Without community, politics is dead. But communities have been scattered like dust in the wind. At work, at home, both practically and imaginatively, we are atomised.
As a result, politics is experienced by many people as an external force: dull and irrelevant at best, oppressive and frightening at worst. It is handed down from above rather than developed from below. There are exceptions – the Sanders and Corbyn campaigns, for instance – but even they seemed shallowly rooted in comparison with the deep foundations of solidarity movements grew from in the past, and may disperse as quickly as they gather.
It is in the powder of shattered communities that anti-politics swirls, raising towering dust-devils of demagoguery and extremism. These tornadoes threaten to tear down whatever social structures still stand.
When people are atomised and afraid, they feel driven to defend their own interests against other people’s. In other words, they are pushed away from intrinsic values such as empathy, connectedness and kindness, and towards extrinsic values such as power, fame and status. The problem created by the politics of extreme individualism is self-perpetuating. Conversely, a political model based only on state provision can leave people dependent, isolated and highly vulnerable to cuts. The welfare state remains essential: it has relieved levels of want and squalor that many people now find hard to imagine. But it can also, inadvertently, erode community, sorting…