The similarity is striking although I doubt if the parties in either case would thank me for pointing it out – and it is far more a matter of movements and sentiments than of personalities, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. But in both cases there are some features that are shared. The features are expressions of profound popular dissatisfaction with former leaders, and thus the political parties that they have led. In both cases, the old leaders and parties have been outflanked by anti-establishment movements, led by some highly colourful and indeed plausible characters. In both cases their assailants have pointed to sources of discontent apparently caused by people strange and foreign to their ways, and both have suggested that if elected they would cut loose from these constraints and lead the country to sunlit uplands of prosperity, freed from the unthinking and indeed ignorant controls of those residing over the border or beyond the seas.
Both movements have drawn their venom from a sense of popular discontent in the face of intellectually and even morally challenged administrations. Both suggest that their antagonists are beyond reason or repentance and that their foreign-inspired controllers are similarly irredeemable. Both therefore rely on distaste at what they oppose rather than the considered, well-thought out and well-presented aspects of their own programmes which tend to be simplistic and even crude.
Yes, they are beguiling, enticing, dangerous, rebellious and to their supporters, highly persuasive. They also have their explanations and excuses ready in the event of reverses, and woe betide anyone who ventures to question their credibility. But I find them both profoundly disturbing, for they rely more on grievance than clear programmes and both are ready to find scapegoats. Their appeals are to hearts which are themselves angered and even corrupted, vengeful and spiteful: and history has already been there and has given us its warnings. It may of course be unfair to compare our times with 1789 France, 1917 Russia or 1933 Germany: but the human capacity for resentment is almost limitless, and who is to say that if the lands of Moliere and Bizet, Beethoven and Schiller, Chekov and Tchaikovsky could succumb, then why not those of Burns and Scott, Purcell and Shakespeare?
As Christians, it is indeed for us to engage in fruitful discussion, reasoned and thoughtful, without giving way to emotionalism or antagonism. We may indeed be sensitive to other people’s feelings without having to underwrite them. We also can point to a better way, where forgiveness and resolution play the better part to bitterness and regret. What we are will surely come forth in what we say and how we communicate.
And which are the parties or movements? Didn’t I say … Oh dear, I must have forgotten that point.