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Europe’s Right Turn?



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This article by Abigail R. Esman in The New Republic claims that Holland is becoming “a right wing nation, in some ways an inversion of its former self.” That “in some ways” leaves a lot of wiggle room. Esman’s article is a good summary of Holland’s rightward shift on immigration issues. But while Esman reports a slight paring back of the welfare state, it needs to be stressed that The Netherlands’ social liberalism is still largely unchanged. Esman’s own account is less about the rise of conservative parties than about the increasing conservatism of liberal Dutch parties, on immigration alone.

There is no doubt that the clash of Muslim and Western civilizations has come into its own as a problem within Europe. Look at this NYT piece, “Denmark is Unlikely Front in Islam-West Culture War.”

Compare it to Esman’s article (which mentions the Danish case), consider what’s just happened in France, and it’s clear that Europe has entered a new and intensified phase of cultural conflict. But this does not mean that France, Denmark, or Holland have given up either their social or economic liberalism. They haven’t.

The rise of internal cultural conflict and anti-immigration sentiment does, however, point to a profound dilemma for Europe. The emerging anti-immigration consensus would seem to say that Europe is turning right on at least this one crucial issue. But we can’t even say that, because Europe’s demographic crunch has yet to hit. What will happen when Europe’s Muslim/Western culture war runs up against a severe labor shortage? When Europe’s baby-boomers are languishing in understaffed retirement facilities and nursing homes, will sentiment against immigration still hold? Will Europe’s new conservatism spread to economic and social issues under pressure from the demographic meltdown? (I explore these questions in Demographics and the Culture War.)

It’s way too early to talk about an “inversion” of Europe from left to right. But I think we can say that a deep cultural-political inversion is at least possible. The tide of history may be about to turn (WFB take note). We won’t really be able to judge this, though, till the baby boomers are well into retirement.

By the way, here’s the latest on the Danish controversy from The Brussels Journal.



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