Rise of the Right

By Macshane, Denis | Newsweek International, October 4, 2010 | Go to article overview

Rise of the Right


Macshane, Denis, Newsweek International


Byline: Denis Macshane

The fall of parliamentary seats into extremist hands represents the biggest shake-up on the continent since the disappearance of communism.

Sweden has revealed the future direction of Europe, and not for the first time. For decades, Sweden led the way in defining the mixed model of free trade and social solidarity that became the European ideal. Not anymore. In the election this month Swedish voters joined their less successful EU neighbors in turning their backs on traditional politics, in which the pendulum swung between parties advocating more free trade and parties on the center left advocating more solidarity--but no further. Now even the solid Swedes have ushered in to Parliament a block of single-issue politicians obsessed with the perceived loss of national identity and angry about immigrants and other outsiders who supposedly threaten their Swedishness.

Thus the arrival of a new politics in Europe. A decade ago extremist politics was confined to fringes and street protests. It has now arrived as a parliamentary force and is beginning to change how other parties behave and speak. The binary politics between a Christian democratic right and social democratic left, with a small space for classic liberal parties, is now over. The world's biggest democratic region, the 46 nation-states grouped in the Council of Europe, is now giving birth to a centrifugal politics with identity replacing class alignment. No single party or political formation can win control of the state and govern on the basis of a manifesto with majority support from voters. Even Britain requires a coalition to have a majority in the House of Commons. Belgium and the Netherlands still have not formed governments months after elections produced inconclusive results.

Postwar Europe had one great foe and one great friend to produce unity of political purpose, even if big parties battled over priorities. Social and Christian democrats were united against sovietism and Moscow's proxy parties on the communist left. The United States allied itself to the moderate right and left to create NATO, support the suppression of nationalisms with the creation of the European Union, and wean Europeans away from protectionist economics in favor of open trade and competitive markets.

Now Europe no longer faces an agreed common threat, despite the best efforts of an Islamaphobe right to present Muslims as an alien invading force that must be confronted and contained. Nor is the United States an inspiration any longer. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have been quagmired in their respective wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, from which most Europeans recoil with dismay. The recession and banking crisis are blamed on unregulated American free markets. Even the business minister for David Cameron's new Conservative government, Vince Cable, was heard lashing out at the evils of capitalism and the "murky world" of corporate behavior at his party conference this month in Liverpool.

Without a common foe and without agreement that the Atlantic alliance is an overwhelming priority, politics in Europe has lost its moorings. The politics of Gemeinschaft (community) is replacing the politics of Gesellschaft (society). New communities of true believers are forming all over Europe. Those who trace their national woes to immigrants--or nuclear power, or the EU, or Muslims, or Jews, or market economics, or the United States--are uniting in new political communities, all of them harmful to society. To govern a society requires compromise and a choice of priorities. The guiding impulse of the new identity politics in Europe is to reject, to cry "No!"

Sweden now has to live with an ugly nationalist identity party, the Sweden Democrats, with 20 members of the Riksdag, the Swedish Parliament. Despite the pretty name, the Sweden Democrats are anti-immigration and anti-Muslim, and call for authoritarian solutions to Sweden's growing social crisis. …

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