Wed, Jan 03, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Once centers of hope, the world’s political parties are dying

It might be that the ‘party of one,’ which is the Internet and social media-empowered citizen, takes over in an unimaginably complex digitalized version of Athenian democracy

By John Lloyd  /  Reuters

Globalism is made up of interlinked factors. Many of them — the spread of medical knowhow and techniques, the enforcing of human rights through such organizations as the UN International Court of Justice, the rapid diffusion of communications technology and the containment of some of the world’s conflicts through the actions of non-governmental organizations, the UN and the richer national governments — seem to be, largely uncontroversially, good. (However, not for Trump, whose administration announced cuts of more than US$285 million in its budget for the UN after member states voted to reject his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.)

However, other factors — the increased pressure on the environment through the effects of higher growth, the increase in inequality as, everywhere in the world, highly educated cosmopolitans benefit while the unqualified get left behind and the familiar institutions of the nation state are replaced, shrunk or bought by foreign companies or governments — are felt by millions as a loss to their self respect and their quality of life.

Liberal values were and are themselves part of globalization — indeed, were and still are aggressively promoted globally, since the end of the Cold War seemed to open up the globe to an appreciation of the values of freedom.

These included freedom of speech and publication, equality between men and women, an end to racial discrimination and expanded acceptance of all sexual orientations. They were developed by parties mainly on the liberal or left end of the spectrum, but were quite quickly adopted by parties of the center right.

Since the centrist parties often broadly agreed on economic policies, and were in favor of the market, the differences among them declined, even disappeared, making them less centers of activism, more of policy development by specialists.

Activism instead has shifted to non-governmental organizations, parliamentary lawmaking to global institutions, while wages and working conditions deteriorated because of competition from the developing world’s lower-paid working millions.

Among the lower-income earners of the developed world, globalization’s effects are felt as oppression and governments usually cannot help. In many nations, especially in authoritarian states, rulers consider the liberal program of greater freedom as immoral, even obscene.

Most mainstream parties were founded to promote, or oppose, issues that have nothing to do with today’s world. They adapt, but with increasing difficulty and in most cases declining membership.

It might be that the upstart parties, presently filling niches, expand and take their place. Or it might be that, as Jill Lepore has suggested, the “party of one,” which is the Internet and social media-empowered citizen, would take over in an unimaginably complex digitalized version of Athenian democracy.

Either way, parties — once centers of power, policy and hope — would be hard put to carry on.

John Lloyd cofounded the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, where he is senior research fellow.

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