Only it is not on the telly. Which is odd, as it is a Thursday afternoon, ie, there's nothing much going on, except the small matter of a keenly contested semi-final between the two strongest cricketing nations (many of whose citizens are in this country for the occasion). Only what do we have? Kids' TV on BBC1 - fair enough - and on BBC2 a gang of disgusting aristos poncing about in hats at Royal Ascot. Never mind that racing on TV is only interesting about once a year, if that - but do we really need to know, in between races, how to care for a silk hat and how much to expect to pay for one? (I'm not exaggerating. They really did tell you these things.)
So screw the TV. If exhaustive coverage of hats at Royal Ascot is part of a deliberate plan to foment a bloody revolution which will see the effete dandies of the upper and aspirant middle classes strung up with piano wire and the streets of Mayfair running crimson with the blood of plutocrats, then that's nice and I applaud it. But somehow I think it isn't. I think it's somewhere between a cock-up and an insult. But the radio commentators - Vic Marks, Jonathan Agnew and that South African chap whose name no one can spell - all did a great job, and when they said the hairs were standing up on the back of their necks you knew why. As one of them - Marks, I think - put it: "My goodness, this is exciting."
All that talk of revolution brings us neatly on to Francis Fukuyama, whose last book, The End of History, did so much to consolidate the triumph of liberal economics and prevent the spread of war in the Balkans. You see, everyone is happy now - the mixture of the free market and something that looks, from a certain angle, quite like democracy means that society has worked itself out, and we can all go home and let the Americans run things.
It then occurred to Fukuyama that the End of History might also mean the End of Books About History by Second-Rate Academics, so he has slightly changed his tack and written a book in which he proposes that the individualism of the 1960s Has Gone Too Far, and that society is swinging back to old- fashioned values. Or something like that. Here he is, in his own words, on R3's excellent discussion programme Night Waves:
"The problem with liberal democracy has always been liberal individualism, which frees people from class and inherited social status." So far, so good: this is the standard neo-liberal rant - funny how, in terms of economics, the word "liberal" means "barking-mad right-winger who wants to privatise the air we breathe": hence the "problem" he has with liberal democracy. You feel like saying to him, Francis, there are plenty of people out there who have a problem with liberal individualism, too. They're called "fascists".
He followed the script by saying that society had been horribly rattled "by things like the birth control pill, like changing labour markets, the move to computers, all of which has [sic] changed the nature of work, and many basic conditions of our life, and we are constantly having to play catch-up in order to create new rules that accommodate the new conditions that we face". (Isn't it great when pundits blame the collapse of society on the Pill? They may as well be wearing a badge which says "there is only one thing I know how to do in bed".) But he then goes on to say that people are quite sensible and they learn how to sort things out among themselves, because deep down we like rules.
Against him were ranged the editor-in-chief of a rival newspaper, Will Hutton, and Chantal Mouffe, who is the Quintin Hogg Research Fellow in Politics at the University of Westminster. Not only does she have a job title that goes on far too long, she also speaks with an accent that makes Antoine de Caunes sound like Alistair Cooke. I couldn't understand a word she said apart from "I agree more wiz Will Utton". This is what Will Utton said:
"I'm not as optimistic as Francis. No, erm, and I found the book, errrr, I mean Panglossian in that sense actually... um ... I mean Francis has become, um, the apostle of, and, er, a very cogent one as we've just heard, of, er, the all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds."
As you can see, Will Hutton was right - he went on to point out that capitalism makes lots of people very poor; and that "capitalism is a particularly turbulent kind of, and virulent um form of economic organisation".
But I wish he wouldn't be so nervous. This is a programme that goes out on Radio 3 at 11 o'clock at night. It is utterly splendid and another reason why radio is far superior to TV, but who's going to be listening? Apart from me, that is?Reuse content