On Thursday, in an apparent attempt to demonstrate that voters in the United States and Germany couldn’t be the only ones to embrace reactionary unpredictability, the voters of the United Kingdom dealt the Conservative Party a stunning blow, elevating the far-left Labour Party, led by a Noam Chomsky-esque loon named Jeremy Corbyn, to the brink of power. The conservatives, led by Theresa May, will still retain leadership thanks to a coalition government. But they were expected to walk away with the election, and Labour was supposed to be in disarray. Instead, the conservatives are on the verge of chaos, and Labour is united under a terrorist-supporting anti-Semite with a gut-level hatred of Western civilization.
Well done, Brits.
But Josh Kraushaar of National Journal makes an even more important point: the youth vote in Britain went overwhelmingly for Corbyn:
Corbyn’s surprisingly-competitive showing was fueled by young voters, who rallied behind Labor by a whopping 34-point margin (63-29 percent), according to British exit polling. For all the fears of creeping nationalism, it’s the growing discontent of the millennial vote that’s been a consistent theme in recent Western elections. ... Many young voters are rejecting capitalism entirely, attracted to rhetoric promising free tuition and a generous social safety net at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet. Numerous studies also show younger voters are much more skeptical towards the value of democracy than their elders.
Kraushaar rightly points out that 27 percent of young French voters fell for an actual communist, Jean-Luc Melanchon; in the United States, democratic socialist Bernie Sanders drew “more under-30 voters than Clinton and Trump combined.”
Kraushaar is right to note that the reactionary left is responding to the reactionary right — that young voters who resonated to Corbyn, Melanchon, and Sanders were responding, in part, to Brexit, Le Pen, and Trump. And there’s nothing new about young people embracing radical politics — the 1960's and 1970's were full of such elections (see McGovern, George), and the 1930's were full of radical political movements worldwide, supported by youngsters. Each generation has its own brand of radicalism — and given the success of the post-Cold War neoliberal consensus, the rebellion was bound to come in the form of far-left redistributionism. Clinton and Bush and Blair and Chirac were all of the same general mind on capitalism; young people have reacted to that background.
Commentators are attempting to find economic rationales for the blowback. But there’s something else going on. We live at a unique time in human history: war between major powers is almost inconceivable, and despite economic worries, the vast majority of people are employed (the American unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, the British unemployment rate is 4.8 percent, and the French unemployment rate is about 9.6 percent, where it has been hovering since the economic crash of 2008). Yes, terrorism is a threat, as is multiculturalism — but the far left isn’t pledging to do anything about any of that.
No, what we have is an entire generation of Westerners brought up to believe that prosperity and freedom are the norm, a given, background noise — and that the next mission for which they should fight is redistributionism. Income inequality is the next Rubicon to cross — and it springs from the same origins as racism and sexism and bigotry: Western civilization.
That perspective isn’t springing from disillusionment. It’s springing from an existential meaninglessness taught by two generations of parents who abandoned traditional values in favor of secularism, and now are surprised to find their secular children and grandchildren embracing transformative Marxism as a way to animate their lives.
People want meaning. Economics doesn’t provide it. But causes do. Bernie appears to have a cause. So does Corbyn. So does Melanchon. As economists Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw stated back in 1998, when it appeared that the global capitalist consensus was unshakeable, “a system that takes the pursuit of self-interest and profit as its guiding light does not necessarily satisfy the yearning in the human soul for belief and some higher meaning beyond materialism … few people would die with the words 'free markets' on their lips.”
The West failed to teach its children meaning. The children found their own meaning in Marxism. And so we appear ready to re-embrace the horrors of the past — unless we get to work teaching young Westerners that they are part of a fight for liberty and freedom and responsibility rather than transformative, crushing redistributionism.