In serious but optimistic mood and thinking of my kids shown here recently.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
So begins Charles Dicken’s famous novel A Tale of Two Cities, a novel set in and comparing London and Paris during the French Revolution. It is a tale of comparisons but above all the progress of good against evil, freedom versus suppression and class conflict between rich and poor. In Britain we did not experience violent revolution quite like France but we came close to it. Our revolution was snuffed out by a panic stricken establishment in an event culminating in the infamous Peterloo massacre but as a society we had been jolted just as forcibly into social change and within a few decades universal suffrage, rights and freedoms for all and universal education were established which had till then been unimaginable to the vast majority of the population. Although church and state pushed back against a tide of liberalisation and expressions of freedom times did change.
It feels like just that kind of historical epoch changing event is now underway. It was already underway before this pandemic. Populism and economic despair thanks to the banking crisis has been exploited by the far right and neo-fascist politicians who have marginalised minorities and sought to turn modern social networking applications into controlled propaganda machines. They have consistently deprived democracies of their legitimacy, avoided scrutiny, restricted their power and aggrandised authoritarian executives. Johnson, Bolsonaro, Orban, Trump, Cummings, Bannon, the ERG, Tufton Street are all operating within this nationalistic frame of reference. Welfare has been cut back, borders enforced, walls built, immigration restricted, white supremacists tolerated, nationalism encouraged, freedoms curtailed, experts and science belittled. Truth and reason have been sacrificed and have been replaced by lies and confusion for the main purpose of creating a smoke screen under which this agenda can be pursued. Time has been turned back.
This is the privileged upper and noble classes in concert with the Church pushing back against change. Democratic institutions, international cooperation, science, reason, education and global freedoms threaten their power. This is the last stand of feudalism which has managed to cling on particularly in fig-leaf monarchies like the UK’s.
And they were doing so well, these right wing nationalists, their efforts culminating in the election and possible re-election of Trump, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orban in Hungary, Johnson in the UK and in Brexit, a massive political and economic upheaval without genuine democratic legitimacy and all aided and abetted by neo-marxists with a hardly different undemocratic outlook.
Then bang! Covid-19. A public health and economic seismic shock!
What will happen next? This is as yet unknown. What we can be certain of is that this event will define the end of this epoch and the start of the next and has turned the old, now irrelevant, political systems on their head.
History records these periods with useful names and they are largely about awakenings. The Dark Ages was that largely unrecorded period when the Church held power over our thought and lives until after a liberal dose of feudalism, religion inspired wars and plagues we woke up. Later the Renaissance happened when art and culture woke up and the Age of Reason when Science woke up. After this the Industrial Revolution when money woke up and the French Revolution when the people woke up.
And what will this new epoch be called. Those of you who are pessimistic might foresee a sequel called The Dark Ages 2. That is where right wing nationalism takes us. I am optimistic and I hope that for our incredible children of whom we are so proud, and for their children and their children and their children as yet unborn that they can look forward to a sequel called The Age of Reason 2 when freedom, rights and equality woke up.
Being ‘woke’ apparently is a thing. I think it is a very good thing and that there is a silver lining even to the dark, louring clouds of Covid-19 and I hope that it stops the current populist, right-wing trend in its tracks and kills that dead instead of me or anyone I love!