domestic politics in metamodern times Robin van den Akker 26 10 2010

Domestic politics in metamodern times
Robin van den Akker

October 26, 2010 Notes on Metamodernism


The postmodern years have been marked by a slow but steady development
towards political stability and economic prosperity, at least from a western
 perspective. After the turmoil of the 1960s and, to a lesser extent, the 1970s and,
to a much lesser extent, the 1980s, the 1990s might be described, in the words
of Charles Krauthammer, as ‘a holiday from History.’ The so-called ‘peace’ brought
by the steady rise of Empire and the formation of the European Union, the disintegration
of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall; and the so-called ‘wealth’ brought
by the deregulation of the financial system and the transition to a white-collar economy,
the flexibilisation of the job market and a credit-driven consumerism all seemed to confirm
 Fukuyama’s End of History.

These trends and tendencies might be best illustrated from the perspective of national
politics and domestic policy, as these domains can be conceived as a mediating level between
the global and local, the point of contact between the space of flows and the space of places,
the moment of intersection between World History and personal life narratives. Seen from this
perspective, then, it can be argued that the postmodern era led, slowly but surely,
to the appeasement of political oppositions and the blunting of ideological contradictions,
up to the point where the differences between Adam Smith and Karl Marx, the invisible hand of
the market and the clinched fist of the commune, liberals and socialists, progressives and
conservatives were slowly but surely rendered invisible by political stability and economic
prosperity.

Consider, for example, the continuation of Thatcher & Reagan’s Neoliberalism by
Blair & Clinton’s Thirdway-ism, a development that seemed to legitimize Thatcher’s
slogan that There Is No Alternative and a development that was neatly summarised
by Dutchman Wim Kok (former-Union-leader-cum-Prime-Minister and ‘spiritual father’
of the Third Way) as ‘shaking off the ideological feathers’. All was quiet
on the Western front. Or, so it seemed.

This is not to say that all postmodern tendencies are over and done with.
But we do believe many of them are taking another shape, and, more importantly,
a new sens, a new meaning, and direction. History, in other words,
has resumed its course. For the 2000s were haunted by the specters
of immigration and multiculturalism, terrorism and populism, climate
crisis and credit crunch, the failed attempt to establish a Constitution
for the European Union and the Euro-crisis, the demise of American
unilateralism and the rise of economies such as Brasil and Russia,
India and China, the so-called BRICs.

Looking back at the end of the decade it is easy to see that the realm
of domestic politics altered accordingly, as the political centre collapsed
and political contradictions resurfaced. Let me illustrate these points
by means of a few examples.

In the US, recently, the election of President Obama rallied the country
behind a progressive agenda of social reform, leading to attempts to
restructure the financial sector, reform Health Care and balance the
government books. Meanwhile, the Republicans have won heavily in the
recent mid-term elections thanks to a radicalized conservative wing,
spearheaded by Sarah Palin, Fox News and the infamous Tea Party.

In the UK, recently, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats
formed the first coalition since the Second World War to govern the
country. Meanwhile, Labour is redirecting its course after the apparent
failure of Blair’s Thirdway politics and the disastrous spell
of Gordon Brown. After a dramatic race between the Milliband brothers,
the natural heir to Blair’s legacy, David, lost to the favorite of Labour’s
left wing, Ed, who was elected the new Party leader, and this is telling,
as the result of the support of the Unions.
In the Netherlands, recently, the first minority cabinet since the Second
World War got installed, headed by the first Liberal (rightwing) Prime-Minister
since the First World War and made possible by the support of Geert Wilders’
anti-Islam party. Meanwhile, Labour distanced itself from their former Thirdway
politics by means of a dismissive speech of Wouter Bos
(still leading the party at that time) and the Unions organized the
longest strike since the Great Depression.

We could go on and on and on. We could go on about the
consecutive minority coalitions in Denmark, supported by
the rightwing populists of The Danish People’s Party, the need
for much contested reforms concerning the climate crises
and the credit crunch,
the wave of strikes that will undoubtedly engulf Europe,
the historical first seat for the extreme-right in Swedish
Parliament, the recent start of the debate concerning
the multicultural society in Germany and so on so forth…

But the list is intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive.
All of the above mentioned examples, however, point towards
a similar political reality: the constant need to both create
an re-create small majorities or large minorities and position
and reposition oneself within an increasingly polarized
political landscape.