After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, it seemed like liberalism had won, says Paul Kingsnorth in his Substack newsletter. But 30 years on, Russia is mustering the biggest army since Soviet times, and the West is “boiling in a stew of hate speech laws, vaccine mandates and ever-accelerating censorship and intolerance”. The last global empire is led by a confused 79-year-old; the world’s biggest economy will soon be China, a communist dictatorship. So much for the end of history. But liberalism always contained, even at its high point in the 20th-century West, the seeds of its own failure. It unmoored people from “networks of loyalty, locality, family and culture”, and unleashed “the vast destabilising engine of capitalism”.
The result was a society that, while boasting of its diversity, became “daily more homogenous”. We can invent our own gender at will, yet genuine individuals are in short supply and originality has become career-ending. “The internet has enabled self-expression on a previously unimagined scale, and the result has been violent groupthink.” So what comes next? Western democracies show every sign of morphing into authoritarian oligarchies as “flailing and corrupt” as the last regimes of the communist era. Maybe then we’ll see how artificial the liberal conception of human nature really is. “No man, as John Donne had it, is an island.”