Die Journalistin und Historikerin Anne Applebaum hat eine ganz eigene Sichtweise wie es zum Brexit und Trump kam. Und da sie einst selbst dem eher konservativen Flügel angehörte und einige der Gestalten persönlich kennt sind ihre Ansichten recht interessant zu lesen.
"In a powerful new book, the journalist and historian reveals how her former friends and colleagues became agents of populism"
Her husband knew Boris Johnson. They were both members of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford. She assumed that he was as much a liberal internationalist as Sikorski was. When the couple met Johnson for dinner in 2014, she noted his laziness and “all-consuming narcissism”, as well as the undoubted charisma that was to seduce and then ruin his country. In those days, Johnson appeared friendly. He was alarmed by the global challenge to democracy, he told them, and wanted to defend “the culture of freedom and openness and tolerance”. They asked about Europe. “No one serious wants to leave the EU,” he replied, which was true enough as Johnson was to prove when he came out for Brexit.
Careerism is too glib an explanation for selling out, and Applebaum is too good a historian to offer it. Likewise, bigotry and racial prejudice were never enough on their own to move her friends away from liberal democracy. Among Applebaum’s acquaintances is one of Orbán’s greatest cheerleaders. She has a gay son, but that has not stopped her espousing the cause of a homophobic regime. Laura Ingraham, a Fox News presenter, became one of the earliest supporters of Trump, despite the fact that she has adopted three immigrant children.
Rather than grab at standard explanations, Applebaum understands that a society based on merit may sound fine if you want to live in a country run by talented people. But what if you are not yourself talented? Since the 1950s, criticisms of meritocracy have become so commonplace they have passed into cliche. Not one I have read or indeed written stops to consider how one-party states represent the anti-meritocratic society in its purest form. Among her friends who became the servants of authoritarian movements, Applebaum sees the consequences of the lust for status among resentful men and women, who believe the old world never gave them their due.
They were privileged by normal standards but nowhere near as privileged as they expected to be. Talking to Applebaum, I imagined a British government abolishing press freedom and the independence of the judiciary and the civil service. I didn’t doubt for a moment that there would be thousands of mediocre journalists, broadcasters, lawyers and administrators who would happily work for the new regime if it pandered to their vanity by giving them the jobs they could never have taken on merit. Hannah Arendt wrote of the communists and fascists that they replaced “first-rate talents” with “crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity” was the best guarantee of their loyalty. She might have been talking about contemporary Poland, Britain and America.
“Given the right conditions any society can turn against democracy,” Applebaum says, and explains why better than any modern writer I know. To the political consequences of offended vanity – Why am I not more important? Why does the BBC never call? – a sense of despair is vital. If you believe, like the American right, that godless enemies want to destroy your Christian country, and prove their malice by not giving you the rewards you deserve, or think, like Scruton and the Telegraph crowd of the 1990s, that English culture and history is being thrown in the bin, and you are being chucked away with it, or agree with the supporters of the new tyrants of eastern Europe that a liberal elite is plotting to extinguish your culture by importing Muslim immigrants, and proving its contempt for all that is decent by laughing at you, then any swine will do as long as the swine can stop it. You will pay any price and abandon any principle in the struggle against a demonic enemy.