The Times We Live In: Cleavages and Senses

Photo: Juan Suarez

By Armando Chaguaceda

HAVANA TIMES – Thirty years ago, in a surprising turn of events, liberal democracy and the market economy crushed the Leninist government and the Soviet command economy present in the vast region under its control.

Coinciding with a new revolution of biotechnology, I.T. and digital and physical communications, the world became globalized, under the promise of a period of polyarchy-style peace and capitalist prosperity. Even in conflict areas in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the old dictatorships and closed economies seemed to open themselves up to something different, seduced by the new middle classes.

It’s been a long time since then and, today, the landscape is completely different. The West – as a geopolitical region and social model – doesn’t seem to be prepared for the severity, pacts, lack of hurdles and skill that global autocracies and their local allies have to move against it.

Dormant with the immigration crisis, slow-growing economies and elections that exalt new populists, Western governments have revealed themselves to be erratic and slow in their response to new challenges today.

Digital – and military- authoritarian systems are being projected from Beijing and Moscow, over Venezuela and Crimea. Today, we are like Western Europe on the eve of being devoured by a Nazi machine that was weaker than the French-English alliance in military terms, but better focused strategically-speaking. So how can we invoke our own Dunkirk 4.0?

This isn’t just a geopolitical challenge, but something that also affects the very narrative of democratic societies. The debate is becoming more and more polarized and poor, growing in crescendo in the societies that fall in the cultural region we call the West.

Traditional cleavages of electoral situations are suffering the impact of a change in the times and a shift in paradigms. However, citizens, opinion-makers and even academics are turning to aged labels to label the political actor they don’t like, whether it’s the Government or the opposition.

Intellectuals are getting dizzy too. Every morning, the normative is confused with the analytical: we hear oversimplifications such as “this Government is truly Leftist” or “the opposition is conservative.”

There are so many sweeping comments made on one-dimensional opinions – political, ideological or cultural – that turn the object of my disaffection into a caricature. Yet realpolitics is more complex than black and white. It rather lies in the quadrants where different axes cross, where different factors come together. Let’s explore these dimensions, to better understand the sources of the crisis and confusion that has taken over us.

Political polarity looks at a power’s organizational principles, comparing democracy and autocracy. Democracy is a type of government – and society – that protects power distributing it among its institutions, open to competition between groups and agendas.

Autocracy refers to a concentrated power, where a person or elite monopolizes prerogatives and imposes an agenda on its subordinates. How much these powers are concentrated or spread out defines the regimes that take on totalitarianism. The extreme being autocracy, and the liberal republic of the masses, democracybeing the epitome. In the middle, you have hybrid forms of government that combine the Power of One with the Participation of Many.

Ideological polarity refers to ideas of redistribution, separating the Left and Right. The Left tends to fight poverty and socio-economic inequality, entrusting the State with a regulatory and redistributive role. The Right develops private initiatives, in the Market, as a motor for production and wealth accumulation.

Daughter of Modernity, the comparison between Left and Right took on extreme forms in the 20th century: centrally planned economies vs. capitalist economies. Today, the conflict is reduced to choosing between different forms of capitalism – the liberal, technocratic kind vs. State authoritarianism.

Cultural polarity compares appraising stances, conservative and progressive.

The conservativeconsiders hierarchies between countries, social classes, race, genders, religions and cultures, natural – and the basis of a stable power.

The progressive understands the need to recognize and empower subjects that are considered oppressed, emerging or minority in the established Power’s eyes. Half-way between reactionary or revolutionary impulses, you have liberal stances that take on different reformist agendas.

It’s better to keep skimmed ingredients out of social science recipes. (Institutional) politics, (redistributive) ideology and (axiological) culture come together in different ways across our world. There are tyrants who represent a conservative and authoritarian Left, the opposite to Leftist, progressive and democratic leaders. Nicolas Maduro (Venezuela) vs. Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand).

There are also liberal and democratic Rights – such as Emmanuel Macron’s Republique en Marche! – far from those conservative and authoritarian Rights represented by groups such as Vladimir Putin’s United Russia.

The antiliberal zeitgeist is making its way across the world. In politics and language, notions of identity and technology. It is crossing regions, populations and ideologies.

It’s standing up to this – and its disguised and infectious anti-pluralism – that we need to make great efforts to diagnose the threats that it holds for our civilized cohabitation. Under the different configurations of each country. Correcting them in time, if we can. 

However, deterioration is preventable. Our open societies have untapped reserves of technological creativity, united solidarity and civic commitment. In terms of human, economic and military potential, global democracies still have important defenses against their endogenous and foreign enemies; they are culturally iconic for emerging sectors moving away from their rivals.

Concentrating on these advantages, dusting off over-confidence that supposes the end of History, and getting ready for the battles that are to come, this is what awaits us…

Read more from Armando Chaguaceda’s diary here.

Armando Chaguaceda

Armando Chaguaceda: My curriculum vitae presents me as a historian and political scientist. I'm from an unclassifiable generation who collected the achievements, frustrations and promises of the Cuban Revolution and now resists on the island or contributes through numerous websites, trying to remain human without dying in the attempt.

One thought on “The Times We Live In: Cleavages and Senses

  • February 14, 2021 at 4:46 pm

    A bit over my head but good luck in resisting on the island

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