Most fundamentally, what I’m seeing as I look around the world is a massive decrease of trust in the institutions of government. Where those institutions are oppressive and totalitarian, the ability of popular uprisings to bring them down is a joyous and welcome sight. But on the other side of the coin, when I look at rioters in England, I see a huge middle finger being waved at basic norms of lawfulness and civilized society, and an enthusiastic embrace of “going on the rob” as some kind of hugely enjoyable participation sport. The glue holding society together is dissolving, whether it’s made of fear or whether it’s made of enlightened self-interest.
In Europe, the speed with which the transmission has been thrown violently into reverse is nothing short of astonishing. The whole second half of the 20th Century was devoted to building strong European institutions which would maximize cooperation and minimize mistrust and finger-pointing between member states. Great statesmen put European unity on a par with narrow national self-interest, and the resulting institutions — the euro, of course, but also things like the Schengen Agreement and the European Convention on Human Rights — transformed the blood-soaked continent of the 1940s into a peaceful and prosperous model for how disparate countries could successfully work together to the benefit of them all.
And the US, of course, the global hegemon, a continent unto itself, stood as a beacon for the rest of the world: 300 million disparate people coming together to create something unprecedented — an economic, political, and military colossus built on solidly democratic principles. E pluribus unum.
But countries and institutions can ultimately survive only with the will and consent of those they govern — and that consent is evaporating around the world. Europeans have no love for Europe’s institutions, be they the euro or the ECB or the EFSF. Unemployment, in much of Europe, has reached the point of no return — the point at which it becomes endemic, stubbornly immune to attempts to tackle it. In turn, that results in broad-based cynicism and disillusionment when it comes to politics and politicians generally.
I don’t think that this is an isolated phenomenon or passing phase. I also don’t believe that it can be shrugged off as the maunderings of a handful of anti-government crazies. If that were the case why is there the same sort of loss of confidence in institutions in Tea Partyfrei Europe?
Where I differ from Mr. Salmon is that I think the crisis of confidence isn’t limited to government but extends to big business, universities, science, churches, the news media, and even not-for-profits.