Why I’m feeling strangely Austrian

As the financial crisis continues to ravage the West, the dominant ideology of all triumphant free-market liberalism is collapsing. But what new political trends are emerging, and which will succeed? asks Gideon Rachman.

Published on 10 January 2012 at 14:10

"The old is dying and the new cannot be born: in the interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms will appear.” That statement from the Prison Notebooks of the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci was a favourite of student Marxists when I was at university in the 1980s. Back then it struck me as portentous nonsense. But Gramsci’s observation does resonate now – in an age of ideological confusion.

Old certainties about the onward march of the markets are collapsing. But no new theory has established ideological “hegemony”, to use the concept that Gramsci made famous. Some ideas are, however, gathering new strength. The four strongest emerging trends that I can spot are, in very broad terms: rightwing populist, social democratic-Keynesian, libertarian-Hayekian and anti-capitalist/socialist.

Each of these new trends is a reaction against the dominant ideas of 1978-2008. Back then, for all the nominal differences between communists in China, capitalists in New York and the soft left in Europe, their agreements were more striking than their arguments. Political leaders from all over the world talked the same language about encouraging free trade and globalisation. Increasing inequality was embraced as a price worth paying for faster growth. Deng Xiaoping set the tone when he declared: “To get rich is glorious.” Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher could not have put it better.

In post-crisis Europe, however, rightwing populism is on the rise – from the Freedom party in the Netherlands to the National Front in France and the Northern League in Italy. The populists are anti-globalisation, anti-EU and anti-immigration – the common thread being that all these forces are felt to be hostile to the interests of the nation. Hostility to Islam links Europe’s populist right to parts of the Tea Party movement in the US. Read full article in Financial Times - registered users - or in Presseurop's nine other languages...

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