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Are the young turning into progressive authoritarians?

Greta Thunberg speaks to campaigners in Washington, DC, on 13 September, 2019

May 12, 2020 - 10:17am

Are “authoritarian states better equipped than democracies to tackle the climate crisis?”

Astonishingly, 53% of young Europeans (aged 16-29) seem to think so. This compares to 42% for the 30-49 age group and just 35% for the 50-69 age group.

These figures come from a¬†poll conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation for the Europe’s Stories project at Oxford University. The project’s leader, Timothy Garton Ash, contrasts this against another finding which was that an “astonishing 71% of Europeans are now in favour of introducing a universal basic income”:

What kind of historical moment will this turn out to be, for Europe and the world? It could lead us to the best of times. It could lead us to the worst of times.
- Timothy Garton Ash

Garton Ash wasn’t the only one to be both delighted and dismayed by the poll results. For instance, here’s a reaction from Rutger Bregman, the Left-wing intellectual of the moment:

Huge majority of Europeans in favour of universal basic income. Most want carbon neutrality in 2030, bigger role for the state, mandatory minimum wage and more. Bye bye neoliberalism.
- Rutger Bregman

On the other hand, he said the response to the authoritarian states versus democracy question was “disturbing”.

So, how do we resolve this apparent paradox? Are young Europeans a bunch of ‚Äėprogressive authoritarians‚Äô? I’m not so sure. The poll was conducted in March, when the news was full of stories about how China had cracked down on the Covid epidemic, while western governments were still wondering what to do. Even if young people believe that authoritarian regimes are “better equipped” to deal with crisis situations than democracies, that doesn’t mean that they prefer authoritarianism to democracy.

As for the progressive parts of the equation ‚ÄĒ the stuff about Universal Basic Income, climate change etc ‚ÄĒ the poll provides scant evidence that the young are more radical than their elders. It’s true that younger respondents were more likely to favour a “ban on petrol and diesel vehicles”; but, on the other hand, older respondents preferred a “ban on non-essential flying”.

It does seem clear that young have less faith in the capability of their governments than the older age groups do. But then they have had a different formative experience. For earlier generations there was the winning of the Second World War; the founding of the NHS; never having “had it so good”; the Space Age; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the advent of the Internet; and the exuberant optimism of the 1990s. There were disasters too, of course; but a sense that “things can only get better” prevailed.

Millennials and Post-Millennials are too young to remember any of that. Their world began with 9/11 and went on to the invasion of Iraq, the Global Financial Crisis, the Eurozone crisis, the refugee crisis, the populist backlash and now a global pandemic.

Well, bad stuff happens ‚ÄĒ but, from a western perspective, where’s the good to set against it? Where are the great achievements of the 20th century? This is an age of democracy without heroism, government without breakthroughs, politics without inspiration.

It’s not really surprising that the young are less than impressed.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

peterfranklin_

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Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
4 years ago

People may well, when asked, say they want a shopping list of goodies provided by the state. This doesn’t mean their desires are achievable, never mind mutually exclusive.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
4 years ago

One of the problems of our times is that the educational system does not promote the successes of the last 300 years, let alone the benefits of living in Britain.
It seems to be run by “intellectuals”, who as George Orwell wrote; they would be more ashamed to be caught standing up for God save the King, than for being caught stealing from the poor box.
Here is a list Peter, of the great achievements of the 20th centaury.

The mass production of the motor car – that allowed the peasants to travel beyond their village, when they wanted.
Modern planes – that allowed the peasants to travel abroad.
Anti biotics
Computers
The internet
Mobile phones
Vastly more wealth generated that allowed for the NHS, pensions and the welfare state.
Central heating
Washing Machines
The electric/gas ovens.
Affordable carpets
Vacuum cleaners
Inside toilets & bathrooms

Many of the above were invented in the 19th centaury, but the increasing wealth produced by advances in manufacturing allowed them to be available to most in Britain.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
4 years ago

The phrase “progressive authoritarianism”¬Ě reminds me of the woke community’s bullying tactics against those they consider to be fascist or various types of phobe The glaring example of this is universities allowing themselves to be jackbooted into noplatforming those whom a noisy minority of students consider to be unsound. For instance the rescinding of a visiting fellowship offered to Dr. Jordan Peterson by the Divinity School at Cambridge was a disgraceful and shameful event.
This kind of injustice is happening too often, and when it does the offending university should be heavily fined. Universities must not be impeded from exercising freedom of thought and expression which is essential to the academic enterprise.
What I think could be happening is that the wokes are becoming the establishment and reacting against the new counter- cultural conservatism which is questioning their assumptions and prejudices. Like most establishments the wokes have become angrily reactionary. Ironic?

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

Well you can’t blame the young for having no faith in governments given their track record across the west since 1989. And it seems to me that both young and old are turning into ‘progressive authoritarians’, with particular reference to the new hate speech laws in Scotland. The future does not look bright.

Andrew Hallett
Andrew Hallett
4 years ago

Its fine for whatever generation to want ever more and more form Government but as always they never want to talk about how we are going to pay for it. Guaranteed income, higher basic wage, improved health care are all well and good, but almost every country is already heavily indebted paying for what we already have. If you want more you are going to have to pay more taxes but any politician who says he/she will raise taxes will never get elected. So all of us who want more services are the same people who wont vote to pay for them.

Sparta Cuss
Sparta Cuss
4 years ago

UBI is affordable if we abolish all benefits and restrict government to the essentials e.g. defence, law & order, the NHS etc. True, we would still have to raise taxes but the net effect would be to cost only the richest.

E.g 50% tax would lead to a government budget of c. √ā¬£1 Trillion. Minus the essentials of c. √ā¬£400 Billion that would leave √ā¬£600B to be divided by c. 35M British born and resident citizens aged 18-65 which = c. √ā¬£17k UBI/annum ūüôā

Obviously UBI would have to start lower, e.g. the UC rate of √ā¬£5k/yr and then go up if affordable and I admit the essential budget of √ā¬£400B is a bit of a lower end guesstimate!

Sparta Cuss
Sparta Cuss
4 years ago

And the quid pro quo for (big) business might have to be an abolition of red tape and costs e.g. minimum wage but this might actually lead to greater productivity (and employment as all those stuck in the benefits trap would now have an incentive to seek employment).

wendajones
wendajones
4 years ago

Why the photo with Greta?