Before he became notorious for his “Britain on crutches” observations concerning Clacton-on-Sea, Matthew Parris came up with the finest political metaphor I have ever heard: he likened political change to pouring gravel into a swamp. For a long time nothing seems to change as chip by chip the rock cascades into the murky depths. Then, one day, seemingly magically, the submerged pile breaks the surface and the whole landscape is transformed.
2016 was the year the gravel rose above the swamp, and spectacularly so.
In a sense, the great revolutions we have witnessed are just the visible culmination of trends that stretch back decades: just as the liberal ascendancy has its roots in the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the rise of a hedonistic generation that had known nothing but peace and prosperity, its fall can be traced to the economic trends that began with the deindustrialisation of Western economies since the 1980s, or even earlier. The “left behinds” have arguably being growing in number ever since. This year, a tipping point was reached and social conservatism was reborn.
Such a narrative fits into the left-wing view of history as nothing more than great sweeps of change that men find themselves caught up in and carried along with – what Tolstoy called “the swarm life” of humanity. We should not accept that glibly: instead let us also emphasise the role of heroic individuals, those small number of people who managed against all odds, to “change the weather”. Nigel Farage and Donald Trump are surely two such men. Although it undoubtedly needed someone of Trump’s force of personality to break the spell of political correctness in the States, in personal terms Farage’s 25-year successful battle against the European Union is surely the greater triumph of the two: although its eventual collapse may indeed be inevitable, as he has often stated, its death throes would surely be more protracted and costly to both Britain and Europe as a whole without his gigantic contribution.
So much for the visible changes – the mountain of socially conservative gravel that now looms large over the liberal swamp. However, rather than standing back in awe, shouldn’t we cast our gaze elsewhere, to those parts of the bog still seemingly unchanged and unperturbed? Peering into the gloomy depths, can we see the first chips of stone lying on the bottom, a portent of other great changes to come?
It can be argued that one such great change started just this last week, with the loss of control of the oil market by Saudi Arabia. In the long term, this probably sounds the death knell for Islamic extremism, not only due to the declining ability of Saudi money to finance it, but far more importantly the refutation of its theological justification: in strict Wahhabi theology, there are no iron laws of cause and effect created by God as a Christian would understand them. Instead, Allah wills the universe in its entirety from moment to moment. The bountiful supply of oil in the Arabian Peninsula is seen as his continued approval for the extreme religious puritanism of the Saudi regime. As those wells run dry and the US dominates the energy market, divine favour will be harder and harder to justify, and the evangelical power of such evil will start to wane. That, of course, is another great change for the better in a year that has seen many of them.
In summary, 2016 has been a year of great upheavals, some magnificently visible and others less so. As we look forward to 2017, let us hope for many more. For the first time in a very long time, TCW readers have reason to believe it really will be a Happy New Year.
(Image: Raphaël Chekroun)