Dear Partners in thought,
I would like to talk to you about the importance of Edward Luce’s “The Retreat of Western Liberalism” that was published a year ago in the midst of the start of the Trump administration simply as it led me to wish to defend those very Western values however small, not to say ludicrous, my vantage point. I actually came to set up this initiative of book review and awareness because of Ed’s book in the fist place, so much it was a clarion call for the defence of “who we are”. As you know, Ed is the former Washington DC Bureau Chief of the FT and its current DC columnist and commentator – not a restful job these days – whom you can read every Thursday on the FT’s page 9 (I also recommend his early April “Lunch with the FT” with Anthony “The Smooch” Scaramucci which is simply the stuff of legend, as some of you may know). In many ways, Ed, with a few others, has been the keeper of the fire that still lets that city shining on the hill. I immediately felt close to him given our European roots transcended by our Transatlantic affinity and a certain belief that America is not a country but a state of mind. As you know the whole FT team, with writers like Simon Kuper, Gideon Rachman and so many others, has been at the printed media’s forefront of maintaining sanity in our troubled world and times along with other publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker and The Economist, only to name a few.
The Retreat of Western Liberalism is both the mother and the most important of all books dealing with the recent rise of populism. Rather than being academic, it is very lively and full of unusual and fascinating analysis and statistics as to why the Western world has gone into its most populist phase in the 21st Century, reaching a stage unseen since the 1930s. Ed’s book dissects the ways some political parties have repositioned themselves or set themselves up to seek disenfranchised voters and offering them simple answers to complex issues, stressing that the elites and the “system” have always failed them in a conspiracy in which traditional news media were always complicit. His book is divided in four parts: The first going through the integration of the global economy and the radical impact on our Western economies. The second detailing the resulting degeneration of Western politics and how scapegoats are targeted by the losers of the economic mutations, themselves led by a new form of untraditional politicians. The third part dealing with some of the key implications of the relatively declining U.S. and Western hegemony. The final section offering remedies all of us can provide if we value individual liberty and wish to preserve the kind of society that allows it to flourish. Clearly this book would not have seen the light if Donald Trump had not won the White House (even if Brexit was lurking around). While always written with great fairness it is amazing that everything that Ed covers is more than valid one year later so much real life has exceeded the worst fiction that could have been imagined. You will enjoy and value this book as it also offers hope that nothing is inevitable and that individuals can have an impact to correct wrongs and ensure that civilisational “building block” values perdure. It made me think that “we” indeed make our future as we do our bed and as my countryman, Jules Romains, would have said: We simply need “des hommes de bonne volonté” to do so (men of good will and, as he wrote in the early 1900s, I am sure he would have also said today women of good will).
The book is clearly a first step. There are others, that have been explored and could make a difference, for those who would and could go from words to deeds. I will be happy to discuss this matter if and when, though for now I just want to recommend the enjoyable read of “The Retreat of Western Liberalism” as a master game changer on understanding the topic of our times.
Serge Desprat- June 6th, 2018 (Prague)