In November 1989, five Oxford students boarded a ferry from Dover to Zeebrugge. The Berlain Wall had been breached and they were heading east. Eighteen hours later, remembers the Financial Times columnist Edward Luce, they were ‘driving at high speed to Berlin’, suffused with idealism and excitement. Soon they were chipping at the wall alongside thousands of others, relishing an ‘orgy of historic vandalism’. Progress had triumphed; the great motor of democratic capitalism had steamrollered the grand aberration of Marxist-Leninism. When Luce got back to Oxford, his tutor asked where he had been. In answer, Luce simply brandished his chunk of the Berlin Wall. Where is that chunk now? He has lost it. There’s a metaphor in that, surely.
For more sceptical readers, the title of Luce’s new book,The Retreat of Western Liberalism, may sound melodramatic. Yes, Donald Trump won the US presidency; yes, Britain voted to leave the European Union; yes, 34 per cent of French voters opted for Marine Le Pen in the final round of their