POWER AND PIETY

Posted: 2017-06-20

A SIGNIFICANT political phenomenon today is the resurgence of autocracy. The defeat of fascism in 1945 ended a period of dictatorship in parts of western Europe, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 weakened a longer period of the same in the East. There was talk of the end of history as liberal, co-operative, peaceful, secular democracy appeared to be the model for countries everywhere. Alas, reports of the death of dictatorship have been greatly exaggerated.

POWER AND PIETY

 

A SIGNIFICANT political phenomenon today is the resurgence of autocracy. The defeat of fascism in 1945 ended a period of dictatorship in parts of western Europe, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 weakened a longer period of the same in the East. There was talk of the ‘end of history’ as liberal, co-operative, peaceful, secular democracy appeared to be the model for countries everywhere. Alas, reports of the death of dictatorship have been greatly exaggerated.

 

Part of the reason lies in a revival of nationalism. There has been a growing resistance to the age of globalisation, whether of the economy or culture or ideas. The free flow of capital across borders has lessened the power of states to manage their own economic affairs, and the 

ability of individuals to cross the same borders has weakened ideas of national culture and shared values. 

 

As a result, many people are turning to strong national saviours who will unequivocally put their own country’s interests interests first and/or revive past national glories. Vladimir Putin is recreating the cult of strong Russian potentates from Catherine to Stalin. Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan seeks to recreate the glory of the Ottoman Empire. India’s Narendra Modi constantly talks of the glories of Indian culture. Donald Trump wants to make America ‘great again’ and says that “we have to start winning wars again”. 

 

In France, Marine Le Pen, the National Front candidate, made it through the first round of presidential voting and into a two-candidate runoff on 7th May. In Germany, where Angela Merkel faces re-election in September, Alexander Gauland’s right-wing, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AFD) is expected to improve on its previous performance and will probably meet the threshold required to gain seats in the German parliament. 

 

Hungary is governed by a right wing party that uses the power of the state to undermine the judiciary, the press and other pillars of civil society. Its prime minister, Viktor Orbán, famously boasted in a 2014 speech that “the new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state.” He has also declared that asylum seekers are ‘a poison’. In Slovakia, Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has declared that “Islam has no place in Slovakia”, has worked to restrict civil liberties and judicial independence.

 

Even in supposedly multicultural Britain, Brexit indicates a desire to “give us our country back again’. Theresa May recently called an election to weaken opposition in Parliament. The Conservative campaign focused almost entirely on the need for strong leadership and Jeremy Corbyn’s personal failings in this regard.

 

Another feature of these autocrats is their religious belief. Even though a growing number of people throughout the world define themselves as non-religious, politics is still largely dominated by piety. Few autocratic leaders want to be seen as atheists. Putin, who presents himself as the defender of the Orthodox Church, reportedly prays daily. Trump has said: “First of all, I am a great Christian”, and “no one reads the Bible more than me”. Orbán in Hungary has declared that Europe’s ‘Christian identity’ is under threat from Islam. 

 

Erdogan seeks to reverse the secularisation of Turkey introduced by Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the republic in 1923. His party has chipped away at the secular institutions of the state and encouraged the Islamisation of education and social behaviour as well as seeking to cull non-Islamist officials and officers. Erdogan has said that he wants to see “the growth of a religious generation”, which would replace long-standing secular domination. 

 

Theresa May, the daughter of an Anglican vicar, goes to church most Sundays and has said that her Christian faith is “part of who I am and therefore how I approach things”. This is a significant remark because one might have thought that Christians were pacifists. Yet May, like most of Europe’s other autocrats, seem to regard pacifism as a sign of weakness and prefer to talk tough behind an arsenal of weaponry, most of it highly lethal. 

 

Apparently, only an idiot would want to scrap Trident. And only an idiot who cared nothing about the economy would want to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. Recently May was disappointed “as both a vicar’s daughter and a National Trust member”, that the word Easter – “a very important festival for the Christian faith” – is absent from a marketing campaign for the annual chocolate egg hunt held by Cadbury and the Trust. This sums up the madness of the modern world. Apparently, it is wise to sell arms to the totalitarian House of Saud to slaughter thousands in the Yemen and elsewhere but stupid to leave the word ‘Easter’ out of a marketing campaign for chocolate eggs. Is that what May's Christian principles taught her? Maybe she should have gone on an Easter hunt to find them.

 

Brian McClinton