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theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer
Memorial Day will likely bring alarmist headlines in the elite media about a populist fever raging in Europe, and manifest in the shocking returns from the elections for the European Parliament. Marine Le Pen’s National Front may run first in France, and Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party first in Britain. What is happening in Europe?
In his unpublished Leviathan and Its Enemies, my late friend Sam Francis wrote of the coming crisis of the “soft managerial state,” of which the European Union is a textbook example. Oswald Spengler used the word “Civilization” to describe “the terminal phase of a cultural organism,” wrote Francis. In 1941, Pitirim Sorokin described the characteristics of a Spenglerian “Civilization”:
[C]osmopolitanism and the megalopolis vs. ‘home,’ ‘race,’ ‘blood group’ and ‘fatherland’; scientific irreligion or abstract dead metaphysics instead of the religion of the heart; ‘cold matter-of-factness’ vs. reverence and tradition and respect for age; internationalist ‘society’ instead of ‘my country’ and state (nation); money and abstract values in lieu of earth and real (living) values; ‘mass’ instead of ‘folk’; sex in lieu of motherhood … and so on.
Between the managerial state and the civilization and culture that preceded it, the polarities are stark. Yet they mirror the clashes of today as the European Union of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman’s vision exhibits unmistakable symptoms of disintegration and decay. In a way, this is remarkable. For undeniably the rise of the EU has coincided with an unprecedented rise in the standard of living for the hundreds of millions from the Atlantic to the Baltic and from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. Still, though Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Parliament of man” and “Federation of the world” captured the imagination of 19th-and 20th-century one-worlders, the dream has proven incapable of capturing the hearts of European peoples. Who would die for the Brussels bureaucracy?
What are the identifying marks of these populist parties that have sprouted up now in almost every European country? There is first the rejection of universalism and transnationalism, and a reversion to patriotism and its songs, symbols, holidays, history, myths, and legends. To peoples such as these, the preservation of the separate and unique ethnic and cultural identity of the nation supersedes all claims of supranational organizations, be it the EU or UN. This sentiment is reflected not only in fierce resistance to further integration within the EU, but in visceral hostility to further immigration from the Third World, Islamic world, or Eastern Europe. These people want to remain who and what they are. Even the Swiss last winter voted for an initiative of the People’s Party calling for reintroduction of quotas for immigrants from the EU.
A second telltale sign of the new populism is traditionalism and cultural conservatism, reverence for the religious and cultural history and heritage of the nation and its indigenous people. That victory in the recent Eurovision contest of Conchita, the bearded transvestite drag queen who performed in a gown, though celebrated by much of the European press, sent a message to millions of traditionalists that this is no longer their culture.
Another aspect of the rising populist right, as the New York Times notes, is a grudging admiration for Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Why? Putin not only publicly rejects the moral relativism of the West, but under his guidance Russian social legislation is being consciously rooted in traditional Christian concepts of right and wrong. Putin is the anti-Obama, moving to occupy the cultural-moral vacuum left by America. As we celebrate multiculturalism, LGBT rights, and abortion on demand, Putin repudiates Hollywood values. When Western politicians and media rail against his annexation of Crimea as a violation of America’s rules-based New World Order, Putin invokes patriotism and nationalism in his defense: Crimea belonged to us for 200 years. Most of its people are Russians. They wish to return to Mother Russia. Our warm-water port is there. Americans do not dictate to Russians where Russia’s vital interests are concerned. In the anti-American precincts of Europe, they are applauding.
Yet another specter is haunting Europe: secessionism. Scots, Catalans, and Venetians wish to declare independence and become again the countries they once were. As for the epithets used on the populists, that they are racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, fascist, overuse has caused them to lose their toxicity. The Eurocrats have cried wolf too often.
How serious is this right-wing populism? At the least, as the Tea Party has pulled the GOP to the right, these parties are likely to pull center and center-right parties in their direction all across Europe. Then there is the real possibility not only of a breakup of the EU, but of the breakup of the United Kingdom, the loss of Scotland after 300 years, England’s secession from the EU, and the collapse of the Tory Party into Europhiles and Europhobes, all on David Cameron’s watch.
Like materialism, consumerism and socialism, transnationalism suffers from the same fatal flaw. It feeds the body and starves the soul. And eventually bored people hear the old calls again.