Culture Magazine

Has European Politics Been Asleep at the Wheel Since WWII?

By Bbenzon @bbenzon

Leopost Aschenbrenner, Europe's Political Stupor, For Our Posterity, 23 Nov. 2020:

After WWII, the political was banished from the European Continent. It had caused too much harm in European hands. Lively debate was subdued, and technocratic administrators took charge. Europeans were left to project their fantasies of a real political debate on America. And so a cross-Atlantic homogeneity has taken root, with the American Left's cultural dominance in the U.S. extending to Europe.

But a homogenous West means a stagnant West. As the ideals of classical liberalism are once-again being challenged, we need new ideas and a diversity of approaches to reinvigorate and reinvent liberalism. It might be time to reassert the political in Europe and wake the Continent from its stupor.

Consider the case of Germany:

What is the cause of this extraordinary European obsession with American politics? I think it has to do with a underlying, perhaps subconscious, yearning for democracy-not in the nominal sense of having elections, but in the more visceral sense, the sense that the body politic's destiny lies in the citizen's hands.

On the surface, German conventional wisdom decries the political divisions in the U.S.; it trumpets the supposed moral superiority of the German way over the American health care system or American foreign policy; it holds German democracy to be infinitely superior to American democracy (which, if you believe German media coverage, is on the verge of collapse and paralleled only by the Weimar Republic in 1933). But what this arrogance masks-and perhaps is deliberately intended to obscure-is the underlying reality of European "politics": namely, that it is bereft of politics.

For the German voter has basically no say over his country's fate. Sure, he may cast a vote in an election for parliament. But in the end, the same centrist parties seem to hold a majority in parliament, the same centrist parties form a coalition government, and the same party leaders remain in charge, making policy mostly through backroom deals rubber-stamped by the parliament. Besides relatively minor policy tweaks, the elections don't seem to matter much.

And for all the German media's handwringing about a "peaceful transfer of power" in the U.S., most Germans under, say, 30, have never witnessed a transfer of power in Germany! It's always been Merkel. And really, the guy before her-even though he was from the opposing political camp-wasn't all that distinguishable. [...]

The contrast to the recent American presidential elections could not be starker. There was a crystal-clear choice offered to voters. And the election was ultimately decided by a fraction of a percent. Every vote really mattered. Voters could reasonably believe that the course of world history was in their hands.

That the citizens had this real choice is the other side of the often-decried political division. Yes, a wide-open, lively politics can yield someone like Trump-but it can also yield someone like Obama. Someone like him, with a father from Kenya and promising hope and change, would likely have no chance of rising the ranks of German politics.

The price of peace?

Perhaps, then, the Western monoculture is the price we pay for peace. This is worth taking seriously. But the Germany of today is not the Germany of the early 20th century; the Europe of today is not the Europe of the early 20th century. The Continent has been reshaped along liberal lines. It is now a stalwart of the ideals of liberty and peaceful coexistence.

The banishment of the political was intended to subdue the impulses of nationalism and demagoguery. But if the European mainstream continues to deny the citizenry a true democratic debate, that may well pave the way for an authoritarian strongman who promises the citizens renewed control of their nation's destiny. We already see inklings of this in Poland, Hungary, France, the Brexit vote to "take back control," and a resurgent far-right in Germany that is blasting open the previously narrow confines of political debate. The Continent is ripe for awakening. If liberalism does not lead this charge, illiberal authoritarianism will. (German politics in particular is open for disruption, in my opinion, a subject which I hope to return to in a later post.)

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