24 January 2020


Politics professor Matthew Goodwin produced an interesting review of the 2010s decade for The Times. Commenting on the apparent shift to the right, he criticises leftists for responding to it by
retreating to their gated communities and bunkering down, self-selecting their activist base, echo chambers and social networks in which everybody looks and sounds like them.
   Like many in his profession, however, Professor Goodwin overstates the significance of the shift. He suggests that the decade represented the end of liberal hegemony (he uses "liberal" in the American sense of leftist-interventionist).
   There are two reasons why recent changes in America and Britain would be better described in terms of a mild counter-revolution than a change in hegemony. First, we have to separate style from substance. The rhetoric of Donald Trump is very different from that of previous US presidents; and the current UK government feels like a significant departure from the ideological complacency of the Blair and Cameron eras. In terms of actual policy changes, however, little happened during the 2010s that could be described as deviating from the leftist-interventionist paradigm.
   The second reason why references to change of hegemony are premature is that commentators fail to distinguish between political and cultural hegemony. Political theory appears not to have caught up with a phenomenon dating from the 1980s: governments being notionally right-wing, while the cultural establishment remains firmly left-leaning and is openly rejecting of moves to the right, however democratically based. The hostility of the cultural elites towards Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan provided a good illustration. We saw the phenomenon repeated more recently with Donald Trump, and may well experience the same with Boris Johnson (we had a possible foretaste with the Supreme Court's ruling on prorogation). Until there is some definite change in the politics of the cultural establishment — say, a clear sign of the BBC renouncing its programme of excess political correctness — reports about the demise of 'liberal' hegemony are likely to be exaggerated.
   We have to remember, of course, that the concept of hegemony is charged with significance for a Marx-inspired Left, since in terms of their ideology it is normally something to be criticised rather than endorsed. Hence complaining that the hegemony is right-wing (and thus to be opposed) will generally be preferable for them, compared to having to acknowledge that it is they who are hegemonic.