From liberalism to illiberalism
By Scott Sumner
Here’s the New York Review of Books:
In 1988, OrbÃ¡n and other students set up the Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz). They took the word “young” literally: no one above the age of thirty-five was allowed to join. Their program was liberal, anticlerical, and suspicious of nationalism. Eventually, the Fidesz founders were to abandon these ideals for their exact opposites. But they never abandoned one another. Today the country’s president, the speaker of parliament, and the author of Hungary’s 2012 constitution all happen to be OrbÃ¡n’s friends from university days.
So why should we care about Hungary? Consider the evolution of Britain’s UKIP (from a 2014 article in The Economist):
Less than a decade ago UKIP was a Eurosceptic pressure group run by disenchanted Thatcherites, such as Mr Farage, and EU-obsessed academics. Now it is hoovering up support from disgruntled elderly and blue-collar voters. Yet the fact that it is also hoovering up their prejudices reflects how populist, not serious, the party is.
And here’s The Economist in 2017:
Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s sole MP . . . left the party on March 25th declaring its job done (he remains the MP for Clacton, now as an independent). Mr Carswell’s brand of libertarianism had sat uncomfortably with the party’s increasingly misanthropic nativism, a contrast only heightened by the vote for Brexit. . . . Under Paul Nuttall, UKIP’s new leader, the party has turned to economic nationalism as a way to appeal to fed-up Labour voters.
And then there is Germany’s AfD:
When it was formed in 2013, the AfD’s main thrust was its opposition to bailouts of indebted European Union member states like Greece. But over time, it has become, first and foremost, an anti-immigration party. A recent study by the prestigious Bertelsmann Foundation concluded that this issue is the only one on which the party possesses significant appeal. . . . The AfD also sees itself as a defender of the traditional nuclear family model. It is anti-abortion and, despite Weidel’s prominent role, hostile to “alternative” lifestyles. It favors a series of measures that would increase state financial support for traditional families and is, in this respect, not fiscally conservative.
But this is Europe, what does this have to do with America?
Consider the Tea Party, founded in 2009 as a sort of anti-deficit spending, small government wing of the GOP. By 2016, most of its members were switching from traditional Tea Party types like Ted Cruz to big government conservatives like Donald Trump, who favors dramatically higher government spending (and deficits), controls on foreign investment, and trade barriers.
We will never understand what happened in America until we figure out what happened in Hungary. Unfortunately, we are just as far from understanding what happened in Hungary as we were 5 years ago. That means we still don’t know what happened to the right in America.
Some people insist that all of these patterns are completely unrelated and that it’s possible to develop a specific American explanation for Trumpism. I don’t believe that. There are far too many “coincidences” occurring in the world today. There seems to be a deep force at work here, which transcends the specifics of each local situation. Why did India suddenly become so nationalistic? Why Turkey? In 2004, Putin had “no concerns” about NATO expansion into the Baltics. What happened to Russia after 2004?
If I had to offer a guess, it would be that the Internet somehow contributed to the creation of populist nationalism. After all, the Internet is a truly global force. (Does anyone know whether radio had a similar impact in the 1920s and 1930s?) But there had to be other factors as well. I’m interested in those factors that are truly global, not specifically American (i.e. not the rust belt, or immigration).
PS. I have a new peice defending NGDP targeting at CapX.