thing.