[Pankaj Mishra reviews two books on the liberal democratic
response to the rule of Trump. While one author aims to beat the
right-wing populists at their own game, the other seeks to reinstate
socialism as an “ethical ideal and political objective.” ]



 Pankaj Mishra 
 June 21, 2018
London Review of Books

	* [https://portside.org/node/17536/printable/print]

 _ Pankaj Mishra reviews two books on the liberal democratic response
to the rule of Trump. While one author aims to beat the right-wing
populists at their own game, the other seeks to reinstate socialism as
an “ethical ideal and political objective.” _ 

 Samantha Power, the Obama Administration’s UN Ambassador, with
Henry Kissinger as she received the Kissinger Prize in Berlin, June
2016., US Mission to United Nations 


	* The People v. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to
Save It by Yascha Mounk
[https://www.lrb.co.uk/search?author=Mounk,+Yascha] Harvard, 400 pp,
£21.95, March, ISBN 978 0 674 97682 5
 	* Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World by Samuel Moyn
Harvard, 277 pp, £21.95, April, ISBN 978 0 674 73756 3

American liberals, Samuel Moyn wrote last year in _Dissent_, have
never broken ‘with the exceptionalist outlook that cast the United
States as uniquely virtuous’, but having Trump in the ‘cockpit of
American power’ will reveal ‘just how terrifyingly normal a nation
we are, with our populist jingoism and hawkish foreign policy’. The
bipartisan support for the president’s bombing campaigns shows that
little has changed in this respect, however. As Trump ordered strikes
on Syria in April last year, Fareed Zakaria hailed the ‘big
moment’: ‘Donald Trump,’ he said, ‘became president of the
United States last night.’ As Trump dispatched his ‘shiny and
new’ missiles to Syria a year later, Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former
Obama apparatchik and president of the New America Foundation, tweeted
that it was the ‘right thing’ to do. ‘It will not stop the war
nor save the Syrian people from many other horrors,’ Slaughter
conceded, and ‘it is illegal under international law.’ But ‘it
at least draws a line somewhere & says enough.’

‘The deterioration of the intelligentsia,’ Arthur Koestler wrote,
‘is as much a symptom of disease as the corruption of the ruling
class or the sleeping sickness of the proletariat. They are symptoms
of the same fundamental process.’ One clear sign of intellectual
infirmity is the desperation with which centrists and liberals,
removed from the cockpit of American power, forage for ideas and
inspiration on the lumpen right. The _New York Times_’s op-ed page
lured Bret Stephens, a climate-change denier, and Bari Weiss, a campus
agitator known for persecuting Arab scholars, away from the
Murdoch-owned _Wall Street Journal_. The _Atlantic_ hired, then a
few days later fired, Kevin Williamson, a prose stylist at
the _National Review_ who suggests that women who have abortions –
a quarter of all American women – should be hanged. In this
free-for-all, ‘thought leaders’ rise without a trace, at great
speed and with little ballast. Jordan Peterson, a YouTube evangelist
who believes that feminists have ‘an unconscious wish for brutal
male domination’, was hailed in the _New York Times_ as the
West’s ‘most influential public intellectual’ and elicited
respectful attention from _New York_, _Atlantic_ and _Esquire_.

The most audacious surfers of the bien pensant tide, however, are
wealthy and influential stalwarts of the ‘liberal order,’ whose
diagnoses and prescriptions dominate the comment pages of
the _Financial Times_, the _New York Times_ and the _Economist_.
They depict the tyro in the White House as an unprecedented calamity,
more so evidently than the economic inequality, deadlocked government,
subprime debt, offshored jobs, unrestrained corporate power and
compromised legislature that made Trump seem a credible candidate to
millions of Americans. Hoping to restore their liberal order,
journalists, politicians, former civil servants and politically
engaged businessmen jostle on both sides of the Atlantic in an air of
revivalist zeal. Shortly after Trump’s victory, Third Way, a think
tank run by a former aide to Bill Clinton, launched New Blue, a $20
million initiative to recharge the vital centre. In April it was
revealed that billionaires have been funding Patriots and Pragmatists,
a private discussion group of pundits affiliated with the Obama and
Bush administrations. In Britain, a centrist political party with a
treasure trove of £50 million has surfaced. One of its patrons, Tony
Blair, explained in the _New York Times_ last March that ‘for
liberal democracy to survive and thrive, we must build a new coalition
that is popular, not populist.’ A reinvigorated centrism, he wrote,
had to acknowledge ‘genuine cultural anxieties’, not least on
immigration. The same month, Blair laid out £10 million for Renewing
the Centre, a ‘non-party platform’ under the auspices of his
Institute for Global Change, and hired Yascha Mounk, a lecturer at
Harvard, to lead its fight against ‘false populism’. In _The
People v. Democracy_, Mounk repeatedly echoes Blair. ‘Defenders of
liberal democracy,’ he writes, ‘will simply fan the flames of
populism if they disregard fears about ineffective border controls or
dismiss the degree of public anger about current levels of
immigration.’ Just as Blair argues that there is no point in
‘appearing obsessive on issues like gender identity’ –
presumably to avoid further wounding the ‘white working class’,
the new holy cow of chastened metropolitans – Mounk indicts a
spoiler ‘left’ for being damagingly obsessed with identity
politics, cultural appropriation and shutting down free speech.

An ‘anti-totalitarian liberalism,’ Moyn warned in 2006, as liberal
democrats waged war on Islamofascism, ‘has become the favoured
approach of many political elites in Western democracies’. It seems
an ineradicable intellectual reflex as Mounk resurrects in his book
the popular oppositions of the Cold War and the war on terror: liberal
democracy v. authoritarianism, freedom v. its enemies. Framing these
Manicheanisms not as geopolitical challenges but as the West’s
domestic problem, he suggests a quasi-solution: an ‘inclusive
nationalism’, which Obama and Macron have already articulated in
their speeches. We need to focus on what ‘unites rather than what
divides us’, whereas the left is guilty of a ‘radical rejection of
the nation and all its trappings’. But how does one rebuild a
‘collective form of belonging’ in the racially and ethnically
heterogeneous West? Mounk concedes that ‘we cannot recreate the
threat of communism or fascism.’ Nevertheless, ‘we can remember
that civics education is an essential bulwark against authoritarian
temptations.’ Students, taught ‘disdain for our inherited
political institutions’ and encouraged to be suspicious of the
Enlightenment, ought to be trained to be ‘proud defenders of liberal
democracy’. ‘Rhetoric matters,’ he insists. Hillary Clinton, for
instance, ‘needed to convince voters that she was passionate about
changing the status quo’.

These and other miscellaneous insights, hailed by the _New
Yorker_ as ‘trenchant’ and the _Guardian_ as
‘extraordinary’, are useful largely in confirming the persistence
of the ancien régime in Atlanticist editorial boards, political
science departments, think tanks and television studios. Blair,
meanwhile, lucratively counselling despots and plutocrats abroad while
avoiding citizen’s arrest at home, is no longer a viable leader of
global change. But his project of renewing the centre appeals
viscerally to the anti-totalitarian liberals for whom the collapse of
the Berlin Wall confirmed once and for all that there is no
alternative, and who were consequently blindsided by Trump. These
exponents of deregulation, privatisation and pre-emptive wars are the
ones most susceptible to Mounk’s fables, in which America was moving
towards the ‘realisation of its high-minded conception’ before the
way was blocked by an ogre. ‘Then came Donald Trump,’ Mounk
declares, a president who ‘openly disdains basic constitutional

The qualifier ‘openly’ suggests that the most objectionable thing
about Trump may be his discarding of the veil that conceals the
scramble for power and wealth among the traditional ruling classes.
Mounk does not consider the possibility that the official mendacity
concerning illegal wars and assaults on civil liberties may have made
some people sceptical about the norms of liberal democracy. He is
tactfully silent about the way some leading liberal democrats –
Blair, but also Clinton, Lagarde, Schröder, Hollande, Rajoy, Renzi,
Cameron and Osborne – are continually caught in the revolving door
between business and politics. He doesn’t mention either that it was
Obama who, as Moyn has put it, ‘enhanced the powers of a presidency,
which is now in the hands of a charlatan’, or that in his effort to
appease the Republican far right, Obama deported immigrants at a
higher rate than Trump has so far. Macron, another of Mounk’s
cherished liberal democrats, has, while pushing extensive
privatisation, unfurled a policy on migrants and refugees so harsh
that the Front National celebrates it as a ‘political victory’.

There is nothing new about such pragmatic patriots aiming to beat
right-wing populists at their own game. Contrary to Mounk’s morality
tale about liberal democracy, mainstream parties of the centre left as
well as the right have deployed the methods of what Stuart Hall called
‘authoritarian populism’ ever since the oil shocks and the
recessions of the 1970s and 1980s. Hall coined this term in the late
1970s to describe ‘the rise of the radical right under Thatcherite
auspices’ from the ruins of ‘the social-democratic consensus’.
With capitalism afflicted by an unresolvable structural crisis, fresh
populist consent had to be mobilised – often through moral panics
about immigrants – for the imposition of harsh neoliberal policies.
Thirty years later, even New Labour resorted, towards the end of its
tenure, to authoritarian populism. As an article in the _Utopian_, an
American web magazine, pointed out in 2010, Blair had ‘dragged
Britain into the Iraq War’ on the basis of blatant falsehoods and
then ‘adopted the most restrictive anti-terror legislation in
Europe’. There was an ‘authoritarian streak’ in both Blair and
Brown, who ‘ratcheted up coercion’ because of ‘their failure to
make real economic improvements’. Economic growth, ‘heavily
centred on the financial industry’, was ‘achieved at the price of
ever-new presents to bankers and the super-rich’. As a result,
‘Britain’s abject underclass has actually continued to grow’ and
many in the ‘disaffected white working class’ had either drifted
away from electoral politics or embraced such radical rightists as the
BNP. ‘Labour’s populism,’ the article concluded, ‘is a
desperate attempt to win back this milieu.’

The author of this combative and prescient analysis – of how the
centre had failed to hold and rough beasts started to slouch towards
Bethlehem long before Trump made his run for the presidency – was
Yascha Mounk. In 2010 he deplored Blair’s ‘desperate pandering’
to the far right and the ‘super-rich’, and seemed to sympathise
with those on the British left who ‘think that it’s high time to
give New Labour the mercy shot’. Working now to rejuvenate Blairism,
Mounk re-enacts the original sin of his employer and many other
superannuated centrists: the replacement of principle with


Samuel Moyn’s career is one of reversed affinities: from youthful
enchantment with the muzak of the Third Way to rediscovery
of _L’Internationale_, from eager collaboration with power to
tough-minded scrutiny of it. In 1999, during Nato’s bombing of
Yugoslavia, Moyn went to Washington DC to work as an intern on
Clinton’s National Security Council. Today, he is a prominent
presence in the intellectual culture of the American left, which,
denied representation by a mainstream media busy execrating Trump and
boosting Never Trumpists, has suddenly flowered in new periodicals
(_Jacobin_, _Viewpoint_, _Current Affairs_, the _Los Angeles Review
of Books_) and in the revitalised pages of the _Baffler_, _Boston
Review_, _Dissent_, _n+1_, the _New Republic_ and the _Nation_.
Sceptical of zealous anti-Trumpism, Moyn has chosen – in a time of
‘transition from an era of liberal ascendancy to one of liberal
crisis’ – to excavate the ‘egalitarian ideals and practices’
that a triumphant neoliberal capitalism drove underground.

Back in 1999, Moyn was bewitched by the idea of America administering
justice to the world’s afflicted and benighted. He wasn’t alone.
The 1990s were prodigal with illusions generated by the collapse of
communist regimes, the retreat of social democracy in Europe and the
abandonment of socialist ideals in postcolonial Asia and Africa. The
ethical vacuum had been filled by human rights, which were entrusted,
as Moyn wrote, with ‘the grand political mission of providing a
global framework for the achievement of freedom, identity and
prosperity’. It was in 1999 that Blair announced in Chicago: ‘We
are all internationals now, whether we like it or not.’ Western
values and interests had miraculously merged, and it was imperative to
‘establish and spread the values of liberty, the rule of law, human
rights and an open society’ – by force, if necessary. The first
Gulf War, ostensibly fought for the human rights of Kuwaitis, had
already helped crystallise a creed in which national sovereignty was
no longer inviolate. Human rights, commanding universal approval, came
in useful in trashing the principle that had given small countries
some protection against superpowers during the Cold War.

Intellectual, moral and legal backing for the New World Order came
from a variety of sources. Human Rights Watch supported Washington’s
disastrous military foray into Somalia in 1992. Jürgen Habermas
persuaded himself, briefly, that the US could create a global
cosmopolis in the spirit of Kant. John Rawls, transplanting his theory
of justice into the realm of international relations, declared in 1999
that societies that violate human rights rightly provoke economic
sanctions and military intervention. Liberal peoples, who are
naturally indifferent to imperial glory, can justly wage wars of
self-defence on ‘outlaw’ states. The synergy between the aims of
the US State Department, human rights advocates and military humanists
grew more intense after 9/11. Philip Bobbitt, counsellor to several
American administrations, and muse to Blair and Cameron, asserted
in _The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of
History_(2002) that ‘no state’s sovereignty is unimpeachable if
it studiedly spurns parliamentary institutions and human rights
[https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n12/pankaj-mishra/the-mask-it-wears?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=4012&utm_content=usca_nonsubs#fn-asterisk] In _A
Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide_, also published in
2002, Samantha Power outlined the correct response to the world’s
evildoers: American unilateralism untrammelled by international
institutions. Trumpeting Bush’s pre-emptive assault on Iraq, Michael
Ignatieff recommended in 2003 a new American empire whose ‘grace
notes are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by the
most awesome military power the world has ever known’.

The United States, Power asserted as Obama’s nominee for US
ambassador to the United Nations in 2013, ‘is the greatest country
on Earth’, and ‘the leader in human dignity’. She promised that
she would ‘never apologise for America’ and also pledged to
‘stand up for Israel and work tirelessly to defend it’. The
following year she tweeted a picture of her and Henry Kissinger
enjoying a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, and told the _New
Yorker_ that ‘as time wears on, I find myself gravitating more and
more to the G.S.D. [Get-Shit-Done] people.’ This also seems true of
Ignatieff, Power’s former colleague at Harvard’s Carr Centre for
Human Rights Policy, who outlined ‘permissible’ forms of torture
in the _New York Times_; his recommendations (which included
‘keeping prisoners in hoods’) appeared inconveniently just as the
first pictures of a hooded Iraqi prisoner emerged from Abu Ghraib.
Ambitious academics such as these have been especially keen to propose
American resolve and virtue as a solution to various problems from
hell. But it is also the case that human rights, lacking secure legal
and philosophical foundation, are prone to appropriation by
imperialist regimes as well as their victims. Once framed as
indivisible from the spread of free markets and other good things
necessary to the design of Pax Americana, the promotion of human
rights could be represented as part of the Pentagon’s mission and as
a natural corollary of the Washington Consensus – just how shit gets
done. It also helped that human rights at the end of history offered a
seductive ‘anti-politics’, which, Tony Judt lamented in _Ill
Fares the Land_, ‘misled a generation of young activists into
believing that, conventional avenues of change being hopelessly
clogged, they should forsake political organisation for single-issue,
non-governmental groups unsullied by compromise’.

Moyn was one of these activists, but has since fruitfully disavowed
his youthful romanticism. His work can be read as one long
clarification of the way in which the responsibility to protect became
indistinguishable from the right to bomb or blockade perceived enemies
(Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria), the right to nurture
‘friends’ (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel), and the right to be
passive in the face of ‘market fundamentalists’ as they boosted
‘the global rich higher over their inferiors than they had ever
been’. In _The Last Utopia_ (2010), he attacked the
self-congratulatory notion, vended by Ignatieff and others, that
awareness of the Holocaust’s horrors after the war helped consecrate
human rights in a ‘revolution of moral concern’. For one thing,
Moyn writes, ‘there was no widespread Holocaust consciousness in the
postwar era.’ And few people directly cited the 1948 UN Declaration
of Human Rights in the 1950s and 1960s. The discourse of human rights
became popular only in the 1970s. Intellectuals, particularly in
France, used it to replace their faith in socialism and Third
Worldism, and to consecrate an anti-totalitarian liberalism.
Politicians such as Jimmy Carter weaponised it in a new ideological
and moral offensive against the Soviet Union.

Moyn’s new book shows how human rights, as well as enabling American
militarism, acquiesced, as a ‘powerless companion of market
fundamentalism’, to the global ‘explosion of inequality’. It was
in the 1970s that the human rights movement came together, with its
particular infrastructure, bureaucracy and fundraising programmes,
into what David Kennedy in _The Rights of Spring_ (2009), his
acidulous memoir of human rights activism in Uruguay in 1984, called
the ‘smooth and knowing routines of professional advocacy’.
Kennedy, recalling time spent in the offices of Human Rights Watch in
the Empire State Building, describes the way in which, throughout the
1980s and 1990s, Western human rights groups honed their strategy of
‘naming and shaming from a great height’. This model of human
rights became hegemonic, though it was far from being universal. In
South Africa, for instance, left-wing anti-apartheid activists from
the 1970s onwards used the language of rights to demand a broader
democratic transformation as well as to defend the victims of state

What differentiated the Western model from many Asian, African and
Latin American networks of women’s groups and indigenous peoples, or
alternative development and environmental organisations, was its
indifference to ‘economic and social rights’: what Moyn defines as
‘entitlements to work, education, social assistance, health,
housing, food and water’. Focusing on the violations of
individuals’ rights by states, human rights groups valuably
documented the crimes of the Contras in Nicaragua, the army and death
squads in El Salvador, and state terrorists in Guatemala. But they
were largely indifferent to the abuse of power by non-state actors:
the kleptocratic oligarchies that emerged in Asia, Africa and Latin
America throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Nor did they have much to say
about the terrible effects of the structural adjustment programmes
implemented by the IMF and the World Bank in the 1980s and 1990s.
Human rights politics and law, Moyn argues, may have sensitised us
‘to the misery of visible indigence alongside the horrific
repression of authoritarian and totalitarian states – but not to the
crisis of national welfare, the stagnation of the middle classes and
the endurance of global hierarchy’.


Moyn’s stern appraisal may not appear new to long-standing critics
of Western moral rhetoric in the global South. Anti-colonial leaders
and thinkers knew that the global economy forged by Western
imperialism had to be radically restructured in order even partially
to fulfil the central promise of national self-determination, let
alone socialism. Western liberals were widely perceived as ‘false
friends’, as Conor Cruise O’Brien reported from Africa in the
1960s, and liberalism itself as an ‘ingratiating moral mask which a
toughly acquisitive society wears before the world it robs’.
Distrust of the Western discourse of human rights was likewise
constant and deep. The Indonesian thinker Soedjatmoko challenged its
presumption of universal morality, pointing to the global inequalities
perpetuated by the champions of human rights. Arundhati Roy spoke in
2004 of an ‘alarming shift of paradigm’: ‘Even among the
well-intentioned, the expansive, magnificent concept of justice is
gradually being substituted with the reduced, far more fragile
discourse of “human rights”’ – a minimalist request,
basically, not to be killed, tortured or unjustly imprisoned. As a
result, she argued ‘resistance movements in poor countries … view
human rights NGOs as modern-day missionaries,’ complicit in the
West’s attempt to impose an ‘unjust political and economic
structure on the world’.

Some African-American activists saw from the outset that human rights,
in their hegemonic American formulation, were not meant to facilitate
a ‘politics of fair distribution’. Even as the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights was being drafted in the late 1940s,
W.E.B. Du Bois observed that, as Moyn puts it, ‘human rights
inevitably became bound up with the power of the powerful.’ As Carol
Anderson showed in _Eyes off the Prize_ (2003) and _Bourgeois
Radicals_ (2014), the National Association for the Advancement of
Coloured People (NAACP), helped by Du Bois, appealed in 1947 to the
newly established UN to acknowledge African-Americans as victims of
human rights violations, where violations were defined in this case
not only as slavery, Jim Crow and denial of voting rights, but as
discrimination in criminal justice, education, housing, employment and
access to healthcare. Du Bois and other civil rights leaders echoed
the argument of many anti-colonial activists that legal and political
rights were impossible to achieve without economic security, and that
a mere ban on discrimination would not address centuries of
devastation. They ran into vigorous opposition not only from white
supremacists among southern Democrats and conservative Republicans,
but also from their supposed allies: the Truman administration and
Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, who told Du Bois that he was
embarrassing the United States before the Soviet Union. Some worried
that the demand reeked of socialism. None of them wanted the UN to
have any influence in the domestic arrangements of the US. Eventually,
the NAACP caved in to the defenders of white supremacy, and sidelined
Du Bois. Abandoning its own broad definition of human rights, the
NAACP settled for the narrow aim of legal equality. Not surprisingly,
deep inequalities in education, healthcare and housing persist to this
day: the logic of a human rights movement born and nurtured under the
American imperium.

In _The Last Utopia_, Moyn mentioned Du Bois’s attempt to
internationalise the plight of African-Americans and to define
institutionalised racism as a human rights violation, but he did not
acknowledge the significance of Du Bois’s failure to achieve these
things, or indeed the many valiant and doomed attempts in the global
South to transcend racialised political and economic hierarchies. Moyn
now acknowledges that his previous analysis was incomplete. In _Not
Enough_, he more effectively provincialises an ineffectual and
obsolete Western model of human rights. As he puts it, ‘local and
global economic justice requires redesigning markets or at least
redistributing from the rich to the rest, something that naming and
shaming are never likely to achieve.’ Since the human rights
movement ‘cannot reinvent itself with new ideals and tools’, he
argues, it should ‘stick to what it does best: informing our
concepts of citizenship and stigmatising evil, without purporting to
stand for the whole of “global justice”’.

Moyn’s book is part of a renewed attention to the political and
intellectual ferment of decolonialisation, and joins a sharpening
interrogation of the liberal order and the institutions of global
governance created by, and arguably for, Pax Americana. In _A World
of Struggle: How Power, Law and Expertise Shape Global Political
Economy_, David Kennedy blames humanitarian interventionists and
international lawyers, among other globalists, for bringing forth a
world that is ‘terribly unjust, subject to crisis, environmentally
unwise, everywhere politically and economically captured by the
[https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n12/pankaj-mishra/the-mask-it-wears?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=4012&utm_content=usca_nonsubs#fn-dagger] Martha
Nussbaum recently denounced the United Nations ‘system’ as
‘grotesquely flawed and corrupt, totally lacking in democratic
accountability, and therefore devoid of any procedural legitimacy when
it comes to imposing law on people’. The loss of legitimacy seems
more devastating in the case of the West-led human rights movement,
for which severe self-reckoning and downsizing seem unavoidable today.
Having turned, as David Rieff put it recently in _Foreign Policy_,
into a ‘secular church of liberal globalism’, the human rights
movement has become a casualty of the worldwide backlash against
liberal globalists. A principled minority long suspicious of Western
NGOs has been joined by opportunistic chieftains of majoritarian
movements. Erdoğan has jailed the chair of Amnesty International
Turkey. Amnesty International India had temporarily to close its
offices in Bangalore in 2016 after it was assaulted by Hindu
nationalists accusing the charity of ‘sedition’. Netanyahu has
deported the director of Israel and Palestine Human Rights Watch. In
Hungary, Orbán seems determined to expel George Soros’s Open
Society. As Trump frankly admires autocrats and refuses to pay even
vice’s meagre tribute to virtue, the human rights movement is
facing, as Rieff writes, ‘the greatest test it has confronted since
its emergence in the 1970s’.

The days when young people transposed their political idealism into
the vernacular of liberal internationalism seem to be behind us. Young
men and women are more likely today to join domestic political
upsurges against neoliberalism than to fall for a human rights
anti-politics miraculously placed beyond political economy. They can
hardly avoid noticing the great chasm that now exists between the
continuing official commitment to human rights and their brazen
infraction in relations everywhere between the rich and the poor, the
powerful and the weak. Moyn’s own book, probably his last word on
the last utopia, looks at democratic vistas beyond the horizons of
human rights and a liberalism parasitic on varying evils –
communism, Islamofascism, Trumpism – for its self-definition. His
timing seems right. ‘It is as if the main problem for liberal
democracy were its enemies,’ Moyn wrote in 2006, introducing a
collection of Pierre Rosanvallon’s writings, ‘as if there were no
need to ponder the historical variations and untried possibilities of
democracy.’ Twelve years later, Trump has inadvertently forced open
political and economic possibilities across the ideological spectrum;
the Thatcherite assumption that there is no alternative is no longer
tenable. Moyn, in _Not Enough_, senses that the crisis of
neoliberalism presents an intellectual and political opportunity. He
recovers forgotten moments from the long postcolonial effort to extend
to economics and geopolitics the principle of equality that liberals
regard as legitimate only in the political realm. He lingers on the
proposals made by poor countries in the 1970s for an international
economic order that could protect them from the depredations of rich
countries and multinational corporations. He describes at length the
thinking behind European commitments to national welfare states in the
postwar era. This is not nostalgia, of the kind Tony Judt felt for the
social democracy of his youth. Nor is it Third Worldism, as a touchy
reviewer of Moyn’s book in the _New York Times_ charged. Rather,
Moyn wants to reinstate socialism – which was, after all, the
‘central language of justice’ globally before it was supplanted by
human rights – as an ethical ideal and political objective.


This may seem like a quixotic project. The scale of the left’s
defeat in recent decades – whether measured in a moribund labour
movement, privatised essential services and utilities, economic
inequality of Gilded Age proportions, racial resegregation, or the
backlash against feminism – cannot be concealed. But then the ideals
of equality and redistribution never seemed more attractive than when
liberalism, having promised universal prosperity and greater
democracy, plunged into the slaughterhouse of the First World War,
followed by the deepest economic slump in history. The fortunes of
socialism have yet again risen as the structural malaise of capitalism
is diagnosed more and more clearly by its victims, and conscious
collective intervention rather than the invisible hand appears to be
the only viable solution to an unfolding environmental catastrophe.

‘Socialism,’ the _Wall Street Journal_ nervously reported late
last year, ‘has moved from being a taboo because of its associations
with the Cold War to something that has found rising appeal.’
Predictably, the ideological police of the liberal order is working
hard to reinstitute the old taboo. Denunciations of a supposedly
almighty and fanatical left flow as frequently from the _New York
Times, Washington Post_, _Boston Globe_, _New
York_and _Atlantic_ as from Breitbart, and detestation of ‘social
justice warriors’ unites figures as seemingly disparate as Mark
Lilla, Steven Pinker, Elon Musk, Niall Ferguson and Jordan Peterson.
Bernie Sanders’s insurgent campaign confirmed, however, that
socialist ideals exist, beyond the experience of communist tyranny, as
what John Stuart Mill called ‘one of the most valuable elements of
human improvement’. Certainly, that curious global conjuncture in
which neoliberal capitalism and technological leaps forward guaranteed
endless progress, and a tiny elite passed off its interests as
universal norms, has passed. The appeal of equality as a legal claim
and democratic norm has grown and grown – and is paradoxically
attested to by anti-establishment uprisings derided as ‘populist’
threats to liberal democracy. It is unlikely to be defused by attempts
to rebuild the liberal order on Macron-style yuppie populism,
inclusive nationalism, pragmatic patriotism or any other expedient of
an intellectually insolvent (though materially resourceful) centrism.
Moyn’s book offers no alternative programme of institutional
reconstruction or mass mobilisation. But its critical – and
self-critical – energy is consistently bracing, and is surely a
condition of restoring the pursuit of equality and justice as an
indispensable modern tradition.

[_Pankaj Mishra writes literary and political essays for the New York
Times, the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, the New
Yorker, London Review of Books, Bloomberg View, among other
publications. In 2009, he was nominated a Fellow of the Royal Society
of Literature. In 2014, he received Yale University’s
Windham-Campbell Literature Prize. Mishra
[https://www.lrb.co.uk/contributors/pankaj-mishra]’s latest book
is The Age of Anger: A History of the Present._]

You are invited to read this free book review from the _London
Review of Books_. Subscribe now to access every article from every
fortnightly issue of the _London Review of Books_, including the
entire _LRB_ archive of over 16,500 essays and reviews.

	* [https://portside.org/node/17536/printable/print]







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