Does Trump’s Rise Mean Liberalism’s End?

Roundup
tags: election 2016, Trump



Yuval Noah Harari lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is the author of “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” and “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.”

Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or tables, and the simpler the story, the better. The story that has ruled our world in the past few decades is what we might call the Liberal Story. It was a simple and attractive tale, but it is now collapsing, and so far no new story has emerged to fill the vacuum. Instead, we get Donald Trump.

The Liberal Story says that if we only liberalize and globalize our political and economic systems, we will produce paradise on earth, or at least peace and prosperity for all. According to this story—accepted, in slight variations, by George W. Bush and Barack Obama alike—humankind is inevitably marching toward a global society of free markets and democratic politics.

The plot line of this story, however, began to lose credibility starting with the 2008 global financial crisis. People who, in the nineteen-nineties and two-thousands, expected that playing by the rules would allow them to rise and flourish suddenly began to fear that they had been duped, and that the system did not work for them. The Arab Spring has turned into an Islamic Winter; authoritarian regimes in Moscow, Ankara, and Jerusalem are abandoning liberal-democratic values in favor of chauvinistic nationalism and religious extremism; and even in the liberal strongholds of Western Europe people are having second thoughts. Now the tidal wave of disillusionment is making its way to the very country that has pushed the Liberal Story to the rest of the planet, sometimes at gunpoint—the United States. As American citizens feel let down by decades of promises and assurances, their disenchantment may sweep Donald Trump into the White House, to the horror and astonishment of the established élites.

Why are people losing faith in the Liberal Story? One explanation is that this story has indeed been a sham, and that, instead of peace and prosperity, the liberal prescription has produced little more than violence and poverty. This, however, is easily refuted. From a historical perspective, it seems evident that humankind is actually enjoying the most peaceful and prosperous era ever. In the early twenty-first century, for the first time in history, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from epidemics; and more people commit suicide than are killed by war, crime, and terrorism put together.

Another explanation for the loss of faith in the Liberal Story is that people care more about their future expectations than about their past achievements. When told that they no longer suffer as their ancestors did—from famine, plague, and war—people don’t count their blessings; rather, they enumerate their debts, disappointments, and never-to-be-fulfilled dreams. A person who has lost his job at a Rust Belt factory takes little comfort in the knowledge that he hasn’t died from starvation, cholera, or the Third World War. ...





comments powered by Disqus