Welcome to the Roaring Twenties
Coronavirus heralds a refreshing decade to come. It could be liberals’ moment of glory, or rather another missed lifebuoy in their ongoing sinking
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
And Europe indeed is the less.
More accurately, 555,000 people less. And 850 in America. And 300 in Asia. And still counting.
A major, objectively major, event is occurring. And it is occurring with or without our acknowledgement of it. This is the terrifying part of it all. Denying is a legitimate decision, with legitimate consequences, as all those thousands of coffins accumulating around show. With or without our permission, the objective reality is changing. F5, and some more hundreds add to the count.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
Those words above are almost consensual. I could end up right here, or maybe finish with some irritating statistics or a gloomy forecast of the next few months, with pandemic still around. But I shouldn’t.
As regardless of all mentioned above, future isn’t gloomy, it is exhilarating. Genuinely, I am ineffably excited, yearning for the future impatiently and enthusiastically. What a world we live in, my children I would have said if I wasn’t 21, some 40 years ahead of legitimately spreading “in my times, we didn’t have all these dazzling light performances inside a box calling themselves TV — and believe me — we were no less happy!” kind of sentences every now and then.
But seriously, what incredibly exciting times to live in.
Fundamentalism is not that bad
Humanity has changed fundamentally, and keeps changing, right now.
This may sound like a controversial argument, or at least one that holds the burden of proof. However, these days it is no less than intuitive: humanity’s fundamentals have been omitted — therefore fundamentally has it changed.
Human life is based on countless encounters each day. Now avoiding them is both the common sense and often the legal requirement. Economy, a system that humans use in order to exchange goods and purchase food, is based on connections with countless foreigners, and thus had to change drastically overnight. Cities, a settlement model broadly adopted, based on density making economical encounters more frequent, have crumbled into countless isolated islands. The humans that used to wander around in the streets made way for wild animals that avoided these areas for centuries. Touch, the very basic social behavior among primates, is no longer acceptable among the human members of the order. Sociality, the way it takes place among primates, has been replaced by smilingly waving to narrow metal boxes, using them to transmit radio fractions through space. Commuting is no longer a thing, neither are vacations. Nor is work, for hundreds of millions now, and for millions more to come. Civil and human rights, the limitation of government principle, liberty — all concepts our current society was built upon, replacing medieval, feudal concepts that preceded them — are being constantly questioned by emergency regulations, temporarily, for almost a year now.
The lack of the very fundamentals of society may seem terrifying. World order is collapsing, making way for either anarchy or ultra-centralization, laced with some conspiracy theories and a touch of populism. Democratic values are suddenly cornered when life and death issues are at stake. Inferno for liberals.
Or is it?
Actually, everything has already changed
A growing sense of contempt for liberal values has been making ground for a while, well before the first diagnosis of Covid-19. If you’ve been around for the last few years, you must have noticed. Things got really messed up for liberals in the past half a decade. I wouldn’t even summon it up, as I believe you’re all fairly familiar with Brexit, Trump, Duterte, Bolsonaro, Le Pen, AfD, Hungary, and Poland. Each of the mentioned is dramatic historically. Their prevalence indicates a phenomenon.
Historically, liberalism won, first beating fascism, then communism. Claiming that it spent its two decades of reign making the throne more comfortable, rather than earning it, would be oversimplifying. But fact is liberals ended the 2010s with dismay.
Liberal order has been undermined, and for the good. It has been resembling more of the teacher preaching students what is right and what is wrong rather than an ideology that holds the constant burden of persuasion, making many citizens of the world run out of class. Authoritarianism is on the rise, and its messengers claim for a worldwide liberal elite controlling us all, wishing to topple it. Even though the sounds are irritating, they could not be sounder. Assuming their arguments to be self-evident rather than argue them, liberals have largely skipped the burden of logical proof by the easier ethos and pathos (and though such argument requires an article by its own, others have made enough precise ones for it to be referred to as a premise; yup, ethos is easy).
All 5 stages of grief have been dominant among liberals, tackling this new upside-down turn the world has taken. Moving towards acceptance would be the healthiest. Liberalism is no longer a consensus. But losing the battle doesn’t mean losing the war.
Shake it off
There is a tendency to exaggerate in the day after Coronavirus assessments, as well as a tendency to under valuate this day. Indeed, the Covid-19 outbreak isn’t the harshest shock humanity has gone through. But this is only due to it having some less pleasant members such as Bin Laden or Hitler. However, it is not to say that the pandemic is humanity’s cup of tea. Never in history has the world been so prosperous, thereby never has it been so sensitive to such a shock. Arguably, powerful enough to create aftershocks.
This shock shakes off both liberals and autocrats, democracies and dictatorships, equally, and so will the aftershocks. Given that liberalism gets into this situation at a really bad shape, shaken as hell from the shake-offs of the last five years (enough with these shaking inflections, promise), I dare to carefully argue that liberalism now got a second chance.
The opposite might happen as well. Dictatorships and autocrats can more easily handle such emergencies, simply sentencing people to jail if they disobey. But the more failing Trump’s response is, the worse China’s cover-up turns out, the better liberals look. Trying to draw far-reaching conclusions from the outbreak handling on world’s political future would be far-fetched. In fact, all possibilities exist. For liberalism, the day after Coronavirus may be another downfall, or rather — its moment of glory.
In order for the latter to occur, liberalism must get back to be what it has been since its formation — a radical perception of the world, stubborn to make it better — rather than a threatening hegemony. Liberalism’s success has never been due to it forcing itself on the people, but rather due to it being right.
And it does have some record. Liberalism has revolutionized anything human-related, making unprecedented progress in every given field during the last three centuries. Life expectancy almost tripled, most diseases have been eradicated or become unlethal, the Solar System has been conquered, absolute poverty shrank from a global 94% to a mere 9.4%, daily calories consumption approximately doubled, homicide rates fell between 78% and 98%, many of Da Vinci’s and Jules Verne’s theoretic dreams have become everyday reality, world peace has been roughly achieved.
Liberalism used to be all about that. For them readers who find this liberalism for and against debate Chinese, let me put it simple and cut a centuries-old ongoing debate into a sharp, straightforward definition. Liberalism stands for liberty. Thus, it aspires to move the world forward without taking its citizens backward. It is about letting individuals fulfill their dreams, and thus having humanity achieve its own dreams. It is about Martin Luther King, Einstein, Steve Jobs and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It is about Liberté. And Égalité, and Fraternité. Political debate usually misdefines liberalism. In some countries, it became a synonym of left. In others, soft libertarianism. But in fact, it includes both and more, as it is the very operating system of most western countries. An operating system in need for an update.
Awakening is no luxury, but inevitability
In order for liberalism to be adopted, it has to be adapted. The urgency is for liberalism to be clarified, reestablished as a well-organized theory, not for changing what it stands for. A refreshment must be made, and it should be practical, not ideological. The problem about liberalism is not its ideas, but that it ceased to inspire. The aspiration for a hopeful future, achieved by constant changes in every field of life by choice and for the better, should be its bread and butter.
The third decade of the millennia has just begun. The one a century ago is now known as the roaring twenties. A spectacular mixture of inventions, achievements, parties, and jazz. It was the best of times. It was the age of prosperity and peace. It was the age of optimism. And innocence yet to be corrupted. The Briand-Kellogg pact declared the end of wars (the pacifist Germany, Italy and Japan all signed); Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic; Water skiing was invented; As well as the cheeseburger; And penicillin; Zeppelins were everywhere; In Paris, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Matisse, Dali and Chanel celebrated the Années Folles, the crazy years; Women became almost equal, homosexuality more acceptable, pluralism still extant; Mickey Mouse was born. However sadly it ended, the roaring twenties symbolize the potential possibilities latent in the freedom of human spirit. And this era, being liberalism’s golden era, shows nothing but where liberalism can really take us, if only it is given a chance. The twenties began when one of the worst plagues of history, the Spanish Flu, demised. The current twenties, beginning with Coronavirus, can as well be roaring. Hopefully, they will herald optimism and aspiration, peace and prosperity. Not ones of innocence, but of sustainability.
What? What can I possibly want and why am I being so tough on those harmless liberals, who just want peace, love and cookies for all citizens of the world? Well, the intentions are not for the blame — the methods are. So, let me just put here some actions that can be done in order to revive liberalism, and then humbly step down from this honorable stage, hopefully leaving you with some food for thought about liberalism, democracy, and the fate of the world, probably leaving you with no more foodish concerns than this munch for nachos you’ve been having since wake-up (at 11 a.m.), with no more Mexican options left since lockdown. And if you find my ideological-grocery-list far-fetched or merely unnecessary — totally understandable — but just think of the alternative. My suggestion is not for liberalism to joyfully implement some new adjustments in order to become a little bit more attractive. No. It is for fighting for its life.
To hell with modus vivendi
So much is broken so that we got used to it. Assuming it too widespread to handle, liberals have let brokenness remain. This losery attitude has finally driven us into a status quo of mediocracy. A modus vivendi — quiet achieved merely by the fright of going to war — with brokenness.
Gerrymandering, the “winner takes it all” method and the concept of electoral college in America; defensive economy, tolerance toward autocracies and mishandling immigration in Europe — are some examples.
More globally, we got used to statements like “in 100 years there will be no rainforests, if current deforestation rates don’t change”, or “most fossil fuels will run out in 55 years”. Broken it is? Broken will it remain. Right? Wrong. Once proven, such statements should be immediately translated into working plans, rather than to remain another environmentalist shit. Seeing nature changing their own countries more and more might drive leaders to listen to such prophecies, not just hear them, tchick at best or shrug at worst, and then move on. A green new deal can be a good start.
This modus vivendi isn’t only metaphorical. China, Russia, and North Korea, along with many countries which have long been committing crimes against humanity, are treated as reluctantly tolerable, be it because of sheer acceptance or mere defeatism. But a shift to worldwide constant efforts to undermine them, or at least demonize, must be made.
Liberal democracies of the world, let us all unite
Among the broken — world institutions outstand.
UN has long been criticized for injustice and irrelevancy. Such accusations are so frequent that we got used to them. But they are symptoms of a failing institution. The first, being heard from various players in the international diplomatic game, is bothering. The latter is unbearable, given what killed UN’s preceder, the League of Nations. Thus, such accusations must be translated to working plans. UN is famously known for its public inquiries. If it wants to get any better, it better start by inquiring itself.
But it doesn’t want and never has, thus we move on to offering the alternative. A democratic forum could come up as a good solution, completing UN’s drawbacks, some of them inherent. NATO makes a good military basis for such a forum; D10, the novel democratic G7, is a good political one. Both should be broadened to include most liberal democracies of the world, rather than a cluster of some gun owning north Atlantic entities (Turkey — out).
EU is another too old to move institution. It has already been struck by a 3 years long attrition war with a door-slamming UK. It could get another knock by another sudden leaving the day after pandemic, due to EU’s mishandling of the situation. Nonetheless, it will most probably not be a knockout. EU is slowly awakening. On an interview to the Economist a year ago, Macron stated that EU is on the edge of a precipice, proposing reforms to reenergize it. Europe’s leaders better listen, or EU might fall off. The Relaunch Plan of the organization is a good beginning.
A modus operandi of brainstorming
The generally misquoted Albert Einstein might have once said that “the only sure way to avoid making mistakes is to have no new ideas”. Liberals are eager to make no mistakes, so they obey.
New, ridiculous, bold ideas are the bread and butter of progress, and if eager to make the world better, we should be flooded by such. To some extent, we are, even though the ideas flow is not as strangling as it used to be during 1870–1930, from la belle époque to the mentioned twenties.
But problem is about implementation. Where is the first country to implement real, large-scale basic income? First real-life Radical Markets’ experiment? First autonomous-only or environmental-only cars city, or first “healthy” city by Leonardo Da Vinci’s model? Why are France’s citizens’ assemblies, Switzerland’s direct democracy and Estonia’s e-citizenships exceptional? And why don’t we run back to space?
These may sound unrelated to liberalism’s problems, and they are, but they could be a part of the solution. By becoming innovative, and basically interesting, liberal democracies will stop being stagnant, and return relevant.
Smile, it’s your time to shine
The bolder ideas and decisions will be, the clarified this turning point of history will be for us all — the likelier we make history take the right turns. History gives no second chances, and for liberalism it might prove to be one of its lasts. The distinguish between twenties and thirties is being made as we’re speaking. Or writing, or reading. That is why I am goddam excited about future. Because it is being shaped now. Our twenties are our time to screw up and get over it, to experience, to make bold decisions, to remember who we are. Missing it must not be an option, and for what it’s worth, I believe it won’t be missed. For there are believers, visionaries, change makers, radicals in the world, and sorry for the pathos, but for you guys here’s a message: welcome to your decade to shine, welcome to the roaring twenties.
Writing this piece for 8 months, I had to keep updating the above stats. Now Covid-cases are fortyfold. Other things changed too: Vaccines are in the air, Biden is president-elect, Macron’s polls keep improving, Musk put two men and a car in space, another whites killing blacks incident finally fueled some real-world changes. Other leaders and changes will join to the list. Others will oppose decisively. Shall we fight them with ideas rather than ethos, we will win. Liberalism still has no apparent alternative and opposers generally offer none (Hungary’s oxymoronic self-declaration as an illiberal-democracy being a good example).
Coronavirus is going to give us a fight. But with 2020 behind and this fresh decade ahead, optimism is nothing to avoid. When we win, we better come out strengthened rather than battered. We better come out of it fresh. We better gallop forward. And long hence, we will realize that Coronavirus was not an external challenge forcing us to revise, to readjust, to be inspired, to aspire. It was just an excuse.