I think I'll keep up the habit of posting essays until things calm down a bit. This one is a bit dated, but see what you think:
The Return of the King by Benjamin Kerstein
The Slow Death of European Democracy
A great poet once wrote, “So this is how the world ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.” The rush of events that has heralded the past twelve months in the United States and in the world at large have often seemed dizzyingly Apocalyptic. After a decade of normalcy we are suddenly faced with a world ripping itself apart at the seams. We have begun to speak of a clash of civilizations and values; one centered most of all on the threat posed by terrorism and the rise of tyrannous theocracy throughout large swaths of the globe. This narrow conceptualization is not entirely justified, for other, equally threatening clouds are emerging on the geopolitical scene, and it does not behoove us to neglect such warnings, even those of poets. The phenomenon most demanding of sustained attention is the state of affairs on the European continent, especially the Social Democratic states of Western Europe, in which anti-democratic forces are approaching a state of critical mass that may yet prove as disruptive and dangerous to American security and freedom as Osama Bin Laden’s mindless minions. For something like creeping totalitarianism is emerging in Europe, and the continent that cradled Western civilization is showing ominous signs of descending into another of its periodic epidemics of collective psychosis and destruction.
It must be remembered, first and foremost, that democracy in Europe is a relatively new phenomenon. Most continental European countries have existed for well over five centuries in something like their current forms, with democracy an unknown factor until the last half-century. Of the more newly constituted nations, democracy existed as an experimental moment that quickly gave way to the twin totalitarianisms of communism or fascism. The cathartic effect of the Second World War complicated matters, bringing Western Europe into the orbit of the United States and Eastern Europe under the heel of the Soviet Union. The result was a network of Western European states that practiced something resembling what was originated in England under the moniker of the “mixed economy”, a hybrid of parliamentary democracy and economic Socialism whose schizophrenic soul skittered uneasily along the fault lines of the Cold War. With the end of the Soviet threat, the Hydra of globalization and the formalization of the European Union seemed to promise the coming of a New Europe, one divorced from both the fratricidal wars of the pre-bellum period and the American economic alliance of the antebellum era. Europe would now compete with America economically and on the world geopolitical scene as a renewed and vibrant force, not a doddering old fossil unable to function without American life support.
The threat that such historical forces posed to the existence of democracy in Europe was disregarded in the headlong rush to effect “the end of history”, a millennialist vision of the final cessation of human conflict through the creation of interlocking world government and economic systems; the prototype of the former being the United Nations, and the second the European Union. Neither concept has worked out to the satisfaction of its visionaries. The world government idea has proven impractical and unworkable, as the United Nations has descended into mindless racism and corruption, and the European Union has struggled to pay its own bills, let alone compete with the United States. The failure of both these messianic concepts, not as spectacular but equally as portentous as the failure of the League of Nations, is producing a Europe in a state of metastasizing discontent, with a population growing older, economies shrinking, unemployment seemingly insurmountable, and democratic institutions giving way to petty beaurocratic systemization.
While seemingly aberrational, this should be surprising to no one, it is little more then a return to the normal European state of affairs. The mistaken duality that conceptualizes a world divided between developed and undeveloped societies is a highly deceptive one. The world is in fact divided between functional and non-functional societies. Viewed in these terms, recent developments in Europe are very disturbing indeed, for they point to a society becoming more dysfunctional by the minute.
In order to understand the workings of this phenomenon it must be remembered that democracy is a method, not a system per se. It cannot rule in sovereign solitude. Around a democracy must exist the edifice of a civil society, a common civil culture, the intricate, often paradoxical web of law and tradition without which democracy is as insubstantial as a wisp of smoke in a raging gale. Whereas for Americans (or Britons or Israelis for that matter) republican or parliamentary democracy is a sacred trust, a system sanctified by law and custom, for many other states democracy is a semi-desirable means to an end, be it social justice, equality, state-controlled economics, personal/sexual freedom or a sundry other well-meaning or not so well meaning goals. Value in such nations is placed not on the method as a value in itself, but on the nature of the society molded in its image, whose first duty is to be satisfactory to the values of said culture’s leading ideologists. This basic schism in political totems is being exacerbated by core economic/sociological/demographic differences between Europe and the US, for the great paradox of modern civil governance is this: the mechanism and the goal cannot exist independent of each other. Without the one the other collapses. A functional society without democracy is a house of cards, totalitarianism waiting to happen.
It was the Nobel Prize winning economist Freidrich Hayek who first noted the essential similitude of Communism and Nazism, and postulated the theory that state economic control leads inexorably and inevitably to political totalitarianism. It is worthwhile to start here in our discussion of the state of European affairs, and particularly with Hayek’s postulation that the German people were most prepared to accept the doctrines of Nazi state totalism due to their previous experience with economic Socialism.
Of the major states of the European Union, nearly all are democracies of one kind or another, mostly Parliamentary with a system based on proportional representation and a fairly weak executive. Almost all of them are coalition governments, with one or two major parties sharing power with a host of smaller ones. Nearly all of these coalitions, it is important to note, are center-Left in nature, encompassing a moderately Liberal party and several more extreme coalition partners. (To this rule Italy is currently the major exception, although we shall return to that later.) In France and Austria, this status quo has been threatened by the emergence of ultra-nationalist Right Wing parties, usually centered around nativism and a less then condemnatory view of the Nazi era. The response of the political establishment to these movements has been largely ineffective and counterproductive, dismissing legitimate grievances as racism and making dangerous concessions on seemingly less momentous issues. On the part of the more extreme Left, the reaction has been violence, both in rhetoric and action. This culminated in the recent assassination of Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn, whose murder was a watershed in European politics, and a dangerous indication of coming trends.
Fortuyn was a homosexual, a sexual and economic Libertarian who believed first and foremost in the Liberal legacy of Dutch politics and culture. The caricature of him as an anti-immigrant demagogue is inaccurate and misleading, his politics were complex, but first and foremost he was concerned with the upheavals in society caused by his countries extremely open immigration and welfare system. One of the consequences of a “mixed economy” is a state of stagnant economic growth, one in which the growing demands upon the modern welfare state cannot be easily met by the working population. This necessitates the creation of an immigrant laboring class, in the European countries mostly culled from the nations of Africa and the Middle East. The assimilative tendencies of these groups have not proven to be high, and even in countries where immigrant groups are economically successful, these is little mixing with the native population, resulting in what are, in effect, multicultural nations in the worst sense of the word, a Balkanized Europe with native populations with their shared history and culture on one side, and a smaller but no less coherent sub-culture co-existing in a separate and not particularly comfortable tension with the host society. Many aspects of the these sub-cultures are already showing signs of clashing, not merely with the nativist tendencies of some native Europeans, but with the liberal, pluralistic values cherished by those nation’s political cultures, ironically, the very tradition that brought mass immigration to Europe in the first place. Nowhere has this been more pronounced, and in Fortuyn’s ideology it was paramount, then in the conflict between Western Liberalism and fundamentalist Islam.
The brand of fundamentalist Islam now metastasizing across the Middle East is fundamentally opposed to Western Liberalism in nearly every aspect; Liberalism believes in the pursuit of truth through reason, Islamism in the revelation of truth through the Koran; Liberalism believes in equality between the sexes, Islamism places women in a subservient and inferior societal position; Liberalism believes in democratic government through consent of the governed, Islamism believes in something approaching a theocratic fascism, with the Koran as the final arbiter of justice. On such questions as homosexuality and the treatment of religious and racial minorities, Islamism is quite literally medieval, and it was this that frightened Fortuyn and his followers, and gave urgency to his ideology. This ideology, critical of large-scale mass immigration and skeptical of the assimilative capacities of historically homogeneous European states, has begun to gain a large enough following in the states of Western Europe that the traditional political elites have begun to feel the pressure to formulate a reaction. On the part of the European Left the reaction has been one of growing repression and violence.
It is already illegal in France and several other European countries to publish materials critical of radical Islam, homosexuality, immigration, or to publish openly racist or neo-Nazi material, due to laws specifically banning the dissemination of such material. This form of censorship, untenable in American due to First Amendment laws, was intended to squelch racism and avoid tension between ethnic and social groups. It has resulted instead in a shrinking of public debate and a creeping totalitarian insularity in societal discourse. In recent years, prosecutions have begun to encompass works of history and journalism well beyond the realm of racist agitation, even involving the fining of such noted scholars as Bernard Lewis and the prosecution of reporters such as Oriana Fallaci. The line between legitimately critical scholarship and violent propaganda has been so legally blurred as to for all intents and purposes become non-existent. There is now, in the eyes of the law, no differentiation between criticizing an open immigration policy and calling for the extermination of racial minorities. This has led inevitably to a messianic demonization of Right Wing political movements throughout Europe. As it did in the early stages of the Nazi era, the level of invective has already resulted in acts of violence, culminating in Fortuyn’s murder earlier this year by, of all things, an animal rights activist. This is dangerous as well as unfortunate, for a great many European citizens are discontent and frustrated with current political and cultural trends, as people in all societies often are. But as democracy recedes in favor of universalistic beaurocracy on the socialist model, their legitimate concerns are being first dismissed and now forcibly suppressed through laws originally formulated out of the best of intentions.
The anti-democratic trend intensifies around social issues which in America might be described as “wedge issues”. Guns, the death penalty, abortion; basic schisms in the social fabric between cultural/social groups: country/city, religious/secular, etc. On every issue in question, Europe has chosen anti-democratic, unilateralist solutions. The death penalty in particular is an enlightening example. We have, on one hand, the fact that some 70% of English subjects support the re-imposition of the death penalty and, on the other hand, the fact that the death penalty is banned in England and shows no signs of being reinstated anytime soon. It is clear that England’s democratic tradition has been corrupted by its parallel tradition of Socialism, for Socialism inevitably prefers beaurocratic, unilaterist solutions to questions which it is both necessary and desirable for societies to resolve for themselves. How it falls under the purview of a centralized state power and not a democratic consensus to decide highly controversial issues such as the death penalty or gun ownership is difficult for the most dedicated Democratic Socialist to explain. More worrying are the ubiquitous attempts of Europe’s political elites to fabricate the illusion of democratic consensus around issues that have self-evidently been decided by fiat. This anti-democratic practice bespeaks a creeping totalitarianism, a descent of elitist faith in civil society, tyranny in the name of the angels.
We have an even more telling situation if we specifically examine the nations of the European Union, in which the question of democratic support for the death penalty has been reduced to a bothersome irrelevancy since European Union membership has been predicated on the rejection of the death penalty irregardless of democratic principles. The use of economic blackmail by the EU to effect political conformity among its member nations behooves us to remember that these tendencies did not spring from nowhere, they are well in keeping with the predominant trends of late 20th century European politics.
There is no question that the ubiquity of Democratic Socialism as the governmental model for the Western European nations for the previous half-century has led inevitably to the current situation. Socialism is inherently hierarchical, beaurocratic, and conformist. Ideas, movements, and ideologies beyond its paradigm or disturbing to its coveted universalism are to be feared, demonized, and finally snuffed out of existence. The immediately post-war generation of leaders realized this drawback and hoped that the institutionalization of democracy would alleviate these dark tendencies. This begs the question: can democracy exist within the Socialist paradigm? Or, even more pointedly: is Democratic Socialism possible? I contend that it is not. And prevailing trends in Europe are proof positive of the fact. The socialist democracies of Europe are beginning to consume themselves, and what lies beyond their collapse is a thought dreadful to contemplate.
Democratic Socialism became the prevailing model of governance in Europe at an extremely late stage in history; in the decade following the end of World War II, and was accomplished, it is important to remember, in a largely artificial situation, one facilitated by billions of American dollars and under the protection of American weapons of war. With the end of the Cold War and the flight of both these factors, the edifice built upon them is beginning to show strong signs of unsustainability.
All of the modern states of Europe are former kingdoms or formal imperial holdings. The largest and most influential of them, France, has vacillated between Republican Democracy and dictatorial tyranny for most of the last 200 years with the latter showing both more popularity and greater staying power. France’s historical arch-rival, Germany, has existed in its current state only since the 19th century and has shown a remarkable predilection for both dictatorship and war, culminating in the orgy of violence orchestrated by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. As Hayek has pointed out, Nazism was not a historical aberration, but a culmination of trends. Trends which had been developing in Germany and the rest of Europe since the late 1800s. These trends, towards statism in all its forms but particularly over the economic sphere, gave birth to the authoritarian hydra of Communism and Nazism, both of which were essentially extremist reactions to the values of classic Liberalism. The middle ground carved out in the post-war era; that of the Democratic Socialist state; was an uneasy hybrid. On the one hand, it proposed to enshrine the principles of consensual government while at the same time employing as a means of economic control a perpetual shadow republic, for all intents and purposes existing beyond the sphere of electoral influence. This is exemplified by the political/economic structures of the Scandinavian democracies, in which the election of one or another political party is largely irrelevant due to the stringent governmental controls on all aspects of economic life, none of which are seriously challenged by any sect of the political establishment. The Scandinavian nations are already beginning a dangerous flirtation with social control on the same model as their economic controls. It is, for instance, illegal to import kosher foods into the Scandinavian nations due to animal rights concerns. It is also very shortly going to be illegal to criticize the practice of homosexuality in Sweden, a prohibition which could likely result in the arrest and imprisonment of religious leaders. The question of whether one approves of the methods of kosher butchering or the practice of homosexuality is frankly a matter of little importance, one can oppose the one and approve energetically of the other and still consider such injunctions a violation of both personal and political freedom. Thus we see, once again, the truth of Hayek’s predictions, as the national control of the economic sphere begins to bleed into those of the political and finally the personal. These phenomena cannot be understood without first grasping the fact that democracy is, in none of the European nations, an absolute value in and of itself.
This fact becomes even more apparent in the examination of the economic sphere. The great promise of the Democratic Socialist model is that through the machinations of government a more rational economy can constructed that will better provide for the material wants and needs of its citizens. This is an idea lifted directly from Marxist philosophy and is Democratic Socialism’s closest link to Communism in its purest sense. Democratic Socialism posits that authoritarian control of the economic sphere is not merely a necessary evil, but a desirable state of affairs, and one that no just nation can afford to do without. We owe much to the work of Milton Friedman and Hayek himself for disproving this theory, and I will not delve into that debate here, but its effect on the current practical state of affairs deserves examining.
Firstly, with the exception of Ireland (which has been the European exception to most things for at least seven centuries), not one of the Democratic Socialist nations of Europe is experiencing anything like adequate economic growth. There is no question that encroaching government beaurocracies, irrationally high rates of taxation, over regulation and numerous other essential aspects of the Democratic Socialist model are suffocating individual capital and contributing to the economic stagnation of the continent. The fuse to this time bomb is the demographic nature of the European population, which has its foundation in small family units and a rapidly aging population. This confluence of factors is leading to a situation in which large swaths of the population will be leaving the European work force without a sufficient population base to sustain the demands they will be making on the welfare state for health care, housing, old-age pensions and the like. In short, the Democratic Socialist nations are facing nothing short of a total economic collapse within three decades, a collapse that will likely spell the end of the Democratic Socialist model and its monopoly upon economic and political power.
The response of the political establishment to these trends has varied from country to country. Large-scale immigration, in the hopes of strengthening decaying work forces, has resulted in growing political/social tensions and dislocations, often creating a working underclass precisely like the one Democratic Socialism professed to have the means to alleviate. Economic reform has proven difficult. While it has met with some success in England, on the continent beaurocratic resistance and the anti-democratic nature of the proportional representation system have all but stalled attempts at liberalization. Attempts to forge new political paradigms (the so-called “Third Way”) have been met with even more limited success, proving popular in moments of calm but reduced to near catatonia in crisis situations.
What has resulted from this situation, decaying social/economic infrastructure coupled with a fossilized political response, is an élan of discontent, an ethos of frustration and violence which is beginning to cleave at the already fraying strands of European life. This élan of discontent has been most recently personified by the rise of Far-Right politicians of the likes of Jorg Heider of Austria and Jean-Marie LePen of France, and on the other side an intensification of Leftist response, crystallized in the violence of the anti-globalization movement and, most of all, by the previously mentioned assassination of Pym Fortuyn.
Why now? Why the seeming blindness and inability of the European political elites to reform their own systems and adjust to new realities?
The answer, I believe, lies in the essential lie that has formed the foundation of post-war European political culture. Namely, that once oppressive, authoritarian states were now, suddenly, egalitarian, liberal, and open democracies. In fact, something very much the opposite is the case. The nations of Western Europe are no less elitist and authoritarian then they were fifty years ago. The replacement of monarchist or aristocratic elites by supposedly egalitarian socialist elites has done nothing to change the essentially illiberal nature of European political culture. Democratic Socialism has failed to bring forth Liberty, Equality, or Fraternity and the tangled web of socialist beaurocracy has long since consumed whatever democracy once existed in the societies of continental Europe. The rumblings of popular discontent and the violent reaction to the abdication of public consent in favor of state economic and eventual political control are, I believe, nothing less then the birth pangs of a new totalitarianism.
What can we expect from the nations of Europe over the next decade, as their welfare states become steadily overburdened and their populations become ever more taxed to provide for their funding despite shrinking economies? The first outcome, one which is already beginning to show itself, is a strengthening of the extremes and the collapse of the moderate center in the political sphere, coupled with increasing violence and social unrest. The rise of openly racist and isolationist movements on the Right, and violently radical and anarchistic movements on the Left has already led to considerable, although hardly earth-shattering, political destabilization in many of the continental nations. The adoption of anti-Semitic and anti-American themes on both sides of the political spectrum also point to an increasingly irrational and paranoiac mindset on the part of the European body politic which have been historical alarm bells for the rise of totalitarianism. The growing strength of the anti-globalization and radical environmentalist movements, both of which seek to combine an essentially anarchistic and anti-modernist worldview with a predilection for the application of massive state power has already resulted in street violence and riot in several European cities.
In contrast to the anarchistic forces unleashed on the political extremes, we see the collapse of a viable center, which has given itself wholly over to the auspices of the European Union, thus in effect abandoning the stipulations of democratic consent in favor an uber-state of questionable effectiveness. The near-messianic faith of the consensus politicians of Europe in the redemptive power of EU membership cannot be underestimated as a decisive factor in the collapse of European civil society. As the center abandons democracy, the popular discontent inherent in such an abandonment has begun to seek comfort in the extremes, and the absence of a liberal alternative to the Euro-state has left a vacuum into which unscrupulous forces are beginning to be swept.
Without question, the growing alienation from the United States is only being strengthened by the consumption of democracy by its socialist counterpart and the ensuing corruption of civil society. The United States, both more openly liberal and more self-assuredly capitalist of the two societies does not suffer from many of the maladies which Europe has imposed on itself, nor is American democracy a foreign import or imposition, but rather the basis of the society itself. This, coupled with America’s lack of reticence in the realm of economic or political internationalism is placing the US on a collision course both with Europe’s growing extremes and the weakening consensus at the center. The extremes on both Left and Right are opposed to America ideologically rather than due to specific issues of dispute; the Right through its nationalism and isolationism, and the Left due to its rejection of American-style globalized capitalism and its deep-seated historical resentment of American opposition to communism. The recent adoption of an openly anti-American line by German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, which may well have won him reelection, seems to be less an opportunistic aberration than a harbinger of things to come. Cooption of the vital and growing radical movements of Left and Right by mainstream politicians is inevitable and likely to be based largely on anti-American sentiment.
The center is further pushed into conflict with the United States by its dedication to the construction of the European Union as a viable economic, political, and in all likelihood eventual military competitor with the United States. Longstanding resentments of US dominance of European foreign policy and defense throughout the Cold War are coalesced into a newly independent European Union whose diplomatic outlook is beginning to define itself through its opposition to American hegemony. The ambition of the European Unionists cannot be viewed as anything other then the desire to become another Superpower, capable of challenging US interests in all spheres, diplomatic and otherwise. The Freudian nature of this paradigm becomes more apparent with each passing year, as the European state’s desire for opposition to American power comes into increasing conflict with the undeniable economic fact that the generous European welfare states cannot be sustained without the assumption of the overwhelming burden of European defense by the United States.
Most menacing, however, is the prospects that face us some two or three decades down the road, when the aforementioned issues begin to assert themselves by a factor of magnification. As to what form the final collapse of the socialist democracies of Western Europe will take is something I will not venture to predict, but I believe that their collapse is an inevitability; it may come in a single, chaotic cataclysm accompanied by riot and bloodshed; or it may be a slow, creeping totalitarianism that erodes away liberties and freedoms until democracy as such has ceased to exist on the European continent. These are, of course, violent predictions, and the charge of Cassandrism is inevitable in such cases. It is important to remember, however, that the scenario I have outlined herein is hardly unprecedented; indeed, it has largely been the rule rather then the exception of European history. It may be that I am wrong, and that the doctrines of classic liberal democracy will one day reassert themselves on the European continent, but I must say that I am not optimistic in this regard, the forces of totalitarianism have always been far stronger in Europe then those of liberty, economic or otherwise; the democracy we regard as normalcy among the nations of Western Europe is, with the exception of Great Britain, a modern innovation and in many cases nothing more then an American imposition. Its perpetuation, on a continent that has shown a fairly perpetual inclination towards the securities of tyranny over the vicissitudes of freedom, is, I believe, unsustainable.