The main theme of this issue is the breakdown of the European consensus in the face of, and manifested by, different brands of extremism. This is not the first time Inroads has addressed Europe’s crises. As portrayed on the cover of our Summer/Fall 2004 issue, the most acute of those crises was the difficulty of integrating Muslims. In Winter/Spring 2010, writing at the time of the British election that brought David Cameron to power, Ian Malcolm noted that the Tories and Labour were clambering over each other to keep up with a public that wanted cuts to immigration, worried by threats of “terrorism, ghettoization, forced marriages, honour killings, anti-Semitism, homophobia, pressure to veil, crime and demands to import shari‘a.” Yet, Malcolm added, European journalists, academics and politicians, fearful of being labelled racist, were still engaged in wishful thinking on immigration, so that it took an American, Christopher Caldwell, to lift the veil in his Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West.
Fast forwarding to now, there is no shortage of European opinion leaders who share what Malcolm depicted as Caldwell’s “implicit lament for old, conservative Europe, rich in tradition and self-confidence, a place that would have resisted the cultural challenge of Islam without hesitation.” There is nothing implicit in the argument by Éric Zemmour in Le suicide français, a much-discussed book published shortly before the murders at Charlie Hebdo, here reviewed by Philip Resnick. But most compelling are the laments of moderate Arab writers such as Mezri Haddad, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Kamel Daoud, which we have translated.
In Britain, Caldwell and Zemmour are given political voice by the United Kingdom Independence Party, which won 13 per cent of the vote in the May 7 election. The single seat captured by UKIP understates its impact, as it pushed both the Conservatives and Labour to be critical of open borders. In France Marine Le Pen’s National Front expresses a similar political tendency. But opposition to immigration is only one form the rejection of the postwar European consensus has taken. On April 28, The Independent of London claimed to have uncovered a loan to the National Front of €40 million (eight times its annual budget) from a bank with links to the Kremlin. The story went on to note,
Moscow has been building strong political – and allegedly financial – links with hard-right, nationalist parties all over the EU. There have been unconfirmed allegations in the United States that Moscow is funding the virulently xenophobic Hungarian party Jobbik and the avowedly neo-Nazi Greek party, Golden Dawn … While there have been no suggestions of Russian money going to UKIP, its leader Nigel Farage described Mr. Putin earlier this year as the world leader that he “admired most.”… Ms. Le Pen, who has made two visits to Moscow in 18 months, says that Mr. Putin is a “defender of the Christian heritage of European civilisation.”
We do not know just what Mr. Putin’s personal views are, but some insight is provided here by Ronald Beiner’s analysis of the ideas of Aleksandr Dugin, whom Foreign Affairs dubbed “Putin’s Brain.” How close he actually is to Putin is uncertain, but Dugin’s goal is nothing less than to unite all the global enemies of liberalism under Russian leadership, and to replace the current liberal dispensation with something virulently antimodern or premodern, a sort of fusion of totalitarian ideologies.
Finally, another kind of extremism is expressing itself on Europe’s Mediterranean shore. Grabbing the headlines are rickety boats full of would-be migrants, stoking the fear of uncontrolled immigration across the Mediterranean. But the threat cannot be separated from Europe’s economic woes. And these economic woes have given rise to what appears to be a different phenomenon in the south, Greece and Spain in particular, where parties on the radical left have surged.
Marc Sanjaume looks at Podemos, the Spanish anti-austerity party that has come from nowhere to challenge the established conservatives and social democrats in the polls. Sanjaume sets out Podemos’s program and prospects for next fall’s Spanish election, as well as its roots in the Indignados movement. Irene Martín Cortés, who wrote about the Indignados movement in our Winter/Spring 2013 issue, this time turns her attention to Greece and the history, program and hard choices of its anti-austerity party Syriza, which took power at the beginning of this year. Its predicament threatens the future of Greece and the European Union; its radical posture has antagonized its partners, placing into doubt the deal to bail out Greece’s debt. But it remains the favourite of Greek voters who, like Syriza’s leaders, cling to the hope of an arrangement that would allow it to at least appear to have kept its election promises. That enduring support says as much about the failure of the traditional parties of the centre-left and centre-right, both of which have governed in the years since the 2008 financial crisis and failed, as it does about Syriza.
In an important article in the Journal of Democracy, the journal’s founding co-editor, Larry Diamond, provides a wide-ranging analysis of what he calls the “Democratic Recession” that has accompanied the global economic downturn.1 The tide of democratization that Samuel Huntingdon called the “third wave,” which began with the collapse of Soviet Communism in the late 1980s and crested in 2006, is now receding. Since 2000 there have been 25 democratic breakdowns, as countries that enjoyed competitive elections and the rule of law regressed to dictatorship or military control. While 10 of the 25 have returned to the democratic fold, among the remaining defectors are significant actors relevant to this discussion. On Europe’s eastern front, Russia can no longer be classed as a democracy by any serious observer. Turkey is rapidly sliding toward authoritarian rule as the governing AKP subverts state institutions and President Erdoyan extends his personal powers to include punishment of media outlets that draw unflattering cartoons of his likeness.
In the face of the Western-inspired and Western-backed third wave, autocracies have evolved like strains of drug-resistant malaria. They have learned to mimic structures that gave Western institutions the ability to push for openness, press freedom and democracy. Thus, Russia’s RT television has all the professional presentation of the BBC – and the same disregard for facts and adherence to a party line of Fox News at the height of the Bush administration. Election-monitoring NGOs have sprung up in Russia and elsewhere with the sole function of rubber-stamping elections held by clients of Moscow.
This pushback against democratic institutions has accelerated in recent years as Russia endures the arrest, harassment and in some cases murder of opposition politicians, journalists and civil society activists. The inability of the domestic opposition or the West to respond to these attacks on what had been, for a brief bright moment, potentially universal human rights has emboldened autocrats like Putin. He is able to fund extreme-right parties around the world with impunity, and that leads to the heart of Diamond’s argument: democracy is under threat not only in Eurasia but also in the established democratic heartland of western Europe and North America. From a gridlocked Congress to deluded Texas governors declaring martial law to protect the Lone Star State from invasion by President Obama, there is not much to commend American governance structures. Mainstream European parties are seeing their support bases chewed up by extremists from the left and right, incapable of effectively defending the liberal, pluralist, social democratic structures that made them wealthy, successful and relatively equal.
Diamond concludes on a note of moderate optimism, noting that the receding tide hasn’t ebbed completely. People around the world continue to be inspired by the ideas of freedom and equality that underpin democracy. Autocrats who hold elections and claim to uphold principles of press freedom and judicial independence are demonstrating that democracy remains the only legitimate form of government. According to Diamond, we have not yet degenerated to the point that attacking those institutions is presented as acceptable or even positive.
We would like to share Diamond’s optimism, but what has been happening, as described in these pages, leaves us more pessimistic. As in the 1920s there is a weakness in the political establishment, left and right, that has led to a questioning, within Western democracies, of the legitimacy of our foundations. Europe is struggling with this hollowing out of its ideological heart, as the essays that follow illuminate in different ways. A question for readers on this side of the Atlantic is whether we offer any solutions or whether we will simply wait for this next, darker, tide to rise on our shores.
1 Larry Diamond, “Facing Up to the Democratic Recession”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 26, No. 1 (January 2015), pp. 141–55, retrieved here.