The British magazine, The Economist, recently published an issue on the topic of the rise of illiberalism and populism. Donald Trump was, of course, at the centre of attention, and they discussed his populist appeal in an article bearing the title ‘Playing with Fear’. But some attention was also given to the rising success of anti-immigration, Right-wing parties in Europe, including parties such as the Front National, Fidesz, and the Sweden Democrats, the latter being the anti-establishment party of my fatherland. The basis of the articles was not, however, serious political analysis, but the old technique of accusing anti-establishment politicians of exploiting irrational fear.
The prospect of liberalism breaking down in Sweden seems to especially frighten proponents of liberalism all around the world – and it should – because if illiberal parties can succeed here, then they can make it anywhere. And speaking of fear, it struck me how similar the rhetoric and analysis of The Economist is to that of the academics, pundits, and experts in my own country when they try to understand why a large part of the people have decided to abandon the establishment and have begun voting against its policies. This analysis often, in the end, boils down to speaking of the politics of fear.
Trump, they write in The Economist, plays on the fear of the angry, old White men whose jobs and wages are threatened by globalisation and immigration. The same goes for Europe, where Marine Le Pen, Jimmie Åkesson, Viktor Orbán, and all the others pretty much do the same thing. The tendency to apply psychology in order to transform conservatism and nationalism into pathologies is strong within northern European culture. I’m sure the same goes for the US. This is of course a very convenient way of dealing with the rising tide of illiberalism without having to consider the complete and utter failure of Left-wing liberalism, thus putting all the blame on the Right.
In Sweden, multiculturalism was accepted and voted into the Constitution in 1975 by our Parliament. At that time, no one anticipated the mass immigration that would come at a later stage and which would reach extraordinary heights during the 1990s, going beyond even that when Fredrik Reinfeldt was elected as Prime Minister in 2006. It is interesting, however, to note that the stage was set over forty years ago for the problems which we deal with today. One can certainly get the impression that the problem with immigration is a new thing when one hears the debate on the so-called refugee crisis. But this is not the case; multiculturalism and immigration have been failing for a long time.
And over the course of several decades, we have had an elite which has pushed this agenda. Immigration and multiculturalism did not come out of a vacuum; quite the opposite. They have, during this period, been willed by our politicians, our academics, our media, and our big business. I’m writing from a Swedish perspective, and when looking back some 20 to 25 years, to when the opposition against immigration first began to organise, it is astonishing how much has happened since. For many decades, the elite was more or less unchallenged when it came to imposing immigration and multiculturalism on the Swedes.
Today, the situation has reversed. The Sweden Democrats – a party critical of immigration – was elected to the Parliament in 2010 and have since had rising success in the polls. But the change has not only occurred within the realm of politics. The conditions for the media have changed just as much. Today’s media does not have a monopoly on information any longer. They also have to deal with declining readership, and thus lesser incomes than they had prior to the rise of alternative media. The ice is breaking under the feet of the establishment, and quite a lot of its members certainly feel a slight chill down their spines.
At the same time, it would be a mistake to attribute this chill only to the prospect of their material benefits withering away. The bread and butter is about to be taken from the mouths of the politicians and journalists, but this is not everything. To an even greater degree, it is their ideas that have failed and are on the verge of collapsing entirely. They are collapsing, to borrow a phrase from Marxist terminology, because of their internal contradictions.
The cardinal values of the establishment are feminism, multiculturalism, equality, globalism, inclusion, and openness. All of these are in the process of breaking down. All of those things in which they have believed and worked for over the course of decades are now being rejected by the peoples on whom they were imposed. And by the numbers, the peoples of Europe and the US are turning to politicians who challenge the visions and realities of the establishment.
It is a sign of the times that the defenders of the establishment can only conjure up such a weak response as accusing people like Trump of playing on irrational fear. When their ideas are failing, the only thing they can do is to try and transform the critical stance of their antagonists into pathologies. But who is really afraid?
The technique of making one’s opponent’s ideas and views into pathologies is certainly a dishonest one. But in this case, I believe myself to be justified in turning the trick on the Economist writers back on them. There is another interesting concept in the field of psychology: projection. And when apologists in the service of the Left-wing establishment accuse us of being ruled by fear, they are certainly projecting their own state of mind into their antagonists. Because the truth is, they have every reason to be afraid, whether they happen to be operating in the American or Swedish context.
Their utopias have been in power for quite some time, with horrifying consequences. Policies and ideas – like the virtues of immigration and multiculturalism – that used to go unquestioned, are now being critiqued, and are failing on their own account. The power and privileges that used to be reserved for politicians and pundits of a certain ideological dispensation are on their way of being appropriated by new actors. Accusing people like Trump of ‘playing with fear’ won’t make such failing ideas any better, and neither will it help to preserve the privileges of the current establishment in the future.
The real fear here is that of the Left-wing establishment. They have everything to lose, and we have everything to gain. A fire has been started, and the fire is rising.