The office has been relatively quiet this week. The AEC’s director, Barbara, and Senior Fellow, Federico, left for Miami on Tuesday for a Free Market Road Show event.
Other than assisting in various tasks around the office, I have spent my time working on my research project. I am investigating the phenomena of an authoritarian resurgence (of which populism is part) and the ideological challenge it may, or may not, represent to liberal democracy and to the values of limited government, free markets, and individualism.
The return of authoritarian practices in countries that never fully developed liberal democratic institutions is the first avenue of research. The second involves making sense of the dissatisfaction with liberal democracy in countries with strong liberal traditions. Is dissatisfaction ideological, translating into a permanent repudiation of liberal democracy, or visceral, merely a temporary expression of economic dislocation? These are the topics that I have been mulling over.
In the course of my research I came across the work of Roger Scruton. He asserts that to be a conservative – within the context of the Anglosphere and its liberal heritage – is to defend the collective achievements of Western civilization. This position acknowledges that the creation of the good is slow and dull, and ultimately fragile, while its destruction is fast, easy, and exhilarating. Therefore, conservatism, and more broadly, a defence of liberal democracy, will always be at a rhetorical disadvantage to the exciting utopian promises emanating from such diverse characters as well-intentioned academics luxuriating in their offices to paternal demagogues bellowing at mass rallies.
I have begun to appreciate the difficult task faced by classical liberal, libertarian, and conservative think tanks. Not only must they advance rational and empirically founded arguments, much of the time involving the minutiae of policy, but also share in the responsibility of staving off the revival of harmful ideas – the phenomena Moises Naim terms “ideological necrophilia”, the obsession with dead ideas.
On a somewhat lighter note, I attended the Vienna English Theatre’s production of the famous Anthony Shaffer play Sleuth. A fantastic tragi-comedy that features only two actors, the play revolves around an aristocratic middle-aged mystery writer, named Andrew Wykes, and a younger man named Milo Tindle. The line that kicks off the story’s events, delivered so nonchalantly by Wykes, will forever be etched into my memory; “so… I understand you want to marry my wife”. The much handsomer Tindle is… you guessed it, Mrs. Wykes’ lover. From there on it becomes a magnificent catastrophe.
As a final, offhand note, Vienna’s goulash is fantastic. Just look at my expression.