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W. H. Auden popularised the phrase ‘the age of anxiety’ in a long poem of that title published shortly after the end of World War II.

Auden’s poem touches on human isolation in a world that had suffered two devastating conflicts and forsaken much of the tradition and religious belief that sustained previous generations.

If the mid-20th century was an age of anxiety, nearly a quarter of the way through the 21st century we are mired in another angst-ridden age.

It’s not just that over the past four decades human isolation has increased, while our traditions have been further eroded, and religion, or at any rate Christianity, continues to recede.

At home and abroad we are confronted by dangers that have shattered the optimism of 25 years ago. Margaret Thatcher had seemingly reversed our long economic decline. The fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the Soviet Union’s ’empire of evil’, appeared to usher in a new, more benign, era.

If the mid-20th century was an age of anxiety, nearly a quarter of the way through the 21st century we are mired in another angst-ridden age, writes STEPHEN GLOVER (Stock Image)

If the mid-20th century was an age of anxiety, nearly a quarter of the way through the 21st century we are mired in another angst-ridden age, writes STEPHEN GLOVER (Stock Image)

The economic outlook is brighter than this time last year as inflation has fallen from over 11 per cent to 3.9 per cent, and the cost of <a href=living crisis is beginning to ease for some people (Stock Image)” class=”blkBorder img-share” style=”max-width:100%” />

The economic outlook is brighter than this time last year as inflation has fallen from over 11 per cent to 3.9 per cent, and the cost of living crisis is beginning to ease for some people (Stock Image)

How foolish we were. The historian Francis Fukuyama wrote a book called The End Of History, which foresaw the eventual universal triumph of liberal democracy. He forgot Immanuel Kant’s dismal dictum that ‘out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made’.

Am I being unduly pessimistic? It’s hard to think so, starting with our problems at home, despite the fact that the economic outlook is brighter than at this time last year.

Inflation has fallen from over 11 per cent to 3.9 per cent, and the cost of living crisis is beginning to ease for some people. Reductions in National Insurance take effect in a couple of weeks, and more tax cuts are almost certain to follow in the Budget next March.

The worst is probably over, and yet there are few grounds for optimism. The problem is that neither the Tories nor Labour have much of a plan for reviving our sclerotic high-tax, low- growth economy.

Indeed, it doesn’t take much imagination to fancy oneself back in the gloomy 1970s, when make-believe economics ruled. How amazing that some young people refuse to work in the office for more than three days a week! How shaming that junior doctors are gearing up for a damaging six-day strike to press their preposterous claim for a 35 per cent pay rise!

It’s true that the Tories look tired, fractious and bereft of new ideas. In normal circumstances they should be swept away to give someone else a chance. One only has second thoughts because the alternative is Sir Keir Starmer and Labour, who look tired and bereft of new ideas before they have even started.

The prospect of a Labour government compounding Tory errors of record high taxation and ever higher public spending — which inevitably lead to slow or non-existent growth — is infinitely depressing. I shuddered the other day when the Canadian author Jordan Peterson said that, if Labour are elected, Britain will be ‘like Venezuela for 20 years’.

In February 1974, the Tories narrowly lost to Labour, having made a hash of things. For the next five years Labour grappled with the problems that had defeated the Tories — and made an even bigger hash of things. I fear history will repeat itself until (one prays) a saviour emerges.

Maybe the electorate will wake up to the emptiness of Sir Keir Starmer, and the almost complete absence of talent on Labour’s front bench (I make an exception of Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting). But I’m not counting on it.

Abroad, the outlook is even worse. In fact, it’s a long time since this country was menaced by so many different perils on so many fronts.

Russia has scarcely yielded a yard of occupied territory despite Ukraine’s much-heralded spring offensive. Western powers are beginning to question the wisdom of arming Ukraine, and could abandon all support if the stalemate persists next year.

The worst is probably over, and yet there are few grounds for optimism. The problem is that neither the Tories nor Labour have much of a plan for reviving our <a href=sclerotic high-tax, low- growth economy (Stock Image)” class=”blkBorder img-share” style=”max-width:100%” />

The worst is probably over, and yet there are few grounds for optimism. The problem is that neither the Tories nor Labour have much of a plan for reviving our sclerotic high-tax, low- growth economy (Stock Image)

In that case there’ll be a shoddy peace treaty that will vindicate Vladimir Putin’s policy of seizing land by force. It won’t be the end of his aspirations in eastern Europe. If allowed to keep the territory it grabbed, Russia will represent an even greater danger to the West.

The Middle East may also be on the verge of a widening conflagration. On October 7 there took place the greatest slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust, with unspeakable acts of savagery committed by Hamas. Since then, even staunch supporters of Israel have been appalled by the killing of children in Gaza.

Sooner or later there will be a confrontation between Israel and Iran. It could be sooner. The Americans blame Iran for attacking a chemical tanker with a drone in the Indian Ocean last Saturday. Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have been using drones and rockets to target vessels in the Red Sea.

Meanwhile, China has become a superpower that could one day rival, or even surpass, the United States. A war over Taiwan may loom. China’s annual defence budget has almost tripled since 2010, and now stands at $293 billion (about £230billion).

By contrast, Britain’s defence budget has barely grown in real terms since 2010. In 2007, China’s spending on defence was roughly the same as ours. It is now more than four times greater. Believe it or not, as a result of financial mismanagement the cost of servicing the UK’s debt is about twice its defence budget.

Ours is an increasingly dangerous world, and yet the Tories refuse to raise defence expenditure by more than a sliver. Labour is just as bad. Our political class, far removed from the experience of war, and often having only a hazy knowledge of foreign affairs, appears incapable of comprehending the dangers that swirl around us.

So, yes, at home and abroad there are many good reasons for feeling anxious — and I haven’t even mentioned the threat of global warm- ing, which may be exaggerated but overshadows all our lives.

Yet despite everything I’ve said, I believe there is cause, if not exactly for optimism, then for gratitude, and a kind of hope.

I also remember that we are blessed to live in a country that is, at least for now, safe ¿ and more prosperous than at any time in its history (Stock Image)

I also remember that we are blessed to live in a country that is, at least for now, safe — and more prosperous than at any time in its history (Stock Image)

When I look at Ukraine, the Middle East and China, I reflect that our parents and grandparents lived through two horrendous world wars, and faced dangers and privations that dwarfed anything threatening us now.

I also remember that we are blessed to live in a country that is, at least for now, safe — and more prosperous than at any time in its history. We don’t, thank God, live in Gaza or Ukraine.

Too many of our politicians and senior civil servants may be second-rate or inept, and some of our institutions dysfunctional. When we search for it, there is a great deal that can distress us — and make us anxious.

And yet this is still a wonderful country — beautiful, peaceful and free — and it is our great good fortune to live in it. When everything has been said, that is what truly matters as we look ahead to troubled times.

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