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Is the US heading for catastrophe as the Age of Reason comes to an end?

Mention the Algarve to most people and they will think of beautiful beaches, tourist resorts and white-washed towns bathed in sun. But the Algarve is also home to one of the most important cockpits of history, the School of Navigation at Sagres, down on the most-westerly point of Portugal and Europe.

During an incredible explosion of energy in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Portuguese set out on voyages of discovery that shaped the modern world. Visit Sagres today and you are looking at the equivalent of Cape Canaveral, the launchpad for the Apollo space missions. Sagres, however, has had a much more dramatic impact on human history.

That is because explorers like Bartolomeu Dias and Ferdinand Magellan began the process of globalisation. It is the reason why a family in Brazil watch Netflix series scripted in California on Chinese-made TVs. It’s why you can board an airplane in Lisbon and be on the other side of the world a day later. For while those early voyages soon turned into a brutal campaign of conquest in Africa and the Indian Ocean, they paved the way for the global dominance of Western Europe and the spread of the ideas of the renaissance and the enlightenment across the world. So those Portuguese explorers who set forth in their tiny caravels into the unknown are ultimately why countries such as the USA, India, Australia and Canada are democracies today.

The concepts that flowed out of Europe: the use and celebration of the power of reason to achieve knowledge, freedom, and happiness proved so powerful that, after the fall of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Francis Fukuyama was able to declare in a book, published in 1992, that “the end of history” had occurred. Fukuyama argued that humanity had reached “not just … the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”.

Today that argument is beginning to look increasingly premature. However, the threat to liberal democracy comes not from Putin’s Russia, which remains essentially a third world economy dependent upon commodity exports, or even Communist China, which faces numerous problems, not least a declining population.

A return to the Dark Ages
The danger is far more dangerous because it comes from within the USA and the other great Western democracies. It can be found among those institutions that might be expected to champion the values of the Age of Reason, namely the great universities and other seats of learning. But the opposite is happening. Reason is giving way to hate, debate is being closed down and those with opposing views are declared heretics.

Does this sound far-fetched? I would urge anyone who thinks so to study what happened in Evergreen College, a higher education institution in the state of Washington in 2017. A small group of thuggish ideologues took control of the college. All this can be seen on YouTube.

The mob’s ire was directed in particular against an American biologist and evolutionary theorist, Bret Weinstein, a professor at the school who has spent much of his adult life campaigning against racism. He questioned some of the students’ demands and was effectively abandoned by his colleagues and the college authorities, too cowed to withstand the cultural revolution underway. In an echo of medieval witch trials, the accusation of racism alone was enough to convict Weinstein among the students and his peers. Even the police were unable to protect this thoughtful, mild-mannered man who, along with his wife, were driven from the college.

If you think this might be a one-off, I suggest you also watch a conversation between Weinstein and Joe Rogan, another ‘progressive’, in which they catalogue the madness that is infecting American academia. It is also available on YouTube.

In summary, hard-left ideology has taken such a grip on universities that scientists now meekly accept claims that (for many completely ludicrous treasons) maths and science are racist. The extremists recently “persuaded” their colleagues to partake in #ShutDownAcademia# and #ShutDownSTEM# (Science, Technology, Engineering and Media) days. The level of leftist indoctrination in North American universities is such that Chinese students now complain to professors that they did not expect to encounter these levels of propaganda!

Too late to save the US?
But, as Rogan eloquently explains, people do not like being told to shut up or that they are bigoted and stupid: “People will pick up their baseball bats and they will come after you, maybe today or tomorrow or they may wait for years until they think you have forgotten, but they will come to get you in the end.” So, the antics of the far-left feed the growth of the extreme right and vice versa. Watching Rogan and Weinstein calmly discuss how the US has become so polarised that a civil war is probable rather than possible is a very sobering experience.

The prospect of further civil strife is certainly very real and there are many potential flashpoints. If Trump is elected to a second term this November, it is hard to see his opponents politely clapping at the inauguration ceremony next January. And if Biden wins, will Trump’s supporters simply accept the result?

Moreover, an inferno is likely to consume America’s cities if the police officers alleged to have murdered George Floyd are found ‘not guilty’ at their trial scheduled to take place next March. Yet if they are convicted solely to appease the mob, America is also lost.

Now might well be the time to start adding gold, the physical variety rather than shares or ETFs in gold miners, to your portfolios. Swiss francs and Japanese yen may also prove a safe haven. Those traditional safe havens, US treasury bonds and the dollar, clearly have much less appeal against this background.

By Anthony Beachey
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Anthony Beachey is a former BBC World Service journalist now working on a freelance basis in Portugal, where he specialises in economics and finance.