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Doomerism is as addictive as it is contagious - but 2022 saw liberal values persevere

This was a year which laid bare the absolute importance of defending values that were hard won, once revolutionary, and far from frivolous

Yuletide is supposed to be a time of warmth and reflection. In dark times, the glow of fairy lights illuminates the path forward. Even a secular Christmas cannot help but take on a spiritual resonance. And the year – no matter what it brought – is capped off with conviviality and optimism.

If all of that is supposedly the true meaning of Christmas, then we may as well not even have bothered to celebrate this year: 2022, like 2021 and 2020, has had its challenges. And the deluge of year-end meditations on the inevitable collapse of democracy and the liberal Western order have made sure we don’t forget it. Not to mention doomsday prophecies about the climate and anxious hand-wringing about the social fabric of the United States, of Britain, of Ireland, of almost everywhere.

Weren’t we, after all, promised a return to the good times? Following two years of weathering the pandemic, the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom at least promised to “Build Back Better”. But instead, the winter has been cold, the far-right’s influence in Europe creeps up, the amorphous and indefinable culture war rages on, and everyone is a victim. Christmas cheer? What is there even to celebrate?

Or so we are told. Doomerism is as addictive as it is contagious. “Western liberalism is still skating on thin ice,” one piece in the Financial Times stated. “The liberal order is already dead,” said another in UnHerd. Blind faith optimism is foolish, and realism of course is important. But talking with such fervour about the end of the world as we know it might just hasten its arrival.


The year about to end certainly stress-tested the strategic, diplomatic and moral infrastructure of the Western alliance. But rather than revealing its weakness or shallowness, it proved its robustness and depth. At the end of this year, as we look to 2023, I think it is the perfect time to feel optimistic about the future of liberal democratic values.

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was supposed to prove Russia’s might over its weaker neighbour. He saw it as an opportunity to exploit the totally disordered Western alliance, or to prove that it never truly existed in the first place. A swift Russian victory would have undermined faith in the international order, and put a feather in the cap of the Continent’s so-called strongmen.

But it did not come to pass – at least not yet. It seems Putin called the shots wrongly, not expecting Ukraine to react with such patriotism and zeal, helmed by a genuinely inspiring leader. Volodymyr Zelenskiy successfully proved that if his Western allies could provide his army the support it needed, he could stave off an encroaching Russia. The Russian military’s view that no one would fight for or fund Ukraine turned out to have been a costly mistake. And for now, rather than undermining the West’s alliance, there is every sense that Putin has proven its worth. Perhaps he has even re-energised the project.

It is not just the resilience of Ukraine that gives cause for optimism. Ireland accepted record breaking levels of Ukrainian refugees; Finland and Sweden’s pledges to join Nato show the alliance is not stagnant; sanity prevailed over Liz Truss and her economic lunacy; Donald Trump’s minnows failed in the US midterms; the Iranian women’s defiance against the extremist regime has perhaps been the most inspiring story of the entire year.

So no, 2022 was not the year of the thug, or the strongman, or the conspiracy theorist, or the celebration of violent anarchy over all else that matters. It was a year that tested the world against all of those things, and found them coming up short. It was the year that exposed their shallowness. And it was a year which laid bare the absolute importance of defending values that were hard won, once revolutionary, and far from frivolous.

But of course stories of catastrophe and fire and brimstone have always been captivating; often they are irresistible. And faced with the difficulties of the past few years – which were not trivial – it is perfectly understandable to seek comfort in the narrative of inexorable decline.

But the bad thing about pessimism is that it is deterministic. That quality, incidentally, is the good thing about optimism. One way to ensure inexorable decline is to assume it is already happening. But such an assumption is unlikely to make us any more capable of fighting back. One way to ensure the longevity of our values, to defend and cheer for them, is to have faith in their future. This year gave us every reason to take that route.

So as we peer over the horizon and look to 2023 we might well see dark clouds forming – many a hangover from the year before. But if we take any message from this year it must be that the clouds are far from all-consuming. And that the sun, against all odds, still manages to shine through.