17 November 2017

Europe and Liberty

One of the more striking changes in the democratic politics of recent decades has been the blurring of the line, once sharply distinct, between foreign policy and domestic politics. Not long ago it was common for political parties that had passionate differences on a wide range of domestic politics to maintain a common front on foreign policy commitments. In the Cold War Hungary had little choice in this matter since its foreign policy was not made in Budapest (though perhaps camouflaged there) but in Moscow which allowed its Hungarian colleagues somewhat more leeway in building the domestic road to socialism. In Western Europe, however, parties of Right and Left maintained a surprising degree of unity in their support for NATO, GATT, the IMF, the World Bank, the United Nations, and the whole panoply of post-war international institutions designed to secure peace and prosperity from 1947 to the late 1960s while fighting passionate battles over taxation, state ownership and social welfare provision at home.

That unity of the West began to fracture at the time of the Vietnam War which opened up a division between NATO countries on opposite sides of the Atlantic over how to fight and manage the East–West conflict. Much of Western Europe’s bipartisan foreign policy establishment felt that US policy not only on Vietnam but also on Central and South America was too reliant on military force and alliances, and neglected diplomacy and accommodation to rising forces. An ideologised version of this critique was adopted by the European Left, which saw Vietnam as an instance of a wider US “imperialism” and which was gradually drawn into a neutralist posture that treated Moscow and Washington as morally equal hegemons. Politics on foreign affairs began to align along the same spectrum as politics on domestic issues. A kind of transnational political divide between Left and Right developed across Europe and the West in which the Right embraced markets and missiles and the Left opted for pacifistic attitudes and economic distribution.

Danish historian David Gress, in his book From Plato to NATO, sees a long gestation of this going back to the left-wing politics of the interwar years. He depicts the Western European Left as oscillating between a unified Left politics of “anti- fascism” (the thirties’ Popular Front policy, the wartime alliance with Russia, the Peace Movement”) and a unified national politics of “anti-totalitarianism” (the rejection of the Nazi–Soviet Pact, support for Finland in 1940’s Winter War, and the West’s 20-year anti-Soviet cooperation encouraged, above all, by the brutal Soviet repression of the Hungarian Revolution). When the Left moved towards an “anti-fascist” alliance with Moscow, the Right opposed it in the name of patriotic foreign policy realism; when the Left was in an “anti-totalitarian” phase, the Right was happy to forge a bipartisan national foreign policy with it.

A vivid and brilliant picture of how this operated in Holland is given by David A. J. Reynolds in his article “We Stared at the Radio with Open Mouths”. He shows how 1956 brought together all parties across the political spectrum in Holland (except for the Communists) in moral detestation of what the Soviets had done. Why? Holland in 1956 had emerged only a decade earlier from a cruel and murderous occupation. The value and necessity of national independence, political liberty and democratic self- government were felt deeply and urgently by all Dutch people. They saw the tanks rolling into Budapest as successors to the Nazi planes that had bombed Rotterdam in 1940. They set aside partisan and religious differences to express support for a Hungary that was resisting another evil aggression. Considered from the cooler standpoint of historical analysis, they gave expression to the politics of anti-totalitarianism.

Mr Reynolds’s account reads now like a letter from another age. But have the Dutch changed? Or has their mood changed? Or have the circumstances to which they were indignantly reacting changed? If other challenges to their deepest national sentiments were to appear, would they unite in defence of them with the fervour they showed in 1956? We may find out sooner or later.

What happened to Western policy after 1956 and 1968, however, is that as the Left increasingly drifted towards neutralism, moral equivalence and the Peace movement, the parties of the Right recovered their self-confidence and sense of their national interests. They united under strong national leaders like Reagan, Thatcher, Kohl, and (after a wobble) Mitterrand, defeated the peace movement, and won the Cold War in surprisingly short order.

Once the Soviet Union collapsed under these pressures, however, this outcome was obscured by two factors. The economic catastrophe left by Communism meant that the Left wanted to forget that it had ever sympathised with Socialism even mildly. And the general desire to entrench the West’s victory in the Cold War persuaded the Right to pretend that the Left had been as anti-totalitarian as itself the whole time. Anti-fascism and anti-totalitarianism had both won! The Fifty-Sixers and the Sixty-Eighters deserved equal credit! Oh, and the Soviets deserved congratulations too! They had collapsed voluntarily and had not killed too many people in the course of collapsing. Drinks all round!

These little white lies in the service of both social peace and international harmony ensured that the post-Cold War age began in an atmosphere of elite consensus: everyone had won and all should have prizes. We should all cooperate with each other in institutions that reflected our common interest in peace and prosperity rather than pursuing “narrow” national goals. The resulting drift of international politics was away from nation states and towards greater power for transnational and global institutions controlled by nomenklaturas of Left and Right (but mainly Left) together. Insofar as there was an enemy to be guarded against, it was “nationalism” which had apparently caused most of our earlier wars and difficulties. Might not national governments resist this drift? They might have done, but most did not. Politicians within nation states began to see that it might not matter if they lost elections at home since better job opportunities now existed for them abroad with higher pay and fewer annoying letters from constituents. Gradually, power and perks moved from national capitals to the headquarters of the EU, the UN, the ICC, and all the other important cities in a country that the late Kenneth Minogue called Acronymia. Before we knew it, a new political system had developed in which the politics of different nation states were really branch offices of the elite political establishments based in Acronymia. And the voters, the companies, the societies, the ordinary folk of Hungary, Italy, Spain, the UK, all the way down to Lichtenstein did not seem to exercise much democratic influence in this new political world.

All this is by way of being an introduction to this issue which concerns itself above all with the way in which these new political institutions have escaped the grasp of democratic accountability and popular control. Our contributors deal with different aspects of this new Leviathan. Minister László Trócsányi draws on vast legal and diplomatic experience to show how democracy needs protection from new interpretations of a European rule of law that often override it. Salvatore Babones lays out the five different futures facing the European Union and how each will impact its claim to democratic governance. Nicholas T. Parsons examines how representative the new patronising elites of global and Euro governance are with a dry eye and a sharp pen. And there is an essay on how these new forms of remote governance have called forth from the vastly deep something called “populism” which “ten thousand stout fellows are prepared to fight to the death against – though they know not whether it be a man or a horse”.

And as always there is much in the issue to delight and please that is detached from our main theme.






HUNGARIAN REVIEW is published by BL Nonprofit Kft.
It is an affiliate of the bi-monthly journal Magyar Szemle, published since 1991
Publisher: Gyula Kodolányi
Editor-in-Chief: Gyula Kodolányi
Editorial Manager: Ildikó Geiger
Editorial office: Budapest, 1067, Eötvös u. 24., HUNGARY
E-mail: hungarianreview[at]hungarianreview[dot]com
Online edition: www.hungarianreview.com

Genereal terms and conditions