Something I read about a week ago has floated back into mind:
The establishment in Europe must unite to stop “rampant populism” ahead of European Union (EU) Parliament elections next year, Jean-Claude Juncker has said.
It’s a bit mind-boggling really. The President of the European Commission seems to think that “rampant populism” can not only be stopped, but stopped by this time next year.
I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that “rampant populism” can be stopped at all, never mind by next year. I think “rampant populism” is sweeping, and will continue to sweep, the whole of Europe. It’s a new mood that is taking hold.
These sorts of new mood are always taking hold at one time or other. Back in 1776 there was a new mood of “rampant populism” sweeping Britain’s American colonies. Most likely the British establishment thought it could put a stop to it if it acted with sufficient determination. But in fact it couldn’t, and within a few years there was “rampant populism” in South America as well, and “rampant populism” in France too (which resulted in the French Revolution). These new moods are highly infectious.
And some politicians manage to catch the new mood today. Nigel Farage in Britain. Donald Trump in the USA. Beppe Grillo in Italy. Marine Le Pen in France. They put the new mood into words. They articulate it. They’re ridiculed and hated at first, but they’re riding on a rising tide of opinion. They’re politicians who are listening to ordinary people, and what they say is a reflection of that opinion, and an amplification of it as well.
And what’s true in politics is true of everything else as well. New moods are always sweeping everything. Back in the 1960s, there was a new mood sweeping the world. It came with new musicians like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, who first swept Britain, and then swept America, and then swept the world. And they swept away the old established singers and musicians, like Frank Sinatra and Perry Como and Andy Williams. “They can’t sing!” the establishment complained. But that didn’t matter.
Whether it’s in politics or music or architecture or science, these new moods take hold from time to time, and, since more or less everyone becomes infected, they become unstoppable.
But what’s new and shocking at any one time becomes old and familiar a few years later. Most likely when the Empire State Building was erected in New York City in 1931, it was something new and shocking, and was regarded as an eyesore. But now it’s an iconic must-see, almost the very symbol of NYC. Same with the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1889. What a terrible monstrosity! Parisians probably hated it back then, and couldn’t wait for it to be demolished.
Newness and oldness are always relative to whoever is looking at it. Back in the early 1960s the musical establishment, for me, was Frank Sinatra and co. You heard them on the radio the whole time. You hardly ever heard the new music. It wasn’t approved of. And then, five years later, the Beatles ruled the world. But by then they were becoming all too familiar. They had become the new establishment. How many times can you listen to the saccharine “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” before it becomes tedious? Once? Ten times? One hundred times? Whatever the number might be, there is some number of times something can be seen or heard before it becomes boring and tedious and repetitive. So the Beatles had to keep coming up with new songs, and finally to completely re-invent themselves, if they were to remain at the top. And they couldn’t do it. Within a decade, they’d become past history. They’d become as passé as Perry Como.
Of course there’s a cyclicity to it all. Old things can be rediscovered, and experience a revival. For what is old to one aging set of eyes will seem quite new to another young set of eyes. So the Beatles get rediscovered. And so does Frank Sinatra. And Perry Como.
The EU (or rather the EEC, as it was then) was new and exciting back in the 1950s. It was part of a new mood that was sweeping Europe. But 60 years on it no longer seems new or exciting. It’s become the new establishment. It’s become a huge, unresponsive bureaucracy. It’s become a bit of a monster. And its senior, established politicians have lost touch with ordinary people in exactly the same way as the Beatles and Frank Sinatra lost touch with their fans. They no longer speak for them. Instead, new politicians are appearing who do actually speak for ordinary people. Of course they’re “populists”. What else could they possibly be? And of course they’re regarded as dangerous extremists. They always are seen that way. And no-one sees them coming:
For all the billions of dollars at his disposal, Soros is also being forced to reckon with limits on his political influence in the United States. He acknowledged that he did not see Trump’s election coming. “Apparently, I was living in my own bubble,” he said.
Well, yes, George, you were. But you weren’t the only one. Your friend Jean-Claude Juncker is still living in one. And so is Angela Merkel and all the rest of them.
The rising tide of “rampant populism” sweeping Europe will keep on rising. And pretty soon the rampant populists will become the new political establishment. And then they in their turn will gradually lose touch with their base. Because that’s the way it always goes with everything.
And one good thing about the current crop of rampant populists is that quite a few of them seem to be smokers. Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen, for example. The new populists are conservatives. They’re trying to conserve traditional cultures that are under threat, very often from radical politicians in the European political establishment. And the pastime of smoking is a tradition. But the EU “project” is an idealistic project. And Tobacco Control is an equally idealistic project. The Green movement is idealistic too. The current change of mood is one of revulsion at all this hectoring, bullying idealism. People have had enough of it.
So I’m hopeful that the current tide of rampant populist conservatism will start to lift or relax or repeal the smoking bans that have appeared in Europe over the past decade or so. Because if the tide is ebbing away for Jean-Claude Juncker and George Soros, it’s also ebbing away for Tobacco Control and the Green movement and global warming alarmism. Because they’re all tied together. They’re all part of the idealistic “rampant populism” of a past era, 50 or 60 years old. They’ll all be swept away together, just like Frank Sinatra and Perry Como and Andy Williams.
Never mind. They’ll all experience a revival one day.
P.S. This Saturday, 16 June, is the first anniversary of the launch of the Smoky Drinky Bar, so we’re having a party there 8 pm – midnight UK time. Everyone is invited.