This week’s European Union elections proved to be yet another election in which the voters confounded the experts. The center-left and center-right parties–known for their technocratic managerial style of governance–that have long run the EU lost big. The winners were the more militant progressives, including the radical environmentalist Green Party, AND the more militant conservatives, including the nationalists that oppose the European Union altogether. Though pro-EU parties still have the majority, governing the artificial super-nation will be a nightmare. The center cannot hold.
The results were particularly telling in individual countries. In the UK, the brand-new Brexit Party beat both the established Tory and Labour parties, winning a majority of British delegates to the EU parliament. So much for thinking that the English people would vote to stay in the European Union in a new referendum.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s centrists were demolished by the controversial anti-immigration party of Marine Le Pen.
In Italy, the La Lega party of Trump fan Matteo Salvini won overwhelmingly.
Hungary and Poland, already run by conservatives, sent big conservative majorities to represent them in the EU parliament at Strasbourg.
Australian commentator Stan Grant, thinking too of his own country’s recent elections, concludes, in the words of his article’s title, that Global politics is being reshaped and EU election results are the latest example. In the rise of Donald Trump, Brexit, Australia’s vote, and these European elections, Grant sees the overarching themes of nationalism and populism (ordinary people rising up to assert themselves against the elites). Though Grant clearly leans left and is particularly worried about a return of nationalism, which sees not just opponents but “enemies,” he is critical of the way his fellow progressives have neglected the concerns of ordinary people and have turned themselves into elitists. He also makes the intriguing point that the “nationalists” of the right are drawing on “identity politics” far better than the left, which invented it.
But Sumantra Maitra’s insightful analysis in the Federalist, Why Europe’s Shocking Right Turn Is An Opportunity For The United States , points out that the various European countries often mean different things by “conservative” and “right-wing.”
. . .In both France and the Netherlands, the right-wing parties are not socially conservative at all. In fact, they want to restrict mass migration from Africa and the Middle East because they want to safeguard the liberal society, LGBT rights, and the separation of church and state from groups of people considered extremely socially unorthodox.
Contrast that with the right parties in Hungary, Italy, and Poland, all of which want to transform the EU from within and, in their own words, preserve the “Christian civilization” and Judeo-Christian values of Europe. The stringent issues in these countries included the increasingly hard-left LGBT and transgender movement.The Polish, Hungarian, and Italian right are also distinctly socially conservative and in some cases anti-free market, instead focusing on heavy subsidies for the elderly and promoting pro-natalist policies for new mothers. In the common liberal siege mentality, all these people are considered “far right” when in reality the only common theme tying these parties is their opposition to a European empire under German hegemony, and their support for national sovereignty.
Where do American conservatives fit in with all of this? As we keep saying in this blog, there are different kinds of conservatives and different kinds of conservative ideologies in the United States as in Europe. David Marcus, also writing in the Federalist, says that what makes American conservatism different from the European variety is our commitment to individualism. From American Conservatives Should Cheer Up, Because They’re Winning:
The other essential element [in addition to our Constitutional order that limits the government] is the unique nature of the American conservative. There is a symbiosis between government and culture, and ours led to a conservative culture that is far more individualistic than any other.
By American standards, most other English-speaking conservatives are practically socialists. For all the talk of the dangerous, right-wing, mostly international Intellectual Dark Web, Quillette, or Jordan Peterson, by American standards they aren’t conservative. They can’t buy guns, they have socialized medicine, the government controls vast swaths of their news and media, and there is no significant movement to change much of that. This is because other English-speaking conservatives are comfortable with a far greater level of collectivization imposed by the state. It’s kind of a “Let’s all pitch in” attitude instead of the American conservative’s “Stay the H-ll off my lawn” approach.
The American conservative has succeeded in keeping more of her rights not merely because the Constitution is more protective of them, but because she is. And the defense of those is not rooted in fear, but in faith. It is rooted in the sincere belief that all of us get to choose what is best for ourselves.