I suppose, for some, a football World Cup with England in the final four and Italy outside the starting 36 is enough evidence of civilisational collapse. But even thinking that is like starting a funereal eulogy with a joke and getting no chuckles. 

Even in the glory of summer, the free flowing beer, the football, the many opportunities to stop worrying and love the bomb, the dust from the collapsing walls around us is impossible to ignore for long.

The hopes of detente, of perestroika, of the End of History are now memories of a naive time described by a generation that inherited the bloodiest century of human history and hoped to pass on a better legacy.

It’s come to the point that it would be a welcome distraction to sit down with Gino Paoli’s four guys at a bar and share in the bitter disappointment of the veteran crushed idealist. After all in the world we live in, anyone slightly to the left of baby-eating fascists frankly despairs at the stampede without order and without a goal Western liberal democracies appear to be rushing into.

English nationalists that seem convinced they can revive the Empire by wearing top hats to the office are causing mayhem. They have been an amusing side-show since time immemorial, little old harmless Colonel Blimps. But that dangerous alloy of their fairy nostalgia with the anger of a disaffected proletariat is now a political hurricane knocking over the furniture and everything on it.

In those momentous words of Michael Gove on the eve of the Brexit referendum is the fuel on which these politics run: ‘we no longer trust experts’. Anti-intellectualism is a necessary ingredient for the success of fascism. There are always incompetent, rabid extremists with a vindictive world view and a simplistic program that involves the victimisation of a distinguishable sub-set of the community. But most of the time rabid extremists are considered as a bit of a humourless joke on the fringe of politics.

Sometimes they come to the fore. Because people, bored with conventional politics, frustrated by failures of conventional politicians, sceptical the years ahead could be better than the years behind, resort to the extremists, legitimise them and give them power in destructive frustration expecting very little apart from released satisfaction not unlike one gets out of smashing a glass in anger against the wall.

Someone like Matteo Salvini whose limited, parochial, infantile view of the world would have got him nowhere beyond fringe politics anytime since 1945 is now front and centre. He perverts the classic answer to the eternal democratic question: what should your leaders be like? Smart, culturally and intellectually miles ahead of you to anticipate problems you would never be able to solve and to make sure you can live the best possible life in a country run by people who can manage it well. 

Or maybe not.

Maybe we should have Boris Johnson instead. Or Matteo Salvini. Or the patron saint of intellectual shallowness, cultural obscurantism, and the grace of a Tasmanian devil, Donald Trump.

These men are the incarnate opposite of what you grew to expect of political leaders on the world stage. Their view of the world is inward looking, isolationist, hierarchical with themselves at the very top perched on a useless vantage point as in any case they are blind to the realities beyond what they can smell.

Leaders are of any use if they think differently from the rest of us. If we agreed with all they did, they’re as good as useless because we could do it ourselves in the first place. Leaders that are of any use earn our trust not because they do what we tell them to but because they convince us they are smart enough to know better how to do their job than we would be.

Fascists call that arrogance.

Fascists pervert popular will. Democracy is the act of choosing the best leaders. Fascists take that principle and twist it to mean the mob rules. Exploiting the fears of the crowd, ramping up prejudice, cashing in on myths rather than realities that need investigation and evidence to be determined, is no great political skill. It is certainly not leadership.

It is a fraud, a con, a sleight of hand as people are cheated out of their own future in exchange for the misguided satisfaction of seeing their wishes delivered upon.

In someone’s simplistic explanation of the way things work EU membership is blamed for all sorts of nuisances one lives with. Indeed international law, ‘foreign’ judges, global democracies where people of different skin colour, language and custom get to interfere in the perceived free will of an imagined national community is a classic target of fascists. When you see the British walk out of the European Parliament, remember when the Italians, the Japanese and the Germans walked out of the League of Nations with much pomp.

In someone’s simplistic explanation of the way things work immigrants are blamed for anything, for anything one is willing to accuse them of: unemployment, economic hardship, noise, disease. It is far easier to get behind a simple one-for-all solution to complex problems one does not have the intellectual inclination to understand than to support complex and partial solutions that refuse to perpetrate the deception that an ideal state of being can be reached in this life.

There’s a phrase I picked up when I was at school reading on revolutions: ‘immanentization of the escathon’. Learn it. It will do miracles to your social conversation. The escathon is the point of a religion: for Christianity it’s going to heaven, Judaism reaching the arms of Abraham, Buddhism Nirvana and so on. For religions the point occurs after one’s death. Perfection is reached after the end of a good life.

Revolutionary politics want to immanentize the escathon: promises perfection in our own life-time. Communists — the extinct breed that is less pleasant drinking company than Gino Paoli’s four — want to eliminate the bourgeoisie, bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat and that, as sure as Christians are about heaven, will be followed by a perfect day when the socialist sun will rise on a just and equal society. Well the people who believe that are now no longer around.

But fascists are trendy again. They too propose to eliminate some group: Jews, blacks, political deviants who do not subscribe to their view of the world. They speak of bringing power home making government a local shop for local people. We want no foreigners here. When that happens, they promise, America will be great again, Britain will be free, Italy asserts itself again. A white man’s mythical golden age will be revived and all will be well.

For fascists the End of History is a myth. They’re right. And yet they promise it is around the corner.

It is no comfort that seeing all this from Malta is no longer a spectator sport. Democracy has been redefined for us as well. As has the expectation of what a leader should be like.

Is a football game long enough to stop worrying and love what’s happening to your world now?