The natives are restless everywhere, and they’re frightening the elites. The political parties of the social democrats, and even the Socialists, are crumbling all across Europe. A new version of class war is shaping a new kind of politics, and the implications are worldwide.
Trying to find clues to what’s ahead for America by examining the entrails of European politics is a fool’s errand. Europe, even with its treasures of arts, literature and music, is after all what the first settlers escaped from.
Barack Obama and his friends set out to “transform” America into a version of the European welfare state, but the republic was saved, at least for a while, by the bell that tolled in November 2016.
The Trump phenomenon, with all its populist bells and whistles, echoes across Europe. The Socialist Party in France was the governing majority only two years ago, and last year it won only 7 percent of the vote. The party has all but disappeared in the parliament. Germany’s prevailing Social Democrats fell to winning only 20 percent in elections this year, and the Democratic Party in Italy didn’t do much better.
The story is similar in Poland, Hungary and the Czech State, with echoes in Spain, the Netherlands and Scotland, where liberal, leftist, and progressive (pick a label) parties were kings of the mountain only yesterday.
It’s not difficult to discern the reasons why, observes the perceptive John O’Sullivan in National Review, “because so many agonized social democrats have already done so.” The liberal parties, much like the Democrats in the United States, abandoned their base among those who take pride in their blue-collar origins. “The crumbling happened,” he writes, “because social democrats, who were increasingly progressive middle-class intellectuals, usually working in the public sector, lost interest in blue-collar issues and were actively hostile to the conservative social values — patriotism, hard work, church — that appealed to workers as much as to the [property class]. Eventually the workers noticed and began to drift off to other parties.”
The socialist parties, like the Democrats and other liberals (or “progressives”) here in America, forgot who they were, where they came from and where they promised to go. Extreme environmentalism, radical feminism, undisciplined immigration and aggressive gay rights replaced the values and interests of the European working class. David Goodheart, a reformed leftist and a prominent British journalist and author, identifies this phenomenon as a division of the “somewheres,” locally rooted workers, and the “anywheres,” rootless professionals at home wherever they go. The disaffected “somewheres” were replaced in the blue-collar base by those gays, feminists, minorities and highly educated professionals. So far there aren’t enough of them to make up for the shrinkage.
This collapse of the social-democratic parties seemed like manna from heaven for parties on the European right, or at least a gift from the left. The Conservatives in Britain, for example, celebrated what they reckoned was their “permanent victory.” But they had not reckoned with the iron law, first identified in the United States but a law that applies everywhere, that “nothing recedes like success.”
Decisive victories in national elections in the United States were confidently said at the time to have buried the Democrats forever after George McGovern lost 49 states in 1972, and again after Walter Mondale carried only his home state of Minnesota in 1984. Mr. Mondale would have lost that but for the kindness of Ronald Reagan, who declined to make a late appearance in Minneapolis that his pollsters said would push him over the top. With the election won he wouldn’t embarrass a man in his home state. In the event he lost the state by only 10,000 votes. No presidential candidate is likely ever again to have the opportunity to win every state.
The French political scientist Pierre Manent sees the turmoil in loyalties and long-standing ties as pitting “populist demagogy of the left against the fanaticism of the center” in a struggle that will only become more bitter. The center, or the elites, will try to keep out the barbarian horde but the voters will keep trying to go around the establishment center, and will finally break it down.
The elites everywhere regard themselves as much aggrieved. They think themselves entitled to control everything because they’re wiser, smarter, of a higher morality, and thus entitled. The barbarian horde everywhere is not always right, but the elites in Europe, as in the United States, are learning that the horde will be accommodated, the hard way or the easy way.