The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe, Tom Wolfe observed a long time ago. Or at least that used to be the case, since the current US presidential election seems to be a three-way contest between corrupt elite crony capitalism, zany old-style socialism, and a sort of populist nativism thatâ€™s more familiar to us who follow European politics.
Still, Europe has got the edge, at least for a time being. In Austria, the presidential count is stuck on a 50-50 knifeâ€™s edge between a quasi-fascist Norbert Hoffer of the Freedom Party and a former Green-turned-independent Alexander Van der Bellen. The lacklustre centre-left and the centre-right have been knocked out contest in the first round, giving Austrians a very 1930s choice between the far right and the far left. Unlike the 1930s, however, there is no danger of a German-led Anschluss, as Angela Merkel seems to be more interested in merging with Turkey than with Austria.
Whatâ€™s so wrong with Austria that the Greens and neo-Nazis are the answer? a friend asked me this morning. Everything and nothing. Itâ€™s nothing new either; the Freedom Party under the late Jorg Haider was part of the governing coalition in the early â€˜00s, already giving Eurocrats apoplexy fifteen years ago. The political polarisation between the fringes happening in Austria is also happening in many other developed Western countries at the moment. The voting masses have been noticing for some time now that their opinions have been unsought, their interests ignored and their votes wasted. As Mark Steyn has written over a decade ago,
Austria was the classic example: year in, year out, whether you voted for the centre-left party or the centre-right party, you wound up with the same centre-left/centre-right coalition presiding over what was in essence a two-party/one-party state.
Steyn called it â€œthe Eurodee and Eurodum mainstream parties are boxed into a consensus politics that’s no longer sustainableâ€.
Things havenâ€™t improved since 2005. What has changed though is the willingness (or perhaps the desperation) of voters to drift to political extremes in order to find representatives they think might listen to them and take them seriously.
Steyn went on to write for the benefit of his European readers that â€œAmericans often make the same criticism of their own system – the “Republicrats”, etc – but the US still has a more genuinely responsive politics with more ideological diversity than anywhere in western Europe.â€
This might still have been the case a decade ago, but since then America has transparently been trying to live up to President Obamaâ€™s desire to be more like Europe. Half of the Democratic Party currently supports a European-style unreconstructed socialist, and half of the Republican Party barracks for a European-style populist. Itâ€™s beginning to look a lot like Weimar, and there are both cultural and economic reasons for that.
People, the masses, the silent majority, call them what you will, feel they have been thoroughly betrayed by the governing elites â€“ of all the major parties. They feel their countries – and their cultures – are being remade by mass immigration and policies of multiculturalism â€“ without consultation and a democratic mandate, and against their wishes. They feel tired that the only response they get is being branded as racists and xenophobes.
They also keep seeing their wages and standards of living stagnating if not actually going backwards, while those at the very top are laughing all the way to the bank just bailed out with their, the taxpayersâ€™, money. Itâ€™s the sort of an ugly, dystopic coupling where the big government and the big business get all the orgasms but the common Joe and Joanne are the ones who get screwed.
The anger is real, grievances are mostly understandable, but the proposed remedies from the right and the left fringes seem to me for most part to be the case of a cure being worse than the disease.
We havenâ€™t quite gotten to that point in Australia. The political culture Down Under has always been less ideological than in America, more relaxed than in Europe, and more responsive than in either. Populists on the right (Hanson, Palmer) and the left (the Greens) donâ€™t attract a lot of support, though their parliamentary influence often exceeds that. But there but for the grace of God go we, particularly as the homogenisation of the major political parties seems to be the new thing. Should the Libs and Labor keep progressing in the Tweedledum and Tweedledee direction the real risk is that the voters will become ever readier to seek political salvation in the arms of the Tweedledumber. The dark night of fascism might be descending in the United States and landing in Europe, but we still have time in Australia to learn from othersâ€™ monumental mistakes.