“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”
First Inaugural Address, 1933
Having mentioned the dread word fear, the best thing to do is to grasp the nettle and exorcise the spectral foe. Because, quite apart from our own personal private fears, this opening decade of the 21st century is a time of deep and widespread public fear, with the prospect of even greater fears ahead. It is these fears which are muddling our thinking, paralyzing our action, and making us vulnerable to our enemies. [By “we” I mean the West and what is left of its Enlightenment heritage.]
Before 11th September 2001 we may have been living in a fools’ paradise of complacency, but since then we have lived in a nightmare of exaggerated apprehension. The fears of our leaders have led them into blind alleys of self-destructive, misguided action and they have stoked up our fears to bolster their own and to impose hitherto unthought-of curbs upon our civil liberties under the pretext of preserving our “free way of life”. Their mental confusion has been compounded by their moral bankruptcy. Consequently we, the people, are increasingly resentful and bewildered as policies which many of us predicted would only make matters worse have done exactly that and the perpetrators remain largely in a state of self-denial while the rest of the politically aware classes shift uncomfortably and too dumbly in their seats.
Where is the latter day Cromwell to tell our clapped-out promoters of the asinine ‘war on terror’ “you have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” Where are the politically passionate pens of a George Orwell or a Victor Gollancz to protest at the incompetence and – even worse – the immorality being committed in our name? Where is the latter-day Winston Churchill whose rallying cry we desperately need to spell out the true perils we face, as opposed to the bogus ones touted by the purblind pygmies in office, and to lead an effective onslaught against them?
It is the absence of common sense that is so depressing, and indeed frightening. Who would have thought that in this day and age, reams of newsprint and screen space would be devoted to solemnly debating the finer points of Islamic theology and agonising over how best to defer to the sensibilities of religious believers of various stripes who increasingly blatantly seek to bend the rest of us to their will? Having survived long drawn out bombing campaigns by Irish terrorists without any significant infringements of our civil liberties being imposed or even proposed, all of a sudden we find that after a few nasty incidents involving a handful of fanatical young men, centuries-old freedoms we have always taken for granted are tampered with or entirely removed. It is no wonder that we are increasingly afraid.
In my recollection of being a teenager during
They say that people get the governments and leaders they deserve. Maybe the Western democracies have become too soft and self-indulgent during the last quarter of the 20th century. But I really can’t think what we have done to deserve the dismally mediocre leaders we are saddled with today. It is their mediocrity which is more frightening even than their mendacity. Only by focussing our own understandable fears and anger much more closely onto achievable targets for change within our own societies will we begin to emerge from the gloomy tunnel of bewilderment and indecision that surrounds us. We must have the wisdom to know what is possible, and the courage to achieve change. It is time to empower ourselves, and to act. It is time for a new people’s politics.