What the American Left Gets Wrong About European Conservatism

Brexit and the rise of European conservative politics is receiving derision from liberal outlets ranging from Vox.com to the Washington Post. The vote to leave the European Union, the U.S. media say, is the product of xenophobia and little more. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour claimed that the Brexit movement testified to a deeply concerning vein of European hatred for others (caveat: Amanpour’s husband is one of those all-too-rare Americans who stands up for our country when abroad). Such accusations flow in the wake of Edward Said’s otherness principle — the idea that the West dehumanizes foreign strangers. While such claims resonate in university lectures, they do not connect with reality. Because the truth of contemporary European conservatism has far more to do with economics and social mobility than it does with xenophobic hatred.

Of course, this is not to say that xenophobia isn’t a problem on the European continent. It is. More specifically, it is a problem on the far Right. At the violent end, the problem manifests most clearly with terrorists such as the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik. At the lower (but serious) end, we see France’s National Front party, Austria’s Freedom Party, and Denmark’s People’s Party. These movements are growing in popular support and parliamentary representation. But they are not conventional conservatives.

For a start, unlike their conservative competitors, Europe’s far-right parties are fervent supporters of bloated welfare states as well as opponents of free trade. Additionally, where European conservatives call for immigration reforms, the far Right calls for outright (often religious or-nationality specific) bans on foreign immigration.

And that speaks to a broader point. The rise of right-wing politics in Europe isn’t a function of the far Right but rather the result of steady gains by the mainstream European conservative right. The best example here is what occurred in Britain last summer, when David Cameron’s Conservative government defeated the odds and won a small but highly significant parliamentary majority. Cameron secured victory because he responded to the Great Recession with targeted spending cuts that helped restore economic confidence. He succeeded, in other words, because he governed as a sensible conservative.

The truth of contemporary European conservatism has far more to do with economics and social mobility than it does with xenophobic hatred

In the same way, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats have now governed Germany for nearly 11 years. While there are far-right movements in Germany, they have not been able to attract anywhere near the levels of support that Merkel has. In France, although Marine Le Pen’s National Front leads socialist President Francois Hollande in opinion polls for next year’s election, she trails conservative frontrunner Alain Juppe by a 7-10 point margin. Meanwhile in hapless Greece, beset by an ongoing economic crisis and led by a hardline socialist government, opinion polls show the conservative New Democracy party with a sustained 6-8 percent lead. And last weekend in Spain, facing the confident left-wing Podemos party, conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy increased his party’s share of parliament.

The takeaway: First, conservatives are winning in Europe. Second, were European conservatism dependent on xenophobia; far-rightists would be winning far more.

Of course, all of this raises the question of why traditional conservatives are winning. Again, the answer is simple. As Opportunity Lives has explained, Europeans are waking up to decades of socialist mismanagement and choosing alternatives. Consider a few of the critical problems the European socialist delusion has wrought: the economic dysfunction of the European Union; immigrant-integration failure; Europe’s entrepreneurial reliance on the United States; and the idea-less anger of the European far Left. Even Scandinavia suffers from this pandemic of socialist malaise.

Ultimately, the rise of European conservatism isn’t about xenophobia or anger. It’s about the increasingly obvious and systematic failure of socialist ideology. An ideology of good intentions that transforms the wealthy nations into toilet paper-ocracies. Having run out of patience, Europeans are turning to conservative alternatives.

Tom Rogan is a Senior Contributor to Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on “The McLaughlin Group” and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.