Richard North, 06/11/2016  
 


It might seem odd, writes Booker, to see any link between the two mega-crises which were transfixing the attention of the world 60 years ago this weekend and the very different drama transfixing its attention today, as we near the end of the most degraded presidential election in US history. But in a way they are both parts of the same enormous story.

In those early days of November 1956, the political world was plunged into hysteria by the Suez crisis, the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt. This was fast brought to an end by America's threat to destabilise the pound and even a grandiose threat to shower London and Paris with what turned out to be non-existent nuclear rockets from the Soviet Union, which was simultaneously crushing the revolt against its tyrannical rule in Hungary.

Only a year or two before, Britain under Winston Churchill, with its mighty empire, had still been able to sit alongside the US and the USSR at international conference tables as one of the world's "Big Three". The Suez fiasco shattered such illusions forever.

But Suez was only one of the many signs around that time that we were at last emerging from the shadows of the Second World War and moving into that unimaginably different modern world we have been living in ever since. In the early Fifties, drab post-war Britain had still been in many ways a very conservative and class-bound country. But suddenly, with the liberating arrival of television, rock'n'roll and "affluent" consumerism, we were being carried forward on a torrent of social and moral change unprecedented in history.

Even more than those other Western countries which were undergoing a similar transformation, Britain was turning its back on its past. We rushed to rid itself of our empire and began turning envious eyes on those more "dynamic" continental countries then taking the first steps towards welding Europe together in what would become the European Union.

By the mid-Sixties, when "Old England" had given way to Beatlemania, "Swinging London" and sex-obsessed new plays and films, it was already being noted that Britain had been through a "revolution" – but one which has continued to shape our lives to this day.

If those conservative Britons of the early Fifties could see the society this revolution has now brought about, with half of our children born out of wedlock, same-sex marriage, the all-pervasive cult of empty celebrity, the rise of intolerant "political correctness", the woefully diminished standing of our politicians, our ever-rising sea of national debt, they would reel back in horror at our "decadence".

Certainly they would be astonished by how unimaginably richer we have become, and by nothing more than the electronic revolution which has brought us iPhones, the internet, and an economy almost entirely dependent on computers.

But they would be equally astonished by the decay in the standing in the world of the West as a whole, where our societies are also now widely seen as spoiled, emasculated and in relative decline. While we have seen the dramatic economic rise of China and India, we see Europe looking sadder than ever, as the great "European dream" falls apart in one insoluble crisis after another, from the euro to mass-immigration and terrorism.

After eight years in the White House, we see President Obama soon to depart, leaving the world to wonder what on earth the man who came in to such excitement promising "Yes we can" managed to achieve, other than transforming that slogan into "No we can't" and presiding, like his Western allies, over the greatest debt-mountain in history.

In the first 16 years of the 21st century, the world has entered on another great phase of transformation, as significant as anything seen in the second half of the 20th. On everything from Syria and Ukraine to global warming, the outside world is now running rings round the West, which seems in so many ways to have got itself lost in self-delusion.

Following those hubristic Western interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, which unleashed such chaos, it is President Putin's post-Communist Russia, allied to the murderous theocracy in Tehran, which can now intervene in the Middle East, as we tried to do in 1956, and there is nothing we can do about it.

After those 60 years of the most rapid and far-reaching change the world has ever known, nothing could better symbolise the pass to which it has brought the West than what is now happening across the Atlantic.

We have all, including probably most Americans, been watching with utter dismay this squalid contest between "a crook and a madman", complete with corruption and sex-scandals, for which of them will be chosen this Tuesday to inherit the position which, 60 years ago, was plausibly regarded as that of "the leader of the free world".

The collapse of Soviet (but not Chinese) Communism apart, the world is no longer anything like as free as it was then and is becoming more dangerous by the year. What happens in the USA this week offers little hope that this at least might change.






comments powered by Disqus











Log in


Sign THA





The Many, Not the Few