It is no friend to conservatism—but liberalism isby Ryan Shorthouse / March 31, 2017 / Leave a comment
In a companion piece, Jonathan Rutherford explains how Labour can take on populism from the left
Conservatives in the west face a serious and consequential choice: to align with ascendant authoritarian populism, or to defend the institutions and values of liberal societies, currently and dangerously bashed as the playthings of an urban elite.
Across the Atlantic, too many Republicans have chosen to appease or to collaborate with the grotesque and pantomimic Trump presidency. In Europe, where the public have also become frustrated with mass immigration and a sluggish and scandalous ruling elite, some centre-right leaders are flirting with protectionist and anti-establishment positioning.
They are making a grave mistake. At the moment, the incentives for the Right may lie with populism, but the long-term damage it will do to our economy and society is profound. The populist surge will ultimately hurt conservatives, too. Many politicians, such as the US Senator John McCain, are wisely resisting. Last month at the Munich Security Conference, he sounded the alarm over the turn away from universal western values and the romanticising of authoritarianism.
Populism is a term that is ill-defined and prone to over-use. But as the Dutch politician scientist Cas Mudde has written, in its original form it is an “ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups: ‘the pure people’ and ‘the corrupt elite’, and argues that politics should be an expression of the general will of the people”. Indiscriminate and incessant attacks on elites, from populists of both the left and right, conflict with the core tenets of conservatives: individual agency and social cohesion.
Authoritarian populists push for strong leaders that can bypass and smash supposedly biased and corrupt institutions that are preventing the implementation of radical action, including ones essential to democracy such as a free press and an independent judiciary. But conservatives value these institutions precisely because they tame the powerful from stamping on the freedom of other people.
After the Second World War, institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights, Nato and the United Nations were created to protect people’s freedom at an international level, They are now also under attack from populists. Without doubt, authoritarian populism is a threat to…