The internal contradictions of liberalism and illiberalism
By Scott Sumner
A number of intellectuals have pointed to an internal contradiction within liberalism. Does tolerance for others include tolerating illiberal people? I wonder if there is an analogous contradiction within illiberalism, an ideology that (in the West) is often driven by a dislike of illiberal cultures.
The first time I recall reading about xenophobic populism in Europe was when the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn criticized Muslim immigrants for not sharing the liberal values of Dutch citizens. Fortuyn (who was gay) could be seen as a liberal who was intolerant of illiberal people. He was later assassinated by a left-wing Dutch animal rights activist.
Over time, right wing populist parties gained increasing strength in Europe, and indeed it’s quite possible that their support is still increasing. Not surprisingly, these parties eventually attracted a lot of people who did not share Fortuyn’s liberal values. Their voters are often older people who are culturally conservative and live in rural areas or smaller cities. Some of these parties became less libertarian and more populist over time, as they gained new supporters.
In America, President Trump has more support among Hispanic voters than one might expect (even if the linked poll overstates his support by 10% or 15%), given his occasional disparaging remarks about Mexican illegal immigrants and “****hole countries” in Central America. Why is that?
At a stylistic level, Trump has a lot in common with the traditional Latin American “strongman”. Here’s a comment on Peronism that I recently ran across in a diary of Emilio Renzi, written in the 1960s:
Writers like Beatriz Guido, Sabato, and Viñas himself view Peronism as a continuous and daily apocalypse; it would seem the nation has reached a point at which there is nothing but theatrics and falsehood. They cannot understand the reasons for which Peronism was widely supported, and they regard corruption and calumny as the explanation for its backing. The Peronist masses are viewed as naïve and wickedly gullible, deceived by power.
That’s how many American intellectuals currently view the Trump phenomenon.
Trump’s appeal is partly based on the idea that he’ll protect the US from becoming more like Latin America, even as his political style and economic nationalism has clear affinities to Latin American politics. Is that a stable equilibrium?
Politico reports that several far-right politicians in the Netherlands have recently converted to Islam:
A former member of Geert Wilders’ far-right Dutch party announced Monday that he has converted to Islam.
Van Klaveren was a harsh critic of Islam during his time as PVV politician, saying “Islam is a lie” and “The Quran is poison,” newspaper NRC reported.
Asked in the newspaper interview if he feels guilty about these statements, Van Klaveren said he had been “simply wrong,” adding that it was “PVV policy: everything that was wrong had to be linked to Islam in one way or another.”
Arnoud van Doorn, a former PVV official, was an earlier convert to Islam. Van Doorn congratulated Van Klaveren on his decision via Twitter, writing: “[I] never thought that the PVV would become a breeding ground for converts.”
I don’t know what lies in the future for liberalism and illiberalism, but I sense that the current equilibrium is not stable. We should expect the unexpected.
PS. It’s useful to set aside the unanswerable question of what “true Islam” is all about, and focus instead on the more tractable question of, “What sort of cultures dominate in majority Islamic countries in the year 2019”.