Freedom under Fire in Europe

The harsh fiscal realities created by destructive austerity policies are pushing European politics in an increasingly more extreme direction. Europeans have become so used to their entitlement programs that they are willing to take to extreme measures to defend them. In Greece, Nazis and Soviet-style Communists are rapidly gaining ground among voters; in France, the leader of the National Front, Marine LePen, is the strongest presidential candidate among first-time voters; the new Hungarian government has brought back a old-style, dingy European form of nationalism that is openly threatening the country’s parliamentary democracy. 

The British National Party, which gained significantly in opinion polls back in 2009, seems to have survived faction-fighting within and is a frighteningly resilient player on the British political scene. In Sweden, the openly un-democratic National Democrats have seats in several city councils and are preparing for participation in the 2014 national parliamentary elections.

All these parties have one thing in common: they want to preserve the welfare state and blame its decline on a combination of “unrestrained capitalism”, “globalization” and “immigration”. (In reality, the decline of the welfare state is inherent to the welfare state and what looks like its destruction is actually the result of widespread austerity policies.) As for “solutions”, they propose far-reaching government control over the economy – their differ from communists only in that they do not suggest eliminating property rights – with focus on preserving and “rebuilding” the welfare state. In the name of preserving their nations, they also want to close the borders to, primarily, non-European immigration.

If this nationalist defense of the welfare state continues to gain ground, history from the 1920s Germany will repeat itself. The German leaders during the Weimar republic did everything they could to preserve their welfare state in the face of enormous economic problems. Since the economy could not afford the welfare state, and since they were ideologically married to keeping said welfare state, the Weimar governments tried their very best to shrink entitlements to make them fit the ever shrinking tax base. In a desperate measure to try and avoid the inevitable they started printing money en masse. The currency collapsed, economic and social chaos took over – and the road was paved for the NSDAP to march into Berlin.

Europe will not come to that point any time soon. There will be no hyper-inflation, at least not in the major European countries. But let’s not forget how easy it is to bring about high levels of inflation just by reckless government policies. The desperate efforts of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to defend his country’s vast entitlements have brought about years of 20-30 percent inflation and an economy that is for the most part at a standstill.

If the common European currency breaks down and there is a return to national currencies – unthinkable only two years ago but now one of the realistic scenarios for the future - a desperate government in a smaller European country could easily take to the moeny printing press to save the welfare state. At that point, economic chaos is just around the corner and the nationalists who are already lining up in, e.g., Greece will not have to do much to gain power.

Europe’s welfare states have passed the point where they can no longer co-exist with the productive sector of the economy. Only two alternatives are left for Europe: to structurally reform away the welfare state or to try to preserve it through austerity policies. With no exceptions, Europe has chosen the latter. But in doing so, Europe is also bringing itself to a point where it will have to choose between democracy and freedom on the one hand, and the welfare state on the other. The very political project that was created to preserve a socially and economically stable Europe, to promote prosperity and to serve as a firewall against extremism, is now de facto opening the doors for that same extremism. 

Again, one major reason why Europe is having such serious economic problems as it is facing today, is that its governments have built and are desperately trying to preserve a big welfare state. In many countries this has expanded goverment to where it controls 40-50 percent of the economy, and even more in Sweden and Denmark. This massive government control of economic resources has brought with it many social-control mechanisms: the welfare state aims to provide so called economic security, and relies on a wide array of “templates” to do so. Every entitlement program comes with eligiblity criteria that define a certain type of citizenry as its constituents; a template life for those seeking to quality. The more of these templates that government povides, the more of a political culture of social engineering – and social control – it creates.  

This culture of social control is inherited by every new generation of politicians. The more established the culture of social control becomes, the farther it will reach. Politicians and bureaucrats always seek to expand their power into new areas. Since governments have become so vast in Europe now that they control up to half of the economy and more, it has become natural for them to expand their control into non-economic areas as well.

One of them is free speech.

As a result of growing economic tensions and the social stress brought about by irresponsible, desperate efforts to preserve the welfare state, there is a growing skepticism in Europe toward the continent’s inexplicably generous immigration policies. Since the prevailing political paradigm in Europe is in favor of large immigration, especially from Asia and Africa, Europe’s politicians are now relying on the social engineering traditions from building and defending the welfare state to also defend their immigration policies. Viewing immigration skepticism as echoes of Europe’s totalitarian past, as opposed to a responsible execution freedom of speech, they are now expanding their social engineering into the otherwise sacred domain of freedom of speech. Scandinavia presents two disturbing but very telling examples of this. From the British Daily Mail:

In decadent Europe, freedom of speech is dying. Loudly trumpeted as a ‘human right’ for any attacks on America, Israel, Christians or on the core values of the west, it is swiftly transformed into ‘hate speech’ and the shutters are slammed down on the speaker whenever Islam is in the frame. Lars Hedegaard is President of the Danish Free Press Society, which is devoted to defending freedom of expression – particularly against the threat from radical Islam to extinguish it on the spurious grounds of ‘Islamophobia’. With no sense of irony, Denmark is trying its damnedest to shut Hedegaard up on precisely those grounds. This witch-hunt has now reached its third round. In January 2011, Hedegaard was tried and acquitted for racism and hate speech over remarks he made two years previously concerning sexual abuse within Muslim communities. After his acquittal was appealed, however, he was retried and convicted. … A few days ago, Hedegaard’s appeal against that conviction was heard by Denmark’s Supreme Court. According to Sappho, the Free Press Society’s magazine, the prosecutor admitted that the grounds for Hedegaard’s conviction were wrong – and yet she encouraged the court to confirm the verdict, but with a better justification. To this Kafka-esque formulation Hedegaard’s lawyer claimed that the charge had not been based on what Hedegaard had actually said, which had been taken out of context; the charge had been based on news articles produced by, amongst others, the politically correct newspaper Politiken. …  This oppressive treatment of Lars Hedegaard is … part of a terrifying trend across Scandinavia and Europe, where the left is doing the dirty work of the enemies of the west for them. In Sweden Ingrid Carlqvist, head of that country’s Free Press Society, writes that this society has become ‘the number one object of hate amongst Swedish journalists’. Why? Because it too defends freedom against its Islamist enemies. After the Swedish media studiously ignored the Society’s inaugural meeting earlier this year, says Carlqvist, journalists from such publications as Sydsvenskan, Helsingborgs Dagblad, Svenska Dagbladet, Dagens Juridik and the Union paper Journalisten launched a campaign of concerted attacks against it, accusing it of making ‘the Danish Muslim witchhunt into a Swedish one’, – and of voicing extreme opinions and feeding prejudices.

The Swedish media have received forceful endorsement in their campaign against the Swedish Free Press Society. That endorsement comes from within the circles of government itself. Several members of the prime minister’s cabinet have expressed similar views as those of the press that Ms. Carlqvist refers to.

These efforts to engineer speech is an expression of the same type of political hubris that in the early-to-mid-20th century brought about the welfare state. Just social and economic engineering destroy our prosperity, speech engineering destroys our liberty. Yet for a statist, these types of political engineering go well together. This opens a frightening perspective on the future of Europe: prosperity is under attack from austerity measures aimed to preserve a dying welfare state; liberty is under attack from speech control measures aimed to prevent criticism of, primarily, immigration but (as I have personally experienced) secondarily even the policies that aim to preserve the welfare state.

America should pay close attention to the complex but disturbing political, social and economic trends in Europe. We have time to make the right choices where Europe has made the wrong turns, but the more we expand our government – in all directions – the closer we get to repeating Europe’s mistakes.