The “Occupy” protests are the third great wave of neo-totalitarian revivalism since the Cold War

The protests against the "system" are spreading from New York to London, Madrid and elsewhere. But the protestors are not just wrong, they’re the enemies of the open society

Totalitarians always want it all
The Commentator
On 16 October 2011 10:43

Times Square in New York is packed with tens of thousands. St Paul’s Cathedral in London is besieged. Across Europe, copycat movements are moving onto the streets. It’s happening in Sydney too.

In an eerie echo of the way communist leaders in the Soviet era used to present the results of their rigged elections, they claim to be speaking for no less than 99 percent of their respective populations.

The remaining one percent, they say, have been running the “system” for their own ends. They’re representative of no-one but themselves.

Actually, the reverse is closer to the truth (though we’d put the number of true totalitarians in Western countries at somewhere between five and 10 percent, with a further 20 percent or so serving as sympathisers and fellow travellers).

As ever, their thinking is muddled.

As we pointed out a little while back, it is ludicrous to describe modern Western societies as having been run on neo-liberal lines in the run up to the financial crisis. In most countries, the proportion of public spending to GDP is in the order of 40-50 percent – in many cases its closer to 50; in some it’s even greater.

The banking system, for its part is, has long been massively regulated. Our economies are taxed to death. Entrepreneurs across the Western world are strangled in red tape, as anyone who has set up a business will tell you. The state is everywhere.

Worse still for the credibility of the protestors, the trigger for the financial crisis itself was a combination of state subsidised loans in the United States and reckless state borrowing more or less everywhere.

Add in to the mix a banking system which knew full well that governments would save the banks if they fell, and it should be crystal clear that the crisis was born of social-democratic principles and practices, not neo-liberal ones.

But that’s all easy to demonstrate, simply by sifting the evidence.

What also needs to be recognised is that the kind of protests we are seeing are part of a pattern that has been evident since the totalitarians finally regrouped after what for them was the disaster of a decisive Western victory in the Cold War.

In fact, what we are now witnessing could reasonably be characterised as their third major assault. The first was probably the anti-globalisation movement, best remembered for the events in Seattle in 1999.

The second, overlapping with the first, coalesced around climate change – (it used to be called “global warming” but since the planet has registered no net warming since 1998, they had to change the name).

And this is the third. But this time there is a difference. Globalisation was easily shown to be a good thing not a bad thing, helping lift tens of millions around the world out of poverty. That movement was never going to convince enough people to enforce the kind of change it wanted.              

Global warming was oversold and the science got corrupted by ideology, as well as vast amounts of money in research grants. Any scientist that looked at the evidence and said there might not be much of a problem was signing his own death warrant in terms of his funding. This is not to say there might not be some sort of a problem. But as cool-headed analysis gave way to alarmism and even fanaticism, the credibility of the whole movement suffered accordingly.

What is different now is that the world really does face a serious problem. The United States and Europe are mired in economic crisis. How policy makers respond in the coming days, weeks and months will determine whether we plunge into something to rival the Great Depression or, in a best case scenario, we just about pull through in two or three years time after a prolonged, yet survivable, period of recession or sluggish growth.

It’s very finely balanced, and if the first of those two scenarios is the one that comes to pass we need to bear in mind the kind of political movements that the first great economic catastrophe in the history of industrial society spawned.

There’s no cause for alarm at this stage. The protestors are largely the usual suspects; their protests may well just peter out.

But it’s worth remembering that crisis is frequently the midwife of radical, historical change. And those changes are not always for the better.  

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