Our world is in tumult. If you're looking for the sources of the disruption, Jonathan Freeland writes that you'll find them in the 1990's. The '90's seemed like a placid decade, when conflicts were resolvable:
If it wasn’t FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela sealing the end of apartheid in South Africa in the early 90s, it was a bleary-eyed group of nationalists and unionists reaching the Good Friday agreement in Belfast in 1998. For a while, even the most intractable conflict seemed within reach of resolution, as the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, shook hands on the White House lawn in 1993.
In much of the west, the 90s was the decade when the previous – and future – sense of constant geopolitical danger receded. Francis Fukuyama declared “The End of History”, as if all the big conflicts were now resolved and liberal democracy triumphant. Making his point, we soon became diverted by smaller, less fateful concerns.
But history never ends. It's always being made. And it's in the quiet times that tectonic shifts begin to take shape. In the decade before World War I, soothsayers were predicting a glorious Age of Human Progress. The storm, however, was just underneath the surface. So it was in the '90's:
Take Brexit. The 90s saw the birth of Euroscepticism as a serious political force, galvanised in part by Black Wednesday – Britain’s ejection from the exchange rate mechanism – in 1992. Ukip was founded in 1993, but more important was the continuing rebellion in parliament against the Maastricht treaty, which began that same year. Both the new party and the Tory rebels were dismissed at the time as cranks, but their fight would not rest until they had recorded their victory in June 2016.
Similarly, the 1990s saw the birth of New Labour. The trajectory is complicated, but two dynamics might be relevant. The first is that the election of Jeremy Corbyn was, in part, a reaction against the centrist project shaped by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in that decade. But more subtly, as Labour began to look and sound more metropolitan, more middle class, many of its longtime working-class supporters felt steadily more remote – an estrangement that culminated in large swaths of traditional Labour territory voting leave.
Beyond these shores, the 1990s saw the birth of the internet and, with it, globalisation in its contemporary form. Millions would benefit, but millions would also be left behind – including many of those who voted for Brexit and elected Trump.
All of this happened when history supposedly ended.
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