We are entering, we are told, a post-liberal age. So-called illiberal democracy and authoritarian populism are in the political ascendant; the shelves of our bookshops groan with the work of attention-grabbing thinkers insisting that permissiveness, multiculturalism and “identity politics” have failed us and that we must now fall back on some notion of tradition. We have had our fun, and now it’s time to get serious, to shore our fragments against the ruin of postmodernist meaninglessness.
It’s not only the usual, conservative suspects who have got on board with this argument. Authentocrats critiques the manner in which post-liberal ideas have been mobilised underhandedly by centrist politicians who, at least notionally, are hostile to the likes of Donald Trump and UKIP. It examines the forms this populism of the centre has taken in the United Kingdom and situates the moderate withdrawal from liberalism within a story which begins in the early 1990s. Blairism promised socially liberal politics as the pay-off for relinquishing commitments to public ownership and redistributive policies: many current centrists insist New Labour’s error was not its capitulation to the market, but its unwillingness to heed the allegedly natural conservatism of England’s provincial working classes.
In this book, we see how this spurious concern for “real people” is part of a broader turn within British culture by which the mainstream withdraws from the openness of the Nineties under the bad-faith supposition that there’s nowhere to go but backwards. The self-anointing political realism which declares that the left can save itself only by becoming less liberal is matched culturally by an interest in time-worn traditional identities: the brute masculinity of Daniel Craig’s James Bond, the allegedly “progressive” patriotism of nature writing, a televisual obsession with the World Wars. Authentocrats charges liberals themselves with fuelling the post-liberal turn, and asks where the space might be found for an alternative.
“The Authentocrats” claim to the be the new voice of common sense that speak for the common man and woman; right-wing, traditional and dangerous, Joe Kennedy argues that they are everything but what they purport to be.
In contemporary Britain, a lot has been said about what it is that “real people” want politically. Forgotten by elites and sick of globalisation, so the story goes, they demand patriotism, respect for the military, assurances on defence, and controls on immigration. In trying to meet these supposed wishes, politicians attempt to appear normal, salt-of-the-earth, authentic.
Authentocrats examines the function of this “authenticity” in a centrist politics which, paradoxically, often defines itself as cosmopolitan, technocratic and opposed to populism. Casting a doubtful eye over – amongst other things – latter-day James Bond films, contemporary nature writing and stand-up comedy, Authentocrats suggests that the sooner we can break with the sententiousness of a skewed conception of authenticity in aesthetics and politics the better.