Since 2016, elections and political developments globally have contained consistent disappointments for liberals of all stripes.
With democracy in open retreat, NATO reportedly in crisis, and autocrats gaining power and international legitimacy in states like Hungary and Poland, the debate around the future of the liberal international order and democracy itself has focused heavily on the rise of right-wing nationalists and the dangers they pose.
The focus on the nationalist right has been well deserved: the likes of Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban, and many others are a clear and present danger to the future of liberalism, both domestically and abroad.
Treating this as a nearly exclusive right-wing phenomenon, however, has allowed the dangers posed by far-left politicians to fly relatively under the radar.
The rise of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn in their respective countries, coincidentally the largest contributors to NATO, would be an even greater threat than their current domestic right-wing counterparts.
For British readers, Corbyn’s long-time extremism is old news – and far too extensive to list here. His greatest hits list would perhaps include his strong opposition to NATO, describing both Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends”, attending a memorial ceremony in Tunisia for the perpetrators of the Munich massacre of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics, and inviting two convicted IRA terrorists to parliament shortly after the group attempted to assassinate Margaret Thatcher.
To his credit, Sanders does not have this extensive a history of supporting terrorists. However, he remains a genuine, old-school leftist radical who shares Corbyn’s soft spot for dictators.
Having publicly sided with Fidel Castro over President Kennedy, defended Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega, and expressing his desire to dissolve NATO and create a new military alliance that would include Russia, a Sanders presidency would be enormously tumultuous to the world order.
For both Corbyn and Sanders, it’s clear that autocracy in defence of socialism is no vice.
In many ways, liberals may have got lucky that the populist who barnstormed the system in the American 2016 election was Donald Trump, who has not been much of an ideologue when it comes to international issues.
His overt admiration of autocrats has indeed been troubling, and his criticisms of NATO have been enormously damaging to the alliance according to a recent report by the Harvard Kennedy School, which declared the alliance to be in crisis.
However, he has been surprisingly strong on other issues. For instance, the president has been leading the charge in pushing for the transition to democracy in Venezuela, a country whose socialist ideology Sanders has compared to the American dream, and whose dictator Corbyn hasn’t even pretended to distance himself from.
Despite Trump’s clear admiration for President Putin, even he outstrips Sanders and Corbyn in terms of standing up to Russian aggression in comparison: Russia joining NATO is a non-starter for this presidency as it would likely collapse the alliance entirely.
The United States has followed through on its commitment that chemical weapons use in Syria would not be tolerated, something that the previous administration was unwilling to do, instead ceding enormous ground and international legitimacy to Putin.
While President Trump joined Theresa May and other European leaders in expelling more than 100 Russian diplomats collectively, more than 60 from the United States alone, in response to the attack by Russian agents on former spy Sergei Skripal, Corbyn found himself unable to condemn Moscow for its responsibility in the attack.
Given the current threat posed by Russia and an increasingly aggressive China, our democratic and military alliances will become more important than ever.
In particular, the United Kingdom and the United States will play a critical role in the future of the alliance, democracy, and western liberalism writ large.
Having leaders who openly court autocrats, are unable to stand up to Russian aggression, and want to tear down these alliances is a recipe for disaster.
The fastest and most thorough way that this demise could come about is a Sanders presidency, partnered with a Corbyn premiership. While recent polls show Sanders struggling to break through his 22 other Democratic opponents, his potential nomination should not be ruled out at such an early stage.
More likely to occur, however, is a Corbyn premiership. With Theresa May stepping down on 7 June as leader of the Conservative party, and shortly thereafter as Prime Minister, Labour has been vocally calling for a fresh general election.
Given the results of the recent European elections, the chance of a Corbyn premiership is far from impossible. While many dismiss the Brexit party’s surge as unlikely to be repeated in future elections, Nigel Farage has warned that his party will stand in every consistency at the next general election.
This is not something to be taken lightly. The Brexit party’s recent performance indicates that they are a serious threat in siphoning off votes from otherwise Conservative-leaning areas.
Going forward, we all must be attuned to the threat that illiberal politicians on the left pose to the future of liberalism and democracy. This is not to suggest that the right should get a free pass, quite the opposite.
That said, it would be an enormous and ironic tragedy if the liberal order was to survive through the current and past age of right-wing populists only to be killed off by the far left.
Liberals must recognise this threat, and prepare as such.