“But the problem is not social democracy as such, but rather the
perception that the center-left has forgotten the fundamental values.”
Leader, Social Democratic Party of Denmark
Financial Times, March 12, 2018
These thoughts are those of an observer, not an expert. They reflect my reading of current events, which convince me that the people of Europe are vulnerable to a loss of basic rights. My concern is for the kind of omniscient government James Madison warned against in Federalist No. 47. I appreciate the success the international system in Europe has had in the years since World War II – how it avoided wars that devastated the first half of the Twentieth Century, how it largely eradicated the poverty and disease that are war’s accompaniments, and how it helped democratize former totalitarian states. Nevertheless, there is no alpha and no omega to history’s timeline. The “deep state” that is the EU grows larger and more intrusive. As well, bad men and women lurk on sidelines, biding their time, waiting for opportunities to seize power. It is the threat of authoritarianism that concerns, no matter whether it emerges through an individual or via the state, or whether it comes from the Right or the Left.
Something is wrong in Europe. If today’s EU were so desirable, would Brexit have happened? If the EU is such a positive factor, why do administrators in Brussels feel a need to punish the UK for leaving? Why do they rail so aggressively against those who disagree with their concept of union? Why have populist parties risen, like Podemos in Spain, the Five-Star movement in Italy and the Freedom Party in Austria? Consider the political malfunctioning in Germany and Poland. The glue that binds the Union has weakened. Why?
Bureaucrats in Brussels have become more autocratic, in terms of demands on member states. For example, it is estimated that between 60% and 65% of laws, regulations and directives governing the British people were made in Brussels. London and other democratic capitals have become vassals to the EU, in terms of borders, trade, rules, regulations and laws. On the other hand, disintegration of the Union, it is feared, could lead to the nationalist policies that helped start the First World War, the depression that followed and the Second War. No sensible person wants to re-create another period similar to 1914-1945.
The catalyst for the discontent has been immigration on an unprecedented scale, affecting the economy, along with cultural and democratic institutions. It is true that most refugees have a humanitarian need. They come from towns and cities devastated by Islamic extremists – principally Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq in the Middle East; Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan in North and Sub-Saharan Africa. But, it is also true that among those refugees are radicalized young men. It has been the numbers and the manner in which all were admitted that have created dissension. Keep in mind, those most affected by the influx, both economically and culturally, have been the poorest and least politically connected. For elitists in London, Paris and Berlin, migrants are more of a theoretical problem, while for those in smaller cities and towns the problems are real, adding to a sense of xenophobia. The economy, already strained from the financial crisis of ten years ago (and on-going, aging populations), has become burdened with additional costs associated with the care and security of migrants. Social welfare has been a staple of the European experience since the end of World War II. But, given demographic shifts and a rush of migrants, is it sustainable?
Multiculturalism accelerated as millions of Muslim migrants came to live in countries noted for historic cultural monuments, institutions and mores. Again, these immigrants mostly ended up in working-class cities, like Marseilles, France (20-25% of the population); Birmingham, England (20%) and Offenbach, Germany (14%). Cultural wars have been aggravated by a spate of Islamic terrorist attacks. According to the EU Terror Report, in 2017 Europe experienced 142 “failed, foiled and completed” Islamic terrorist attacks, killing 142, an increase over 2016. The attitude of Islamists toward women and gays is alien to Europe’s culture of respect and equality. As well, anti-Semitism is on the rise, abetted by Islamic refugees. France has a population of 67 million, of whom about 5 million are Muslim. Church attendance by Christians is estimated at 11%. About 5 million Muslims now live in the Country, where mosque attendance is estimated at 40%. The ratio of Muslims will continue to expand (as will their influence), due to immigration and higher birth rates. Question: In a hundred years, will France be a Christian nation?
Sharia Law may well affect European justice systems. Brussels appears to be more interested in accommodating immigrants than caring for the needs of native populations. The result: a decline in the influence of the people, of national and local governments, and a rise in populism.
Demagogues rise from ashes of unrest and fear, fostered by economic disruption. It was the financial demands imposed by the Allies after World War I that gave rise to Fascism in Italy and the Nazi Party in Germany. They boosted the ascendancies of Mussolini and Hitler. That is not Europe today. In the seventy-three years since the War in Europe ended, Democracy and free-market capitalism have allowed people to fare well. One reason has been an increase in social spending, which has risen in France, as a percent of GDP, from about 15% in 1970 to close to 30% today. The result has been a decline in poverty, an improvement in living standards and an equalization of incomes. But, Europe has been able to do so, in part, because of a bull market in bonds, which saw interest rates decline for three decades; low levels of defense spending, as the U.S. served as back-stop during the Cold War; and demographics that, because of the War, created a surfeit of workers and a want of retirees from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s. While it is too early to tell for sure, the bond bull market appears to be ending, the Trump Administration has made it clear that Europeans will have to pay more for defense, and demographics have reversed
In recent years, economic growth has slowed, as demands to sustain the social welfare state have impinged on free-market capitalism. In Brussels, bureaucracies, in accordance with Parkinson’s Law, have expanded, with no limits to their girth. An aging population has meant fewer workers supporting a growing number of retirees. (Young, working Muslims could alleviate the problem, but that depends on assimilation – more a wish than reality.) Migration has added expense and size to government. At some level (if we are not already there), regulation and government spending will manifest itself in even slower economic growth, a down-ward spiral demanding higher taxes, more spending and less growth.
Being negative as regards human progress, as Steven Pinker so eloquently observes in his latest book Enlightenment Now, has meant betting on the wrong horse. But when forces of reality (limited income) clash with dreams of social do-gooders (unlimited spending), will struggle ensue? As to the cause of Europe’s malaise, I am reminded of Walt Kelly and his comic-strip character Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” In Federalist 47, alluded to in the opening paragraph, James Madison wrote: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive or judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” Those words, written more than two hundred years ago, were of a man of the Enlightenment, one who understood that tyranny, no matter whence it comes or what form it takes, is incompatible with the forces of freedom and democratic capitalism.
This articles was first published on Thought of the Day.