Marine Le Pen and her National Front party did not win the first round of France’s presidential election. Despite running second she is considered a long shot to win the May 6th runoff race. So, the odds that the world’s sixth richest country will fall into the hands of a fringe political party next month have gone down a bit. I’m seeing articles speculating that the recent wave of right-wing populism in Europe may have crested.
We’ll see. Extremist political parties have come and gone since 1945. The tide goes in and out. Yet, as any newspaper reader (okay – news feed reader) knows authoritarian political parties have surged in popularity in many countries in the last 10 years. Depending on who you ask the revival has been fueled by the 2008-09 financial collapse or/and subsequent austerity, internal or external migration, Russian government interference to undermine NATO, and other factors. On Monday we can talk about the big systemic reasons for this disturbing trend – and whether Donald Trump’s election should be considered a part of it.
But, I am more interested in whether all of this amounts to a transnational movement. Do Western authoritarian political parties share anything other than a mutual admiration? Do they have common goals and platforms, especially in foreign affairs? Do they share resources and coordinate messaging? How extensive is Russian aid and coordination? No, there’s no a current equivalent of the old Communist International (I think). Fascism is not going to unite and conquer the West. But, are we near a point where a loosely coordinated “national international” becomes a sufficiently powerful player to influence international politics?
I’m quite short of time this week (and all of next month). So, no detailed opening remarks from me on Monday. I think we probably hit the “Trump is a fascist” panic button a little too much two weeks ago. But, Trump’s rhetoric, the backgrounds of many of his closest advisors, and those amazing Russian government connections sure make me wonder how much is being coordinated with the global populist Right. YMMV.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
Europe and beyond –
- Fascism was too flexible to truly die and now it’s back. Recommended.
- The “alarming worldwide alliance” of far right political parties. Recommended.
- Authoritarian populism’s causes run so deep that liberal democracy now has a competitor. Recommended.
Trump/USA links to this movement –
- Bannon, obviously. But a cast of shady characters maintains Trump’s links to the global far-right, like this guy.
- Why would American hyper-nationalists join a global movement? Maybe they’re not really nationalists.
- OTOH: Trump is NOT a fascist and the Alt-Right has turned its back on him. Recommended.
NEXT WEEK: Why is American culture so violent?
On June 23, the United Kingdom will decide in a national referendum whether to leave the European Union. Polls show the vote is too close to call, and the earthquake of a decision to exit the EU might actually happen.
[** Update: Just today (TH) an MP that supports staying in the EU was assassinated on a street corner by a right-wing, anti-immigrant nut. This event could turn the tide against Brexit in the close contest.]
If it does, the consequences could be profound for the UK, the EU, and the rest of the world (which includes us). A Brexit vote would trigger a complicated, multiyear process to divorce the UK from EU laws and rules at just about every level of interaction. The British government would have to change hundreds of British laws and thousands of regulations and formally renegotiate the terms of all of its commercial relations with the EU.
Why leave? The British would gain back some of the sovereignty and flexibility the country voluntarily gave up when it decided – by referendum – to join in
1975 1973 (although not its currency; the UK is not a Euro zone country). It would not have to pay what’s basically an annual membership fee of about $40 billion [update: The exact net amount of annual transfers is in dispute; an audit says about $7B]. It would be free of pesky EU regulations. These include EU requirements to admit a large number of refugees from the Middle East, which is a major driver of the pro-Brexit campaign in the Conservative (Tory) Party and right-wing parties.
But, there is also a huge potential downside, as the articles below brutally explain. There is a huge risk of economic and financial instability, at least in the early stages of a UK-EU decoupling. Great Britain could lose diplomatic and economic leverage. The future of the EU itself might be endangered if other member countries decide to follow Britain’s lead and/or if Brexit induces financial panic or economic recession. For these reasons and more, political and economic elites in and out of the UK pretty much universally oppose Brexit.
But, elites won’t decide this thing; British voters will. Six days from today. Think of this as our Populism, Part II: The Empire Strikes Back meeting.
On Monday, I will start our meeting with a brief description of why the Brexit referendum is even happening. Then I’ll list a few of the best-case/worst-case consequences of a Yes vote, including on the US economy and foreign policy.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What is Brexit? Why is it happening?
- Who supports and opposes Brexit inside the UK? What are the main arguments they make? What do outsiders think?
- Impact if Brexit fails (“Remain” in EU wins).
- Impact if Yes (Leave the EU):
- On UK; e.g., econ and finance, immigration, regulatory, foreign policy?
- On EU.
- On rest of world, including USA.
- What are the Big Lessons here? Are any of them for us?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Simple version. (NYT)
- Harder: Background on Brexit. (Economist) Comprehensive but note mag opposes Brexit.
Pro-Brexit (Leave the EU) –
- It’s all about democracy and independence to decide our (UK’s) own fate. It’s about sovereignty. Recommended.
- An American pro-Brexit POV.
Anti-Brexit (Remain) –
- How a fringe idea went mainstream. Long.
- Consequences of leaving EU are mostly really bad. Recommended.
- Krugman’s opinion.
Consequences of and Lessons for the United States –
- Brexit is bad for the USA. Recommended.
- Climate: Brexit would weaken efforts to enact ambitious carbon targets.
- More broadly:
Next Week: Whatever happened to the Boat People?
This was James’ idea and I’m off this week. It’s a good topic for the obvious reason that Russia is an important country and more and more analysts are using the F-word to describe both Vladimir Putin and the political system he is creating.
A second reason James’ idea matters is because far-right political parties are a bit on the march these days in Europe and in a few others countries, too. Several openly fascist parties have done well in elections in the years since the continent’s economy went into the toilet. The recent immigrant crisis has provided additional impetus. Far-right parties have gained strength in the Netherlands, the U.K. and France, just to name a few off the top of my head. People are worried all over Europe an outside of it, too.
Gee, we sure are lucky that no crypto-fascist politician is surging in American politics these days, amirite?
The articles linked to below discuss all of these issues and more. Enjoy the meeting, everybody, except the Trump abomination. I hope we can save that topic for our meeting in two weeks on fear-mongering as a a political strategy, which I will be back for.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
It’s James’ meeting, but I was thinking some obvious questions are
- WHAT: What is fascism in the 21st century of globalized economies, open borders, internet networks, etc.? How would it differ from, say, Mussolini’s version?
- In what ways is Putin’s Russia fascist, as opposed to a garden variety authoritarian government?
- WHY: Whose fault is this? What elements of Russian society support this swing to fascism; e.g., elites like the military, oligarchs, and the Orthodox Church hierarchy?
- EFFECTS: Who’s harmed by Russia’s fascist drift, besides Russians?
- Its neighbors, like Ukraine?
- U.S. interests? ** Is Russia’s threat to us exaggerated? **
- Will Russia turn back or plunge into full-blown fascism?
- Will fascism spread to other parts of Europe via far-right and anti-immigrant political parties? Why?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- A good definition of modern fascism. Recommended.
- Is Putin’s Russia fascist?
- Is Russia a threat?
- Is fascism returning to the rest of Europe?
- CivCon 5/14 mtg: Are we in a new Cold War with Russia?
Next Week: Fear-Mongering as a U.S. political strategy.