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CLARIN

An End To Ideology? The Hidden Rise Of Political Pragmatism

From London to Latin America, the extremism featured on the news and political speeches in vogue belie the rise of pragmatism as the new dominant shaper of policy.

New London Mayor Sadiq Khan
New London Mayor Sadiq Khan
Rodolfo Terragno*

BUENOS AIRES - The world is changing so fast that the ideological divisions we've known are getting swept away. It's a reality that at least in our country, Argentina — and no doubt, others too — is rarely acknowledged.

It's not that ideologies are dead, or that history has ended, as they said after the fall of the Berlin Wall. What the ideologies of the 20th century sought was to establish how to best or most fairly distribute social assets, and that debate will continue for a good while. It is more the all-encompassing theory debate that is moribund; for beyond issues of distribution, fewer aim to give an answer to all social problems which had long provoked ideological confrontation with opponents.

The changes happening in the world today have even seeped into some of the ideologies that claim divine mandates.

In Iran, the ayatollahs who have installed a reactionary and repressive regime practicing misogyny in God's name. Yet in 2013, the country's then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prompted indignation at home when he was seen embracing, in sympathy, the widow of Hugo Chávez at the late Venezuelan leader's funeral. The clerics reminded him he could not touch any woman who was not his wife or immediate relative, including shaking hands or kissing on the cheek.

Three years later, in last month's general elections, Iranians voted in 14 female parliamentarians. They are young and exude rebelliousness. One of them is envisaging a revolutionary project, to abolish the laws obliging women to wear the hijab headscarves, which God supposedly expects women to wear for decency. The 14 legislators have in fact pledged to fight all discriminatory norms that turn a woman into her husband's or father's property.

In Qatar, another confessional state that follows the arch-conservative Wahhabi school of Islam, a generation of women is already occupying prominent positions in the state and private sectors. One is Ilham al-Qaradawi, a physicist of international standing now enjoying great prestige at home, and another, Aysha al-Mudahka, heads a top business incubation center.

Meanwhile, a man of Pakistani origin Sadiq Khan was just voted mayor of London, the first Muslim to lead a major Western capital.

The rise of Islamic extremism in the world does not contradict, but confirms this tendency. Terrorism is the last resort of those who seek, or have lost, power. ISIS wants to forge an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria because existing Islamic states no longer constitute an international threat amid the swing toward moderation even as the Tehran regime curbing its nuclear plans.

In France, the increasingly popular Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron has recently declared that he is both of the Right and the Left. He is conjugating, not dismissing, the ideologies.

Call him an iconoclast, but Macron believes the times of cosmic visions and dogmas are over. Today, conservatives can back pragmatic decisions that include key progressive elements — and vice-versa. The trend, says Macron, is in evaluating the merits of decisions taken in power, whatever the political affiliations of those taking them.

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French Economy Minister Emanuel Macron — Photo: Le Web

In its recent "prehistory," politicians like Tony Blair would describe this trend as "the third way." It is a perspective that denies supremacy to either state or market, promotes a deepening of democratic mechanisms and favors development plans combining interventionist and pro-market components.

The softening of ideologies can turn out to be good or bad, but for now the rules of the game are changing. Macron is not an exception. A recent poll in France for example shows that a third of all Socialist party voters opposed the building of more mosques in France, and more than half favors banning the Islamic veil in public spaces. These are postures usually associated in other countries with the right.

Another poll showed that between 40% and 50% of French under the age of 35 declare they are neither of the Left or the Right, and can evaluate policies from an independent position.

Here in Latin American, our country remains tied today to old ideological prejudices. Its political discussions are a reiteration of those that prevailed 50 or more years ago. For many, raising wages to maintain purchasing power is a "left-wing" argument. Cutting spending, necessarily, to reduce the budget deficit is on the other hand described as "right-wing." Privatizing firms is again described as right-wing, even when the state no longer knows how to run that firm. And so on.

Adopting a mixed economy, with elements of the Right and the Left, is less laborious and risky than facing the ire of fanatics forced to lift the veil of Islamic women. It is about replacing intellectual absolutism with serious thought and common sense. One can dissent over measures that may "fairly" or "unfairly" increase or reduce wealth in a particular sector, but we can already agree on so many measures that are of benefit to all of society. The truth has never been just one side.

*Rodolfo Terragno is a writer and the former Argentine Ambassador to UNESCO

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