As John Fund notes in his piece (on the home page) on Austria’s election, the right’s success (including a strong showing for the populist Freedom Party and a shift to the right within the establishment-right People’s Party) is yet another consequence of Angela Merkel’s decision (fueled, in my view, mainly by panic, arrogance and narcissism) to throw open the doors of her country to nearly a million people (a mix of refugees and economic migrants) in 2015.
Christian Kern, the left-wing Social Democratic chancellor of Austria, lost his job because of his own party’s involvement in opening Austria to 75,000 new migrants. Germany borders Austria, and many refugees and economic migrants entered Germany through Austria, with 75,000 remaining.
In the Financial Times, Tony Barber frets that the “challenge of how to contain Europe’s radical right continues”.
Well, one place to start might be for centrists to start acting like centrists. You have to live in a very tough little bubble to believe that a largely uncritical belief in the virtues of mass immigration, multiculturalism and the EU’s ‘ever closer union’ is anything other than radical.
Meanwhile, at the end of a recent and characteristically wide-ranging article (it’s well worth your time) in the New Statesman, John Gray observes:
Demolishing national and cultural identities makes moral and political sense if – and only if – the result will be better than the liberal societies that have actually existed. Yet these societies are highly fragile settlements, regularly disrupted by war and economic crisis. Today they are also threatened by [a ‘liberal’] ideology that wages war on their past. Societies that repudiate their historic inheritance in this way leave themselves defenceless against the dark forces that are now re-emerging. As George Santayana might have put it were he alive today, those who deconstruct the past are condemned to repeat it.
Brendan O’Neill responds to the Austrian election over at Spiked. I don’t agree with everything O’Neill has to say on this, but he is right to identify the Freedom Party’s success with the “failure of the mainstream, especially the left mainstream, to connect with people’s concerns about cultural and existential issues of nationhood, democracy and migration in the 21st century”. I don’t think that’s the whole story (Austria is Austria and the Freedom Party has, as O’Neill notes himself, been a force for quite some time), but it’s a significant part of it.
Austria makes two things clear. First, that the much-discussed ‘end of populism’, which became a huge, excitable talking point following Macron’s victory in France, is a fantasy. Populist politics and parties aren’t going away, because the questions they raise, or at least the public concerns they tap into, are still there, bristling, unresolved. What does Europe stand for? Who should decide on issues such as mass migration? Isn’t democracy preferable to technocracy? And why should I vote for politicians who have nothing but disdain for my way of life, my values, and my right to have a say? People will keep asking and thinking these things.
And the second thing it makes clear is the utter failure of the left to understand, engage with, and possibly even mould or lead the populist feeling in Europe right now. Across the continent, ballot-box revolts are taking place, against Brussels and against the old politics, and many on the left can only say: ‘This is dangerous and racist.’ They’ve thrown their lot in with the status quo, meaning the right can clean up, reaching out to a rebellious, anti-establishment spirit that the left foolishly fears and even wants to destroy.
That’s too narrow. There’s a ‘populism of the left’ that’s rising too, most notably, perhaps, in Greece (Syriza), the UK (Corbyn’s Labour), France (Melenchon) and Germany (Die Linke), and not just there. It may be fueled by a different mix of discontents, but it might well turn out to be no less of a harbinger of turbulence ahead.