The Wave

In the video clip below, a Euronews reporter tries to get a combative Steve Bannon to explain the phenomenon of populism. Bannon had been touring Europe as an observer and was in a way the natural person to ask. The resulting exchange is an entertaining, even enlightening exposition of Bannon’s interpretation of recent events — but is his analysis correct?


Is the reporter’s vague notion of populism as a regressive international conspiracy to revive the nation state or an atavistic return of the worst impulses of the 1930s spot on? Or is Steve Bannon correct in defining populism as largely a reaction to the diktat of the elites? Nothing new, simply derivative and merely the negative of “the party of Davos”? Or was the upheaval driven by deeper historical forces — a notion that Bannon toys with at the very end of the interview, where he muses on it as a kind of necessary prelude to humanity’s great technological challenges which the sclerotic global world order is unable to face?

There’s no reason to think Bannon, despite his connection to events, has the right insight, though he might. The combativeness of Bannon (which he calls his “house style”), Trump or Farage has misled many of their critics into thinking these individuals are the source of the upheaval — that they are in charge — when they may just be surfing the wave. Maybe no one knows the true significance of recent events, though to Bannon’s credit he is trying to formulate an answer.

The big mystery is what caused the Wave of 2016. That remains the big unsolved question, important not merely for academic purposes. Future actions may depend on the answer, for the Wave is probably yet to run its course. There is no full explanation as yet for what destroyed the mighty Global World Order, leaving us somewhat like those stock characters in science fiction contemplating the ruins of an unimaginably powerful civilization, yet realizing that something destroyed them:


According to records accessed by James Holden on Ring Station, the galaxy-spanning alien civilization responsible for the creation of the protomolecule, Rings and the Slow Zone was destroyed by an unknown agency. This mysterious force demonstrated the ability to neutralize the civilization’s hive-mind or collective consciousness, and as its influence spread throughout the galaxy the civilization was forced to resort to extreme measures, destroying entire solar systems in a bid to stem the “infection.”

The comparison between the crumbled world order to a ruined sci-fi civilization is not entirely fanciful. At the end of the 20th century, some thought we had actually reached the End of History.  Yet two decades later, as Robert Kagan wrote in his Washington Post article “Things Will Not Be Okay,” the great global edifice was smashed beyond repair. Kagan lamented:

The democratic alliance that has been the bedrock of the American-led liberal world order is unraveling. At some point, and probably sooner than we expect, the global peace that that alliance and that order undergirded will unravel, too. Despite our human desire to hope for the best, things will not be okay. The world crisis is upon us.

Perhaps not since the Sea Peoples has there been such a mystery.

The world crisis is undoubtedly upon us, though perhaps not in the way Kagan thinks.


Yet so far the liberal world order has made no serious intellectual effort to understand the Wave, leaving the task to late-night comedians. They have preferred to depict it as the product of subhuman, bigoted minds whose feeble arguments can be contemptuously dismissed by symbolically floating rubber blimps over London; or by falling back on explanations such as Nazism, despite the fact we are in the wrong century, without a recent world war, in the middle of an economic boom and the beneficiaries of too many decades of politically correct instruction for that thesis to be easily accepted.

Conservative authors like Salena Zito have written books trying to make sense of the subject, in contrast to the disdain with which many liberal intellectuals have treated it. Yet the Wave can be nothing so vaporous and haphazard as their contempt conveys, judging by the effects that it has wrought.

Suppose the Wave is not Nazism but something else we’ve never seen before. That is a prospect we ought to be prepared to entertain, even if the Euronews reporter cannot.

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The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. This book reveals the forces driving the reinvention of our lives and our economy. As the full impact of digital technologies is felt, we will realize immense bounty but also experience wrenching change. Professions of all kinds – from lawyers to truck drivers – will be forever upended. Companies will be forced to transform or die. Recent economic indicators reflect this shift: fewer people are working, and wages are falling even as productivity and profits soar. Drawing on years of research and up-to-the-minute trends, MIT’s Brynjolfsson and McAfee identify the best strategies for survival and a new path to prosperity.


Open Curtains: What if Privacy were Property not only a Right, by George Spix and Richard Fernandez. This book is a proposal for bringing privacy to the internet by assigning monetary value to data. The image of “open curtains” is meant to suggest a system that allows different degrees of privacy, controlled by the owner. The “curtains” may be open, shut, or open to various degrees depending on which piece of data is being dealt with. Ultimately, what is at stake is governance. We are en route to control of society by and for the few rather than by and for the many, because currently the handful of mega tech companies are siphoning up everyone’s data, for nothing, and selling it. Under the open curtains proposal, government would also pay for its surveillance in the form of tax rebates, providing at least some incentive for government to minimize its intrusions … (from a review by E. Greenwood).

Skin in the Game, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In his new work, Taleb uses the phrase “skin in the game” to introduce a complex worldview that applies to literally all aspects of our lives. “Never trust anyone who doesn’t have skin in the game. Without it, fools and crooks will profit and their mistakes will never come back to haunt them,” he says. In his inimitable style, he pulls on everything from Antaeus the Giant to Hammurabi to Donald Trump to Seneca to the ethics of disagreement to create a jaw-dropping tapestry for understanding our world in a brand new way.


For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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