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The Kids Are Alt-Right? The Hippie Energies Behind Brexit & Trump
Tim Burrows , November 24th, 2016 10:47

Tim Burrows argues that the terrifying rise of angry, right-wing ideology is fuelled by the very same desires to 'stick it to the man' that fired up the 60s counterculture.

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Next year, 2017, will be the 50th anniversary of the so-called Summer of Love. If current trends carry on, it looks set to provide a counter to the reefer-softened, LSD-warped events of 1967: a summer of hate, willed along by the possible surge of the "alt-right", the meme-powered, white supremacist cyber-tribe credited with helping Trump into the White House, and buoyed by Marine Le Pen's potential introduction of homegrown fascisme Francaise to the Élysée Palace.

Primarily a US phenomenon, the "alt-right" is a nebulous, strange, unquantifiable strain of far-right white supremacy that has fostered in the digital safe houses of Reddit and 4Chan and trades in savagely cynical memes and a thundering lexicon of insults for those they deem left or liberal: "beta cucks", "libtards", "social justice warriors".

This far right movement has been smuggled onto the newsstands via Trump's unexpected rise as President Elect, with the LA Times criticised for commissioning photo shoots or cosy interviews with its self-proclaimed leader, Richard Spencer. Despite hiring one of the movement's pied pipers, Steven K Bannon, as chief strategist, on Tuesday president elect Trump tried to distance himself from the nebulous far right grouping, much to the dismay of its members. But the "alt-right" still clings like a barnacle to its cherished avatar, now elected to the most powerful office in the world.

A colleague who works in tech journalism estimates that this new far-right movement's membership is probably in the tens of thousands, which is a sizeable number for a burgeoning tribe. Could the self-styled subculture draw the curious and the apolitical to it, bending social norms to its will, as past tribes have?

Some suggest it has already done so. The tech developer turned far-right thinker Curtis Yarvin – who believes the developed world should move back to 18th century gender norms and introduce eugenics – has attempted to frame it as the new 60s: "These young rebels aren't drawn to it because of an intellectual awakening, or because they're instinctively conservative," he says. "Ironically, they're drawn to the alt-right for the same reason that young Baby Boomers were drawn to the New Left in the 1960s: because it promises fun, transgression, and a challenge to social norms they just don't understand."

Although he would say that, wouldn't he, the half-century anniversary of the summer of 67 is still a useful vantage point from which to read the alt-right.

Western culture's likely future was, until this year, the liberal consensus formed in the 1960s. Sociologist Theodore Roszak defined the counterculture that bubbled up during the decade as the only hope for a society staring into a future of eminently reasonable technocratic drudgery. "It looks to me like all we have to hold against the final consolidation of a technocratic totalitarianism in which we shall find ourselves ingeniously adapted to an existence wholly estranged from everything that has ever made the life of man an interesting adventure," he wrote in the preface to his influential 1968 book, The Making of a Counter Culture.

Since then, the counterculture has slowly become the establishment, evidenced by the black, Bob Dylan-loving Barack Obama presiding over what was slowly becoming a more queer and trans-friendly political milieu for the past eight years. There was still much work to be done, of course, but now, the 60s counterculture's driving force of wanting to somehow "shake up" society has led to millions voting Leave or voting Trump.

Our current destabilised moment is sometimes referred to as the death throes of baby-boomer culture. After Brexit, Forbes described it as a "damn the consequences" trend from "The Baby Boom generation that brought us 'do whatever feels right,' is now doing exactly that, and it's producing one giant hangover after another." For many on the Trump Train and the Brexit Bus, the successive two-fingered salutes from the UK to the US were a chance to yet again stick it to 'the man' – only now 'the man' is brown, or Polish, or gay, or transgender or, indeed, a woman. A 60-something I know who travelled Europe on his bicycle in the 1960s and worships the Beatles, talks endlessly about resisting the rise of the elite, technocratic EU. To him and his fellow Brexiters, anyone who questions Britain leaving the EU is a wimp, a member of 'generation snowflake'.

This year's coalition of insurgencies – disgruntled Ukippers, "alt-right" pranksters, economic sufferers, plain old racists, lump-headed fascists - is emboldened in its attack on status quo, in the same way the counterculture was. Now the right, the far right and the fascists smell blood. Consider how Farage and his fellow Ukippers' described themselves as the "Brex Pistols" on their recent trip to meet The Donald, which culminated in yesterday's tweeted recommendation from Trump that Farage be ambassador to the US. The wider "alt-right", sat in front of computer screens showing Reddit, 4Chan and Twitter, takes heart from the rise in prominence of these insurgents.

Milo Yiannopoulos, the British tech journalist turned Breitbart figurehead for many on the alt-right (though he insists on playing down the connection) has declared a culture war. Yiannopoulos sees the minds of future generations up for grabs, and tours US college campuses, turning his free-speech crusade that sees him refer to feminism as cancer and Muslims as rapists into a form of entertainment.

Yiannopoulos's collective output is dissonant, dissident and contradictory, a melange of over-amplified hatemongering, catty asides and relentless self-aggrandisement: you can see why he's winning over some of the kids, in particular the disenfranchised young men currently being radicalised online. "I am the only person on the planet who has roots in every major dissident subculture," he boasted, in a Breitbart article entitled Why I'm Winning seemingly about how wonderful he is at this social media lark. "I've got little forts of influence fucking everywhere and they can be activated at any time. I joined Instagram a few days ago, posted three photos. Now? Over 1,500 followers and growing. Bam, new fort."

Last year in a Quietus Wreath Lecture I wrote about the digital fortresses we encase ourselves within, in a place called the Faceburbs: "Instead of houses, the Faceburbs is made up of islands of mediated information entities, ourselves included, based on accumulations of data, images, sounds, until a cultural figure can be anything from Adele, to Donald Trump, to the attacks in Paris, to you (if you generate enough clicks)... Comfort engulfs fear and fear comfort in a relentless cycle. What many will increasingly look for to save them from this befuddling state is a foghorn to show them the way. What if Trump doesn't turn out to be the buffoon we take him for?"

Alas, he didn't. And we should be wary of the other foghorns appearing in the chaotic mediascape. The new language of fascism that the alt-right bathes in follows our rather dull but pointed preoccupation with reality television, gossip sites and capitalism as entertainment such as The Apprentice. Like the show that turned Trump into the unscrupulous right's godhead, Milo and the people he purports to have a forged a bond with are in thrall to "success". You hear this word again and again in the posts of the so-called alt-right: "success" allied with the word we thought was left back in the halcyon days of Charlie Sheen's meltdown: "winning". Milo is winning. Trump is winning. Leave the libtard left conspiracy. They hate you anyway – they think you're garbage.

In Bomb Culture, Jeff Nuttall's incendiary explanation of the appeal of 1960s counterculture, he observed that, while many in the counterculture wanted to ban the bomb, stop troops into Vietnam, fight for equality and feminism, these various causes were welded to a sense of insatiable sexual and intellectual awakening. Not for Nuttall's generation the well-intentioned, duffel-coats, trad -jazz and pints of bitter of the CND supporter. However much he could identify with the movement's causes, it wasn't until the culture moved into questionable, dangerous, transgressive territory via absurdist theatre and Dionysian pop that it displayed the possibility of catching alight and spreading.

Whereas Nuttall described the squalls of Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman, the potency of William Burroughs's prose and the electrifying rock poetry of Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the psychedelic explosion as amounting to an alluring cacophony that powered the counterculture, today's squall is not a musical one.

The ever-so- slightly Nazi "alt-right" site Daily Stormer realised the movement doesn't have a music and so opted for the safely white non and largely-imaginary genre of synthwave; there have also been attempts to claim Taylor Swift as one of them. Yet these are afterthoughts. This counterculture's squall is not musical, but multisensory: a melange of conflicting mediated entities such as Milo spewing forth on Snapchat or Facebook, the "burrrrrrn!! Slaaaayyy!!" language of Twitter, rightwing rolling news, tabloid immigration scandals, reality television, YouTube vloggers, below the line trolling, realtime esports, bro-friendly misogy-comedies such as Million Dollar Extreme World… Underpinning it all is the late Andrew Breitbart's pledge to always seek to find "absolute truth" - presupposing that truth is never implicitly there in the first place, which in turn explains the rabid hunger for conspiracy theories such as the ludicrous DC establishment paedophile yarn #PizzaGate.

The fear is surely that with mainstream culture flatlining into a state in which a Netflix drama series about a young and cute Elizabeth II is something to look forward to, some of the younger generation will make a pact with bad faith to get their kicks. Like it or not Donald Trump, contradictory statements and all, is the most important cultural figure in the world right now. "The political effectiveness of contagious culture is a subject abhorrent to orthodox thinking for various reasons, not least among which is the threat embodied in the emergent fact that the root of political development is creative and irrational," wrote Nuttall. What we are now facing is the threat of far right amalgamations such as the "alt-right" owning the landscape of youthful rebellion.

"As children we observe the fact that the adults are doing the things they forbid the children and are often saying 'do as I say but not as I do'," said the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips at the launch of his book, Unforbidden Pleasures, in 2015. "In the forbidding, desire is always being created and that's unavoidable."

I am no believer that political correctness has somehow emasculated our culture; and if it has, all the better, if it's made for a better life for women and minorities. A proud cuck am I; my mangina is bristling with the glow of a good day's social justice warfare. But, unavoidably, there is something forbidding about the liberal consensus, in the same way there is something forbidding in any status quo or agreed-upon logic. This culture has created the false perception that questioning anything from the hegemony of globalisation, to the legitimacy of open gayness and women's rights, equality between races and secularisation all taboo subjects. They have become a fire for the racists, the nationalists, the dispossessed and the bored to dance around.

"At its best and its worst to forbid is to coerce attention and to guarantee interest," writes Phillips. "It is to arrange a haunting." Haunting is a good description of the 21st-century presence of the far-right in the US until 8th November. As The Atlantic's video of the "alt-right" meeting in Washington shows, the ghouls are now emboldened and visible and proudly saluting. But I'm not sure that makes them any easier to overpower. "Significant changes in manners and morals - periods of significant change in personal and cultural history - always involve the redescription of previously forbidden desires," Phillips adds. "One way or another the forbidden becomes less forbidden, or even unforbidden, and so provides a different kind of pleasure."

The 60s counterculture succeeded in smuggling in political gains by making it appealing to the id of subsequent generations. But pop music no longer surprises – how could it. Virgin Records begat Virgin Atlantic, the godawful Virgin Trains and Virgin Healthcare, which is stealthily circling around a seemingly doomed NHS. It's interesting that Richard Branson, horrified by the rise of Trump, tried to use his apparent influence to intervene in the US election by publishing an account of his personal experience of Trump's vindictive streak. Quite apart from the fact Trump behaving badly wasn't exactly news, it speaks to the cosy arrogance of Baby Boomer figureheads that they are somehow still at the wheel in the midst of this disrupted chaos. Ditto the imminent return of Tony Blair.

Away from the metropolis, as we are consistently reminded, people are suspicious of the status quo. Like the suited-and-booted teenage Ukippers I have encountered in the party's heartland of Thurrock, Essex, and the sub/Reddit-glued "alt-righters" rooting for Trump in secret, there is a desire to go against the grain, to knock the world off its axis to afford a kind of schism. Increasingly, young people might end up at fascism via a quest for danger. As the dust settles during what feels like an epochal shift, it's too soon to suggest what alternatives might grow out of the sudden realignments. But it must be one of resistance. Don't be afraid; be aware – those of us who reject the kind of thinking espoused by this disparate, digitally emboldened group of neo-fascists, still outnumber those who agree. But there is a need to be conscious of newly emboldened threats in the coming months and years.

If equality of all hues is to be defended, I can't help thinking there needs to be a re-evaluation of how cultural needs and desires are served as much as political and economic ones. Meanwhile the most rightward of the right surge on. According to Nuttall, it took the looming threat of a third world war and nuclear annihilation in the 1950s and 60s to kick off a cultural revolution – at least we're looking in good shape for that.

Identity is the crack cocaine of the people
Nov 24, 2016 1:39pm

A movement needs a strong irrational component that manages to trigger public imagination. The small, but very vocal, alt-right understands this.
By contrast, the left wing, despite its long tradition of culture creation, now mainly provides unappetizing narratives of ideological retreat, cloaked in po-mo academic sophistry. It has become too conformist, motivated by a bourgeois desire to be considered respectable and PC. It has been co-opted by the corporate mainstream, allowing the establishment to define its focus: identity politics, the environment, hipster commodity fetishism and cosmopolitanism (a euphemism for globalist capitalism) are acceptable topics and thus regurgitated ad nauseam. Wealth redistribution, peace and anti-imperialism are out.

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de-identified
Nov 24, 2016 9:49pm

@Iitccotp:

You sure about all that, mate? Lotta assumptions there, love the way you're lumping everything right & left as absolutes. Never let an overstatement go unstated! The world's full of colours & greys, its not a binary black vs white.

Get outside & have a face-to-face chat with people you've never spoken to before. Try listening to them & being considerate of their thoughts. That's the real world. You might even like it!

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LSD
Nov 24, 2016 10:54pm

"Underpinning it all is the late Andrew Breitbart's pledge to always seek to find "absolute truth" - presupposing that truth is never implicitly there in the first place, which in turn explains the rabid hunger for conspiracy theories such as the ludicrous DC establishment paedophile yarn #PizzaGate."

Of course, it's completely ludicrous to suppose that establishment could ever be involved in any kind of sordid paedophile rings. Move along. Nothing to see here, people.

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Lynn
Nov 25, 2016 12:30am

*slow jack-off motion*

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R
Nov 25, 2016 2:18am

"I can't help thinking there needs to be a re-evaluation of how cultural needs and desires.."

Interesting, can you elaborate a bit...?

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lad
Nov 25, 2016 6:03am

In reply to de-identified:

"Get outside & have a face-to-face chat with people you've never spoken to before. Try listening to them & being considerate of their thoughts. That's the real world. You might even like it!"

If the bloviating and unbelievably self-satisfied members of the "progressive" liberal echo chamber(of which the author of this article is a downright stereotypical example, if the article itself is anything to go by) did the same instead of just smearing their opponents as rabid, braindead peasantry undeserving of even the tiniest bit of sympathy or consideration on their Facebook and Twitter feeds, Brexit and Trump may have never happened.

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Derg_Nasty
Nov 25, 2016 9:59am

I can't help but think that ultimately all this "alt-right vs libtard" discussion will never lead anywhere, nor solve anything but just piss everyone off.
Very depressing...

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Joe
Nov 25, 2016 4:50pm

Superb, than you.

Everyone has decided that right-wing populism is a reaction against liberalism. In truth, it's the shadow side of libertarian ideology.

Brexiters and Trump supporters exhaustively assert their individual rights and oppose 'the establishment', just like the hippies railed against 'the man' or 'the system'. Like an inverted version of the student left that ‘no-platforms’ speakers in union debates, they regard their white, male identity as sacrosanct. They demand their fascist sympathies be deferred to by everyone. Politicians can only escape the ire of internet mobs by proving themselves 'in touch' with the 'legitimate concerns' of 'ordinary, white voters'. It's a neofascist form of PC that demands we all have to try and understand racists or be castigated as oppressive, liberal elitists You can't engage them in debate, because like the post-modernist intellectual wing of the counter-culture they reject empirical truth. Baudrillard meets Bormann.

The only difference is that he right-wing populist philosophy is one of hate not love. And the Alt-right champion champion the right to call women slags on Twitter and tell Polish people to fuck off home. 

As for the 60's - it's seriously overrated. There was a progressive side of it that collectively sought to being about equalitarian ideals that we should be thankful for. But there was also an individualist, selfish and proto-neoliberal side that at its worst had fascist undertones. You have to look no further than the Doors with their hymns to taboo busting cruelty; the strutting capitalist individualism suggested by The Rolling Stones's 'I'm free to do what I want any old time'; and artistic movements like Actionism which explicitly celebrated the intoxication of power and cruelty.

The sixties counter-culture was more about the rights of bourgeois kids (particularly male ones) to pursue a life of untrammelled self-gratification than achieve progressive social ideals. And of course lots of them turned into nasty little entrepreneurs who found their natural political home in Thatcherism/Reaganism twenty years later. As the author argues, the legacy is a lot of right-wing postmodernist brats who think the truth and standards of civilised behaviour are infringing on their rights to be vile, racist, women-hating scum.

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Tweety23
Nov 25, 2016 6:28pm

In reply to lad:

Whenever the 'left' (and I don't think you're talking about any actual, political left when you use that term, so much as describing any group of people with a conscience) criticize te 'peasants', it's usually because those 'peasants' have gone out of their way to insult / harass women, queers, people of colour and immigrants, and gratuitously make their lives hell. Gee, do you think that might play a role in why 'liberal' people sneer at them? the fact that they're constantly sneering at others? Last time I checked, the social norms in Europe dictated that you tend to get what you deserve. So sorry that this lesson has somehow passed you by, but if you want to be treated better, acting better is the best way to achieve that.

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A person
Nov 25, 2016 8:36pm

I do wish the Q would desist from engaging with “politics” - that is, aligning itself with the top-down imposition of speech codes and social engineering. It should be obvious that the “progressive” project has been a complete disaster that has destroyed traditional communalism and society and in its place left an atomised, dysfunctional, conglomeration of increasingly alienated and unhappy individuals “liberated” only to be more easily consumed by the various organs of the Money Power.

Say what you like about the Alt Right, at least it has a broad ideological coherence. This is in sharp contrast to the “Leftist” agenda with its blind hatred of tradition, harmony and beauty in all its forms has led to a situation where alleged concerns for women, gays, and the environment have seen it ally itself with the most repressive and reactionary, religio-ideology extant in the modern world, and whose much-vaunted concern for the working class has been evidenced by its support for the continuous mass immigration of a reserve army of labour. Then again, perhaps this blind hatred IS the actual coherence of the “progressive” experiment.

If the likes of Tim Burrows are so concerned about the increasing influence of the Alt Right maybe they should engage with some of its more interesting figureheads such as Greg Johnson, Millennial Woes, Richard Spencer, the folks behind Red Ice Radio, even Milo Yiannopoulis, and let the readership make up their own minds, rather than subjecting us to the narcissistic act of moral signalling that seems to be the prime impetus of the article above.

But preferably stick to the music.

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lad
Nov 26, 2016 6:01am

In reply to Tweety23:

I didn't mention the left at all in my comment and I don't equate the left with the average hyperconsumerist and narcissistic 21st century liberal(in fact, 'actual' leftists tend to have just as much contempt for the aforementioned liberals as right-wingers do, even for some of the same reasons). These days the only time the 'left' tends to get invoked in places where it might actually matter on a bigger scale is when it is to serve as a largely powerless hand-puppet of the neoliberal establishment(see: Sanders).

As for the rest of your comment, I think I'm gonna let the cartoonish indignation and self-righteousness of it speak for itself. You know, it's really not that hard to just talk to these people yourself and actually hear where they stand from their own mouths instead of settling for the deliberately disingenuous and demonizing conclusions brought to you by your "progressive" media outlet of choice.

It's a shame that in the wake of such severe defeats, most liberals just seem to be becoming even more zealous in pushing the narratives and mindsets which brought them those defeats in the first place instead of doing a bit of introspective thought and heading in a different direction.

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Andrew
Nov 27, 2016 8:18pm

This is so far off the mark it's bordering on satire. Kudos for not mentioning 'fake news' though.

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Pablo
Nov 30, 2016 5:06am

Aww, have The Quietus have been triggered?

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Stu
Dec 16, 2016 11:12pm

In reply to Pablo:

The problem is that the Labour movement has nothing to offer, I'm talking here from a UK perspective. The white working class has nothing to pin itself to in the left parties. Especially since Blair et al sidled up to the new liberalists.
The left has become a middle class rally for minorities. The traditional support the
Left had now feels isolated. They have found a voice- so they believe - in this idiotic right wing populist guff. I realise this stinks of snobbery but so be it. It is time for greater objectivity. Political correctness has evidently killed this and people are reacting!
Sadly for them the option now taken Trump, Brexit will be even worse than their current fears. Serves them right really...

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Reimer
Dec 27, 2016 5:40pm

It says a lot for how long the liberal-internationalist project has been the only possible regime, and how thoroughly deep-programmed its noisy NSU Orcs are, that the milky cuppa of Brexit and Trump can be parlayed into some sort of Reichstag fire by the wannabe-Will-Selfs who police ideology among a constituency ostensibly committed to reconciling nihilism with dutifully paying the BBC licence fee

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James H
Dec 30, 2016 11:41am

In reply to A person:

“where alleged concerns for women, gays, and the environment have seen it ally itself with the most repressive and reactionary, religio-ideology extant in the modern world, and whose much-vaunted concern for the working class has been evidenced by its support for the continuous mass immigration of a reserve army of labour.” That is an outstanding comment sir/madam and much the best I’ve seen on this site of late. tQ does indeed fall into the lazy liberal trap of lofty sloganeering comment from above without any understanding of the objective conditions of most ordinary people, as sadly witnessed across the liberal “left” during Brexit.
As for this piece, it started well but then just threw too many ingredients in the pot and really only proves that this author spends too much time online analysing social media trends and not enough time in the real world. Presumably if he’s so concerned about this so called “indie right” brigade then he’s signed up to a left wing party and gets involved in campaigns he believes in at the grass roots? My guess – and I’m very happy to be proved wrong – is that instead he paid his £25 to join Labour and voted Owen Smith as Corbyn can never win Middle England and we simply must keep the Tories out even if it means nothing more than the pseudo-Tory reserve XI of neo-liberalism that the 170 careerist Labour “rebels” are so desperate to maintain into their retirement (and that if truth be told his kind would much favour over a genuine left wing Labour government).

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CWitter
Jan 4, 2017 11:05pm

Tim Burrows is spectacularly off the mark on three points: 1. the reasons for the emergence of the so-called alt-right; 2. his characterisation of the 1960s counterculture; 3. the vaguely defined 50 years between the 1960s and now, of which he says almost nothing - certainly nothing insightful.

Starting with the 1960s, the author reduces the counter-culture to the two-dimensional caricature of neoconservatives such as Daniel Bell, Irving Kristol and Richard Hofstadter - who condemned the new left and counter culture even in the 1960s. The 1960s generation were not merely individualist consumers. This fails to understand that the US in the 1960s was a racially segregated society and that the civil rights movement, to which many young whites lent their support, revolutionised US social and racial relations; that revolutions across the Third World made radical social change a magnetic field for the political imagination; that unions were empowered; that employment was high, empowering workers, as well as providing more opportunities for education, leisure time and artistic expression; that women fought for greater personal freedoms and participation in public life - they did not merely buy this. Even consumption - e.g. of "black" musical forms - was politically charged in a way that is difficult to comprehend now.

These real social and political gains, according the author, were "smuggled in" by "appealing to the id of subsequent generations" - as if the march on Washington in '64 were carried out on tip-toe, or as if the Black Panthers were brutally murdered by the FBI for spreading Chinese Whispers. Worse, they are the reduced to this right-wing pseudo-concept of 'political correctness' - as if the Black Lives Matter movement of today, drawing on the legacy of the 1960s, were in the streets over an issue of vocabulary.

So, what of the 50 years between now and the 60s? "Western culture's likely future was, until this year, the liberal consensus formed in the 1960s", writes Burrows. Hang-on. Has he heard of Nixon? Reagan? the Bushes? The Clintons? Of Thatcher? Of neoliberalism?

I cannot finish tearing into this warmed over gumpf, that thinks itself intellectual merely by merit of using buzzwords. Enough. This kind of pseudo-history merely plays into the hands of the forces of the right, whilst comforting the middle class that wants to think it has played no part in encouraging the latest atrocity exhibition by sponsoring politicians who have, for 30 years and more, made racism, misogyny and gross inequality into election slogans.

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