ACCUMULATING PERIPHERALS


In Europe, nativism does not equal anti-socialism by mattsteinglass
June 10, 2009, 12:59 pm
Filed under: Europe

The American tendency to interpret the entire world through a manichaean pro- or anti-American, pro- or anti-capitalist lens is something I hope will gradually go away over the next few decades, but then I also hoped it would go away in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the USSR, and that sure didn’t happen. Matthew Yglesias flags this instance of Anne Applebaum getting caught up in the familiar bipolar confusion over the recent elections for European Parliament and deciding the represent a “victory for capitalism” (over…what?) since they shifted the European political landscape somewhat to the right.

I think the main impediment for Americans in understanding these kinds of developments is a deep unfamiliarity with political systems in which there are more than two, or even three, parties. Over the past few days I’ve spoken with four Finnish journalists about what the elections meant here. I have a tendency to report these kinds of big continental stories from very small and relatively insignificant countries — I’m the guy who reports on East Asia from Vietnam, rather than China — but what happened in Finland is pretty representative of what happened in most European countries.

In a nutshell, as a reporter for Ilta Sanomat explained to me in the smoky bar downstairs from the newspaper’s ultra-modern headquarters a couple of nights ago, there are three powerful major parties in Finland. Always have been. One is a Christian Democratic party. Another is a standard labor/social democratic party. And the third is a “liberal” (free-market) party. These three parties trend in different directions, but they converge (he drew me a Venn diagram) around the “Nordic social model”: high taxes for high public services like education and public transit, income redistribution, health insurance and the social safety net. That part of the model is untouchable. If a major party attacked it, they would no longer be a major party.

What happened in the elections was two things. First, support shifted away from the social democrats, and towards the Christian democrats. And second, a small right-wing party that’s descended from the 1950s-era agrarian/farmers party, whose main platform is anti-immigrant and anti-Europe, picked up a lot of votes, and in fact that party’s charismatic leader was the single largest vote-getter in the elections, pulling about 130,000 votes (which is huge in 5-million-strong Finland). But that party still isn’t actually in the government, and it has no positive governing agenda. And even if it did, that governing agenda would almost certainly have nothing to do with free-market economics.

It is a historical accident that in the US, the populist nativist rural/exurb party is also the party that embraces free-market economics. It’s actually quite weird that the GOP combines these two elements, since in most countries they’re generally opposed to each other. And it leads American commentators to interpret victories for nativist parties like the French Front National or anti-Muslim “charismatic” politicians like the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders as victories “for capitalism” and “against socialism”. They have nothing to do with each other.

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5 Comments so far
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Wow, I am so glad that I have now been liberated from a socialist tyranny by the Tories and the UK Independence Party coming first and second in an election which only 35% of people bothered to vote in. Applebaum truly does just see the world as an extension of US politics, as if the two-party split in the US is one which every country has.

Good point about nativism, I was trying to think what, if anything, drives parties like the British National Party. Given the insistence on ‘fairness’ (AKA ‘racism’) in the welfare state in that party, and the way that most of their supporters are former Labour voters, it cannot be opposition to socialism which drives them. Nativism is as good a word as any. The UK Independence party, on the other hand, is motivated out of pure anti-European Unionist opinion. In fact much of the support for centre-right parties also flows from Euro-Scepticism. If these elections showed a ‘defeat’ for anything, it is for European federalism – and even then only to a limitied extent.

Comment by FOARP

It is not at all a historical accident that the populist nativist rural/exurb party is also the party that embraces free-market economics.

It is a result of the fact that America is the land of immigration.

But recently Europe has opened itself to immigration. This is not to say that those conservatives will try to roll back existing government. Republicans don’t try to do that after all. However any new government social program will be viewed under the lens of how much it helps immigrants and the poor culturally foriegn class.

Comment by Terra

“It is a historical accident that in the US, the populist nativist rural/exurb party is also the party that embraces free-market economics. It’s actually quite weird that the GOP combines these two elements, since in most countries they’re generally opposed to each other. ”

Well, the GOP only likes the free market when their guys prosper, or others suffer. They’re quite happy with socializing losses and privatizing profits (or subsidies).

Comment by Barry

Australia under former Prime Minister John Howard was ruled by the Liberal-National Coalition, one side of our two-party system.

The Nationals are a rural-interest party, the liberals free market. It makes for some interesting politics.

Comment by Steve

[…] Matt Steinglass attacks other foolish misreadings of election results. In this case, he is discussing the recent European elections as seen from Finland: What happened in the elections was two things. First, support shifted away from the social democrats, and towards the Christian democrats. And second, a small right-wing party that’s descended from the 1950s-era agrarian/farmers party, whose main platform is anti-immigrant and anti-Europe, picked up a lot of votes, and in fact that party’s charismatic leader was the single largest vote-getter in the elections, pulling about 130,000 votes (which is huge in 5-million-strong Finland). But that party still isn’t actually in the government, and it has no positive governing agenda. And even if it did, that governing agenda would almost certainly have nothing to do with free-market economics. […]

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