William Davies writes that the conflict involving “hard Brexit” versus “soft Brexit” concerns the nature of political power. The hard Brexiteers distrust government in the form that it has evolved. Davies maintains that governments today are characterized by dependence on technical and bureaucratic means to implement policies, and on data gathering and regulation to enforce them. In his view, the hard Brexiteers imagine the restauration of popular sovereignty over government, without the mediation of bureaucratic officials, technicians, and professionals. Davies sees such popular resentment of the contemporary form of government as central to the recent emergence of reactionary populism in the core nations of the world-economy. He writes:
One way to understand the rise of reactionary populism today is as the revenge of sovereignty on government. This is not simply a backlash after decades of globalization, but against the form of political power that facilitated it, which is technocratic, multilateral and increasingly divorced from local identities.
A common thread linking “hard” Brexiteers to nationalists across the globe is that they resent the very idea of governing as a complex, modern, fact-based set of activities that requires technical expertise and permanent officials.
We also should be aware that the elite has deliberately promoted the false concept of a limited state since 1980. Prior to that time, the concept of the limited role of government had been present only as a declining secondary ideological tendency, as a result of elite support for Keynesian economic policies. However, with the first signs of the profound structural crisis of the world-system and the relative decline of the hegemonic neocolonial power in the 1970s, the elite turned to a global neoliberal project. It sought to reduce the role of the state in the core economies as well as in the neocolonies of the Third World, in order to reverse the recent tendency toward declining rates of profits. It thus launched an ideological attack on the state, ignoring the necessary role of government in modern complex economies and societies. This dissemination of the anti-governmental ideology generated confusion among the peoples of North America and Europe.
Furthermore, we should be aware of the failure of the Left in response to the post-1980 ideological attack on the state. The US and European Left should have been present with an alternative narrative that included, among other elements, a clear explanation to the people of the necessary role of government in modern complex societies. In the case of the United States, the alternative narrative would have drawn upon the historical popular movements of various sectors of the people, including workers, farmers, blacks, and women, all of which formulated important analyses. Such an alternative narrative, if historically informed, could have critiqued the turn of the national elite to monopoly capitalism and imperialism in the period 1865 to 1914, which became the basis for elite direction of world affairs during the course of the twentieth century. And such an alternative narrative, if informed by the popular movements and revolutions of the nation as well as of other lands, could have been able to promote an alternative concept of popular democracy, based on the principles of citizen participation, protection of the social and economic rights of all persons, and respect for the sovereignty of all nations. Of course, to be politically effective, such an alternative narrative of the Left would have had to be sensitive to the values, sentiments, and concerns of the people, treating with intelligent sensibility any issues that are divisive among the people.
With the failure of the Left in the United States and Europe to offer a comprehensive and politically effective alternative narrative, the ideological terrain has been left open to myopic nationalisms of all stripes to fill the void created by the increasingly delegitimated globalized centrist liberalism. We have arrived to a point where public “debate” is reduced to superficial conflict between centrist liberalism and the Right. Having not formulated a politically effective narrative, the Left is confined to organizing protests with respect to particular issues, thus demonstrating to the people its incapacity to lead the peoples and the nations of the North in an alternative direction.
In the context of the sustained and profound structural crisis of the world-system and the absence of a politically effectively and scientifically sound proposal, the Left must reconsider its approach. The Left should establish an alternative political power that formulates and disseminates manifestos and platforms that are responsible and that garner political support and that expects its members to be continually educating themselves. The alternative political party should use the established structures of representative democracy to take political power in the name of the people, even as it criticizes representative democracy as a democracy in appearance but not in substance. It should promise to seek structural reforms in the political process, working toward the development of an alternative process in which power is in the hands of the people’s delegates, who would direct necessarily bureaucratic and complex states in accordance with the interests of the people. Our message to the people should be that complex, bureaucratic governments are unavoidable, but indifference to the needs of the people is not.