Russian President, Vladimir Putin in an interview with the Financial Times said that “liberalism has become obsolete”. Although this is not the first time Putin has undermined liberalism and left-wing politics, a statement like this certainly gets one thinking about the rising trend of conservatism, as seen in most of Europe where countries like Italy, France, Hungary, and even the United Kingdom have adopted some form of conservatism. This article thus aims to look at the reasons attributable to this trend as well as the potential of it to disharmonize the pluralistic nature of our society.
Conservatism as an ideology
Conservatism can take many forms which can be economic, social or political. In this context, however, conservatism is a political ideology which emphasizes on and promotes the sustenance of traditional values. Conservatists primarily subscribe to right-wing politics. The ideals they hold include maintaining organic orders, that is, ensuring the smooth functioning of the society.
Conservatism today, however, in most cases takes the form of modern conservatism where the ideal they have to uphold is to defend and sustain these established orders, whilst adapting to modernity. It is perhaps the complexity of this ideal that has led to the rise of certain extremists where, acts of violence, arson, and narratives of extreme ethnocentrism have developed among people and nations.
Experiences the far-right in Europe
When it comes to conservatism, Europe has perhaps seen the most examples of right-wing politics. With Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant political party – Lega, Italy has become one among the highly conservative countries in Europe. Matteo Salvini was the driving force behind the government’s anti-immigration ideology who went all out to stop humanitarian rescue patrols run by NGOs. Salvini is indeed gaining more power by establishing camaraderie with other right-wing groups like – the AfD (Alternative for Germany), the Finns Party, the National Rally in France, the Danish People’s Party, Austria’s Freedom Party to name a few.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban follows a similar ideology as that of Salvini. His winning motto is to defend the Hungarians by keeping out migrants, specifically those prescribing to Islam. Viktor Orban is a prime example of how conservatism as an ideology and the leaders and parties that subscribe to it, resonate with the masses. In the last election, Victor Orban and his party won two-thirds of the parliament seats. The European Parliament has been trying to penalize Orban for his actions by seeking to suspend Hungary’s voting rights. However, to do this, they need a majority from the other members of the European Union. This, however, seems unlikely where most countries have started to echo a similar rhetoric as that of Orban.
The United Kingdom is another country where the ruling government resonates with populist views. The results of the Brexit Referendum served as evidence to this, where 51.89 percent of those who voted, voted to leave the European Union. The UK today with leaders like David Cameron, Theresa May, and now Boris Johnson, uphold the ideology of liberal conservatism where they accept liberal views like same-sex marriage while at the same time following the paternalistic one-nation conservatism policies. What we notice, however, is that the rhetoric in most of these countries is that of a populist view, implying that it is what the people want.
Reasons attributable to the rise in conservatism
As we look at the instances of the rising right, we can see that a lot of the examples have to do with what conservatism essentially stands for, which is – bringing order. Most people have an innate desire to preserve the order of a society. Therefore, one of the reasons for this trend could be attributed to issues of disorder, that motivates voters to shift their focus towards a party that complies more strongly with this principle. For instance, in the United States as well as in Brazil, the rising crime rates was one of the reasons cited for redirecting their vote as most people believed this was a direct result of immigration.
Another reason that could explain this trend is anxiety about the disruption of traditional family values. The anti-abortion movement is a foremost example of this, where conservatism seeks to preserve the culture, and the parties that align with this ideology can promise to put this into action. In Europe specifically, one of the cited reasons is the autocracy of the Euro and the European Council Board subscribed policies. Most countries want their own currency to gain control over their monetary policies and thereby their economy.
A strikingly different viewpoint on this rising trend was shown to be the influx of ‘dark money’. Dark money is essentially funds raised to influence the public in favour of their party during elections. In an investigation carried out by this organization called ‘openDemocracy’, they found that the American Christian right-wing spent about $50 million to fund campaigns supporting the conservatism ideology across Europe in the past decade.
Extreme conservatism: When the right went wrong
Although conservatism as an ideology is a school of thought which has its own established sets of principles that a lot of people subscribe to, there have been instances where right-wing extremists have gone overboard in carrying out their goals. In Poland, for instance, the anti-immigration ideals have resulted in a case of intensified Islamophobia. The hate crimes against Muslims of the region have taken forms of assault and arson. Moreover, the ruling party has disbanded the governmental advisory body that regulated and dealt with issues of racial discrimination and xenophobia.
Another instance is that of Hungary, when the current Prime Minister Victor Orban pressed continuously to shift the Central European University away from Hungary, since the University held a lot of US-accredited programs, until they finally shifted it to Vienna. This is another example of extreme conservatism. In addition to this, Victor Orban has continuously undermined judicial independence in their country, specifically targeting the Non-Governmental organizations that are supported or funded by American liberal philanthropists.
Further consequences of extreme conservatism could be that it weakens democracy. With countries following the illiberal democracy trend, it’s not hard to imagine a shaky democratic environment in the near future. There is also an element of the ‘us vs them’ narrative that develops, where issues like Islamophobia, ideals against economic integration and absolutist beliefs develop. Authoritarianism is another theme that could potentially rise as a result of conservatism, where more often than not, the leaders of these parties are extremely charismatic and with ideals resonating with the populist view, multiple re-elections become a possibility which could develop into authoritarianism.
Therefore, there is undoubtedly a rising trend in conservatism, especially in Europe. This trend could be primarily attributable to the rising anxiety caused by the disruption of traditional values and order in society. The consequences of this rising trend bring with it the potential for it to become harmful, and deteriorating the harmony of the society at large. Furthermore, as pointed out by Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, in a response to Vladimir Putin’s comment – “Whoever says liberalism is obsolete also says that freedom is obsolete, that rule of law is obsolete and human rights are obsolete.”
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