Once Hungary kindly arranged a peaceful end to the Cold War, the politics of all Western countries, including Japan and including the newly Western countries of the former “Eastern Europe”, have been in disarray. That is because during the long conflict the political divisions in almost all nations were provoked and arranged in accordance with how different people felt about communism and capitalism.

Those Cold War divisions were not solely about foreign policy. The Right suppressed its internal divisions to adopt a common defence of welfare capitalism that was assumed, not always correctly, to be the most appealing competitor to communism. The Left tried to argue that its combination of socialism and democracy – in practical terms, the “mixed economy” with state ownership and heavier regulation – was a desirable via media between the two orthodoxies. In practice that gave a slight advantage to the Right since it seemed to voters to be the more reliable bulwark against both the Soviet colossus and the demise of national prosperity.

This simple binary choice suddenly looked narrow and confining in the aftermath of 1989. Parties whose sole virtue was their strong anti-communism suddenly began haemorrhaging support. Italy’s Christian Democrats more or less evaporated; Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party lost its previous monopoly on power; third parties of Left and Right and neither emerged and won seats (and sometimes promptly lost them all in the next election).

It was a period of flux, and it hasn’t ended yet. Certain trends are visible. The Left, for instance, has not made the gains it expected following the 2008 financial crisis and it seems to be suffering a decline in advanced countries. The Right, liberated from the discipline of resisting its communist enemy, has been weakened by its own divisions between economic conservatives and social or national ones. The Centre has become the Left as the old Left shrinks and dies alongside its voters. Novelties and occasional monsters gambol on the margins.

A new shape of politics is gradually emerging everywhere, and the clue to its nature may be that it is no longer the same in every country. While there are inevitable similarities between different national Rights and Lefts, the differences are far greater than those between 1947 and 1989. Polish and Hungarian politics are fairly similar: Fidesz and the Law and Justice party are quite close ideologically. But elections in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary might as well be taking place on separate planets. Ditto the elections in France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The nation-state, dismissed as outmoded by intellectuals everywhere, is alive and living in national parliaments.

This fact locates one of the new divisions in politics: patriotic nationalism versus globalism (or transnationalism, or supranationalism or postnationalism – it travels under several aliases). Three powerful essays in this issue touch on this conflict.

Aleš Debeljak wants to sever European nationality from European culture in order to set boundaries to the European Union that might otherwise threaten others and itself by sprawling Hellenistically to wherever its culture flowed. He would then ask the European Union to root itself in a separate and purely political identity, and to recognise that nations outside the European archipelago have blended their cultures with its techniques to create new forms. So they have. And such humility would not come amiss. But it leaves unanswered the question of how a purely political European identity, severed from cultural roots, will be able to establish itself and survive when its constituent nations enjoy separate identities strengthened by cultural memories and historical institutions. The lack of a European demos and an accompanying identity is, after all, the central problem facing Brussels. It cannot be wished away, especially when nationalities are reviving.

John Laughland sees this desire for a transnational European identity replacing national ones as mistaken, anti-democratic and potentially dangerous. He describes and analyses the recent conflict between Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the Left radical firebrand now serving tamely in the European Parliament who wants a new post-national stage of European integration, and President Václav Klaus who strongly defended Czech national rights and interests in intra-European debates, as one between elites (Cohn-Bendit) and popular majorities (Klaus). He comes down firmly on the side of Klaus. And he sees the new enemy of the democratic nation-state as a kind of new liberalism imposed by transnational elites and supranational institutions justified by ideologies of global governance.

If Laughland and Debeljak differ on Europeanism and transnationalism, they seem to agree on one aspect of their Enemy: namely, liberalism, capitalism and the free market. As editors, we are often tempted to formulate a rule that no one can use these words without appending to them a definition of not more than forty words. Was it liberalism and the free market, for instance, that compelled banks and mortgage companies to break their own traditional (capitalist) rules that they should not lend recklessly to borrowers who plainly lacked the capacityto repay? Was it the free market or European governments that drew up and implemented the plans for a new postnational single currency that is currently impoverishing half the continent? How does Mr Laughland square his criticism of the free market with the fact that his nationalist hero, President Klaus, is its strongest and most consistent advocate among European leaders? Finally, do Laughland and Debeljak mean the same thing when they oppose liberalism? And are they both denouncing the same thing? Enjoy finding out for yourself.

One can drown in abstractions of political science. So swim to firmer ground – well, firmer sand at any rate – by turning to the article by James Bennett and Michael Lotus, two independent scholars in the United States who have recently written a book America: 3.0 defending the idea of American exceptionalism. Their argument is that the different national paths to democracy and liberalism taken by different European societies reflect above all the different structure of the family in different parts of the Continent. In their essay written for Hungarian Review, James Bennett, a historical anthropologist, and his co-worker Michael Lotus, adding his own research of family patterns to those of Alan Macfarlane and Emmanuel Todd, find that four marked family patterns – some of them also thriving in parts of Asia – define national and regional dividing lines in Europe and America. These patterns influence not only property structures and marriage habits, but also many other traits of a society, including for instance community values, solidarity, mobility and political allegiances in elections. The four patterns, which make up what they call the continuity model, are shown to have persevered, with slight changes and interferences, for more than a thousand years – compare that with the probable life span of the efforts of Brussels bureaucrats and utopians to create a new social being, the uniformised European.

No wonder the patterns Bennett and Lotus describe also emerge in the tales we are telling our children and grandchildren. In her essay, Hungarian psychotherapist Ildikó Boldizsár points out the specific manner in which Hungarian folk tales present the trials of life and their solutions. These living embodiments of a national imagination, the psychotherapist suggests, not only convey the shamanic world view of the Hungarians of more than ten centuries ago, but they also differ in their character from the patterns in the tales of the other Finno-Ugrian nations that once practiced a shamanistic religion. There is a unique combination of a vivid supernatural imagination and an eerie sense of reality in these tales, she argues.

So, how will the new transnational European be concocted from this daring but cool Hungarian, from the unbridledly individualistic Briton or Pole, the down to earth Czech or from the authoritarian German – that is a superhuman task that we humbly leave to the totalitarian mind to solve, in the hope that the present experiment toward human perfection will not unfold to its intended full scope.

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