FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Europe steeps its TEA
Foreign politics are a tricky subject. While the broad strokes of politics can generally be understood the world over, when traditionalists battle leftists, and small government folk take on both, every country has its own exceptions, its own cultural taboos, and other factors that make it unique.
Our politics for example completely baffle your typical European. Our conservative movement has few like it in the world, because the colonies had as a practical matter limited government and federal autonomy from day one. Then we had a revolution which, unlike any other, didn’t actually throw off our elites, but rather secured their previous autonomy. As a result our right is different, and the way our Republican party operates just confuses and frustrates them. Likewise, when we try to decipher the right in Europe, we run the risk of drawing the wrong conclusions and getting disappointed.
That said, I think we’re beginning to see a real change in the politics of western Europe, and in the coming years we will see the rise of a right which we will recognize better, and be able to engage with on the pressing global issues of the day. It won’t be a TEA party as we know it, but it’ll be the best we can hope to see from Europe.
Our American difficulties in understanding European politics go back to the end of World War II, of course. Hitler’s rise and fall rocked the continent even more than Napoleon’s did. As Allied troops moved west from Stalingrad, north from Sicily and Salerno, and east from Normandy, Nazi occupiers and their national allies were washed away. In their wake, Social Democrats, open Socialists, and committed Communists claimed to be the only parties untainted by Fascism and Naziism, and so declared that they had the right to rule.
Of course in the east, the armies of Stalin, Tito, and Hoxha ensured that their respective Communist allies would rule behind the Iron Curtain. But in the west there was still liberty to oppose the socialists. The result was that the opposition to the far left centered on the remaining untainted parties, which tended to be centrist and/or moderate Christian parties.
Those formerly centrist parties became the defacto right, but they had to remain center-right, though. If they strayed further away, and opposed too hard the socialization of their countries, they would be branded ‘far-right’ and ‘fascist’ or ‘Nazi’, and either be banned outright or barred from ruling coalitions by the so-called cordon sanitaire*. And of course, people who grew up under the horrors of Nazi and Fascist aggression were naturally repelled by those accusations, and the center-right parties were kept in line.
I believe that’s now changing. In country after country in Europe, we’re seeing the rise of right wing parties that aren’t just fronts for fascism, and the voters are giving them a chance. They’re gaining votes, they’re swaying minds, and they’re even winning elections outright. I believe that, national specifics aside, we’re seeing the end of the post-war order.
People who grew up under Hitler’s Europe saw the Communists as the people with clean hands against the bloody fascist murderers, and so (unfairly) associated their right-wing foes with the vanquished fascists and Nazis. But people born after Hitler shot himself, they who then grew up under the threat of nuclear annihilation by Soviet missiles, and saw decades of bloody murder behind the Iron Curtain, have no reason to see the far left as having clean hands anymore. The old emotional pleas against the right lost their effectiveness.
So in Europe we are seeing old political orders overturned. Populist movements rise up which are able to carry right-wing messages. They get branded ‘far right’ but win anyway. Pim Fortuyn did it in the Netherlands with his own party list which toppled the major parties of the Netherlands, right up until he was shot to death [by a fringe leftist for his opposition to radical Islam]. Jörg Haider in Austria took the liberal Freedom Party and added populist social conservatism with great success. Christoph Blocher in Switzerland took over the center-right Swiss People’s Party and made it into a populist right party, and won so many votes he ended the decades-long Magic Formula of partisan harmony in the Swiss Federal Council executive elections. The Dutch-speaking Flemish Interest has aroused enough populist sentiment in its half of Belgium that we may see the country dissolved like Czechoslovakia was.
Now of course, populism means different things in different times and places. But what is this populist message we’re seeing in Europe? National pride instead of reflexive multiculturalism, opposition to an ever-growing EU, opposition to Islam and Turkish accession to the EU, a reduction of massive government subsidies to immigrants who come to feast at the taxpayer trough, and even some wacky ideas like a flat tax. Geert Wilders has gone as far as to praise the Judeo-Christian values, which is a rather bland statement in America but horrifying to the Euro left.
The right in Europe will not be a carbon copy of the TEA party in America and all its policy views, thanks to fundamental differences of the Anglo-American conservative tradition from the continental European liberal tradition. But we’ll see a lot of us in this new generation of European populists sick of paying for an ever-growing government in Brussels and tired of walking on eggshells around non-assimilating Muslims.
I do wish such movements would expand to Germany, where your choices are liberal or Christian Democrat, and France where statism and secularism have long prevailed. I’m glad of what I already see on the Continent, though. Our Global War on Terror against violent Jihadis is far from over, and if we have friends in Europe who see that clearly, then the West will be all the stronger.
* That’s not to say all parties that were cordoned off were innocent. Not at all. In Europe today you have parties like the Front National/National Front (France) and the Nationaldemokratishe Partei Deutschlands/National Democratic Party of Germany which are unashamedly racist and clearly design their appeals to be as fascist as they can without getting banned. I mean, when your party leader smiles and shakes hands with David Duke, there’s just no doubt left.
But again, as we Republicans well know, just because a socialist says you’re a racist and a Nazi, it doesn’t mean you are one. And as anyone who goes to a TEA party well knows, just because a few Nazis try to glom onto your mainstream gathering, it doesn’t make your gathering a Nazi rally. It is with that in mind that we have to look carefully at the so-called ‘far right’ in Europe, to distinguish the nationalist real right from the national socialist fake-right.
Seriously: Don’t let them tell you that every politician in Europe against the EU and mass Islamic immigration is some secret Nazi. Tell that to Fortuyn, who was openly gay and loved his country’s open culture, wanting to preserve it in the face of Sharia mongers. Tell it to Wilders, again, who embraces the Christianity that Hitler and Mussolini shoved aside. Tell it to Haider, whose party was denounced for daring to suggest that immigrants should have to speak German to be eligible for Austrian citizenship. Tell it to Blocher, who wanted to deport immigrant families convicted of violent crime, welfare fraud, or drug charges. Tell it to the Flemish Interest party who dares ask that immigrants gain citizenship before voting or running for office, or who wants to restrict abortion and encourage adoption. Tell it to a number of the above who want a flat tax, less regulation imposed from Brussels, and a mere maintenance of their national identity separate from the EU.
Don’t let the left bully you into believing such reasonable positions are fascist.