Rubert Russel makes convincing arguments about the unravelling of the ideals of equality and rule of law and their replacement with illiberal manifestations of popular will.
There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the old certainties still apply: social progress and political freedoms are the result of struggle. That is – political struggle.
Unfortunately, that’s also the bad news. What many people thought were the new certainties – that democracy and capitalism could be relied upon to provide endless peace, rights and freedom – have been shown to be illusions. It was always a dubious claim, but now, in many previously liberal countries social progress is being rolled back and political freedoms are being trampled on by illiberal, democratically-elected capitalists.
Most visible are the Trumps, Modis, Netanyahus, Urbans and Erdogans of this world – demagogues whose ability to exploit fear and violence for political ends is matched only by the ego-infested conviction of their own irreplaceability.
In Freedom for the Wolves (2017), Rupert Russel has delivered a filmic essay that unveils the sources of illiberal democracy today. Yes, Russel says things are in fact pretty bad and, yes – there are far more wolves out there than you think. And, yes: there is an explanation.
«If the freedom that matters to us is the freedom to shop, then we will not be particularly bothered if the political process is being hijacked by wolves.»
The documentary is divided into four parts: «Embracing Freedom» – focusing on the democracy protests of Hong Kong’s umbrella movement; «After the Revolution» examines the return of the deep state in Tunisia after the Arab revolutions; «Illiberal Democracy» directs attention to the rise of BJP and Hindu nationalism and its implications for Indian politics; «The Personal is Political», which looks at a (bizarre and not well explained) crack-down on youth culture in Japan; and «Freedom for Sale» –, an examination of money and politics in Trump’s America.
Russel delivers a good global overview of the rise of illiberal democracy. This comes by way of the lines being drawn in Hong Kong, the post-revolutionary failures of the only ‘success’ of the Arab revolutions in Tunisia and the patently murderous Hindu nationalism incubated under India’s present president Modi. There is no attempt to compare. Each is examined in their own right. Savants will no doubt pick out inaccuracies, but Russel makes clear and convincing arguments about the unravelling of the ideals of equality, respect, coexistence and rule of law and their replacement with illiberal manifestations of popular will.
The more sophisticated philosophical side of the argument is conveyed by clips of three men – all US professors – which provides the unfortunate impression of a ‘manel’ – an all-male panel (there are many women interviewed in the films case studies). For me, Harvard professor Orlando Pattersen, however, is the star. Patterson is both clear and to the point (although the sound track, which was a bit incessant and tended to drown out the talking heads at times). Patterson is the author of Freedom in the Making of Western Culture (1991), and Russel makes use of him to repeatedly pull the threads together and give the narrative of the film analytical impact.
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