Francis Fukuyama, the political scholar still best known for his The End of History?, has written a new book, titled Identity, which considers the recent and startling decay of Liberal Democracy, as it becomes replaced, with Brexit and Trump, by a nationalist-populist democracy, or Illiberal Democracy, instead. As he argues (as do other scholars), this form of democracy seeks to vault over any and all legal, constitutional and institutional checks and balances, to seek a direct personal relationship with the populace - a populism that links the leader to the so-called will of the people. That the will of the people is vague, amorphous, and open to definition by none other than the leader himself (and it is always a himself), best suits the leader, who gets to call the shots, and define the world in his image.
This is not merely academic, since the US President is currently facing impeachment proceedings, for his behaviour that almost always seeks to reshape the limits of the law in his favour (to be diplomatic); and since the British Prime Minister has been found, the other day, guilty of illegally shutting down the UK parliament - in what 11 Supreme Court Justices, in a landmark case, have called extreme. If one wanted an optimistic longer view, it might be observed, that in both these major Western democracies, the law has somewhat continued to work - impeachment is proceeding, the PM was found to have broken the law... and yet...
Last night, many political commentators, politicians and observers, indeed the nation, and the world, witnessed the British parliament descend into a vile cauldron of rage, and menace, fomented by a Conservative party, and its impenitent front bench, headed by Boris Johnson. Flown back from New York, the Prime Minister disagreed with the Supreme Court's rulings; mocked a woman who has been threatened with assasination for her beliefs (anti-Brexit); and stoked up the fury of the extreme Brexiteers against the so-called enemies of the people. That the enemies of the people are described as the Supreme Court and Parliament itself, is cause for alarm.
As above, this is classic populism. In the 20th century, it took a fascist form, and we know where, in the 1930s, that led. In the 21st century, even if it never becomes quite as evil as fascism, it has already become as sinister as demagaoguery has ever been in history; and the UK is set up for an election that is being designed by the Tories to pit the will of the people, as they deem it, against the laws of the land, as established in the monarchy, courts, and parliamentary democracy.
It may be this ploy is merely to win a majority; and that Boris Johnson plans to put the demon back in the bottle post-election, post-Brexit, and resume a more even-tempered moderation in his demeanour and rhetoric, let alone actions. He may actually not plan to be a long-term law-breaker. He may rise to the occasion, and seek to govern with respect.
It is hard to believe this could happen. The danger, and it is real and present, for the UK, is that there is now a strong and media-fuelled fire raging, a fire that seeks to consume and do away with, the courts, and the parliament, in favour of a direct leader-to-masses power relationship. One can be polite, but this is called, beyond illiberalism, a benign tyranny - or, more bluntly, a dictatorship.
We aren't there yet, but if British politics has ever resembled German politics, it did so this past week - we have a charismatic, vain and nefarious man undoing centuries of law and precedent to seek more power and exert his will upon history in an illegal way. This sort of thing, from Rome to France, Germany to Japan, and beyond, has never ended well.