British citizens protest in Trafalgar Square against the referendum results of the UK leaving the EU (Credit: melis/Bigstock)
British citizens protest in Trafalgar Square against the referendum results of the UK leaving the EU (Credit: melis/Bigstock) (via: bit.ly)

The shape of politics is shifting. In France, the country that invented the left-right binary almost 250 years ago, the centre-left and the centre-right have been defeated and may slide into oblivion.

The new contest is between the ultra-liberalism of Emmanuel Macron and the anti-liberalism of Marie Le Pen’s Front National. In other advanced economies of the West, the shape of political debate is changing along similar lines. First, there was Remain vs. Brexit in Britain, followed by Trump vs. Clinton in the US. Then we had Alexander Van der Bellen vs. Norbert Hofer in Austria last December, Mark Rutte vs. Geert Wilders in the Netherlands in March, and then the run-off between Macron and Le Pen.

In each case, liberals have tended to combine left-wing social liberalism with right-wing economic liberalism, which has been the trajectory since Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, and David Cameron. Contemporary liberalism fuses free-market fundamentalism with cosmopolitan identity politics – a combination perhaps best exemplified by Hillary Clinton’s doomed bid for the US presidency. Common to these two elements are rampant individualism and the emphasis on difference over commonality (Pabst, 2016c).

In an age of economic and cultural insecurity, this liberal-progressive consensus is breaking down. The extremes on the left and the right are resurgent, and each reject one side of progressive liberalism

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