Pinkerton: Nine Days that Shook the World–And What Comes Next

Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (R) greets supporters during a rally of European nationalists ahead of European elections on May 18, 2019, in Milan. - The Milan rally hopes to see leaders of 12 far-right parties marching towards their conquest of Brussels after European parliamentary elections …
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty

A century ago, in 1919, the left-wing American journalist John Reed published Ten Days That Shook the World.  Reed’s topic was the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, which overthrew the czars and established the Soviet state.  (Reed was a big fan of the communists, as was Hollywood actor Warren Beatty when he portrayed Reed in the 1981 film, Reds.)

Of course, things move faster these days, and oftentimes in the opposite direction, and so now we can speak of Nine Days That Shook the World—those being the three sets of elections, on three continents, spread nine days apart: the Australian election results of May 18, the Indian election results, announced on May 23, and the European elections, announced on May 26.  

By now, the outcomes are well known: The conservative nationalist parties won outright in Australia and India, and they ran strongly in the somewhat symbolic European parliamentary elections.  In the United Kingdom’s balloting, for example, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party won the most seats. 

So what to make of these elections, in which officials representing nearly two billion people were chosen?  This author wrote about the Australian election results here, and the Indian results here.  And so now, four more takeaways: 

First, people still tend to identify themselves by their national or religious group, such as Australian, or Hindu, or British.  That is, their historical and cultural identity is important to them; they don’t wish to see themselves as interchangeable cogs in some globalist supply chain, either of goods or of people.  As Americans know, these sturdy sentiments have caused a significant backlash against the two great emblems of globalization, free trade and mass migration. 

Here’s how one leading nationalist, Italy’s Matteo Salvini—still glowing from his party’s first-place finish in the election to fill the Italian seats in the European Parliament—explained the results: 

This is the sign of a Europe that is changing.  A Europe that is tired of being the slave of strong powers, of the elite, of the financial companies and corporations.

Salvini’s words show that he puts his nation first—that is, before both international organizations and multinational corporations.  It’s worth re-emphasizing that Salvini is on the right, not the left, and yet he’s a conservative, as opposed to a libertarian.  And as a conservative, he is fully supportive of tradition, property, and religion; he is a believer in what the American conservative Russell Kirk called “the permanent things.”  Thus Salvini is mindful that economic power—especially when wielded by “woke” corporations—can undermine both culture and the family.  

Second, and speaking of “permanent things,” the voters seem to be telling us that they oftentimes treasure old ways more than they seek out new ways.  This treasuring of the familiar can become a kind of defense mechanism—even a form of defiance—that can be puzzling, even threatening, to progressives.  

We might remember, back in 2008, that candidate Barack Obama condescended to  the values of rural- and small-town folks: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion.”  We might further remember that those “bitter clingers” eventually merged with the “deplorables”—and so became a mighty force.  

More recently, Salvini was observed “clinging” to his religion; on May 18, he held up a rosary before a crowd and declared, “Personally, I entrust Italy, my life and your lives to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whom I’m sure will bring us to victory.”  One might think that a Catholic invoking Catholic iconography in a Catholic country would be unremarkable, and yet in fact, Salvini’s words caused a ruckus in some quarters, since for decades, the political norm in Italy has been devout secularism.  But perhaps that, too, will change.  

Salvini might be a conservative, and yet still, in his way, he is a radical—in the sense that he is willing to attack the roots of the status quo.  He must have known that his invocation of Mary would bring criticism from the curiously left-leaning clerics of the Vatican, who have long opposed him.  And in fact, Salvini was duly criticized.   He won anyway.  

Yes, it’s a bit strange to think that a Catholic politician would have to overcome the hostility of the Catholic hierarchy—the woke part of it, at least—to declare his faith, and yet we must put this sequence in the category of strange, but true. 

Now Salvini’s victory, along with the victory of like-minded political figures, will give strength to those who seek to uphold traditional permanent things, even if that means that they are dubbed as retrograde reactionaries.  Indeed, we’re seeing a worldwide movement against those who wish to destroy permanence in favor of faddish political correctness.  

In that vein, here in the U.S., we might point to a neglected data point from last year’s public-opinion polling; an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found that 52 percent of Americans said they were against America’s becoming “more politically correct,” while just 36 percent said they were in favor.  As an NPR report admitted, these findings were “a warning to Democrats.” 

Third, with the exception of Britain, European conservative nationalists are generally not opposed to their countries’ membership in the European Union.  One reason is geography; as an island, Britain, is, well, naturally a bit stand-offish toward the continent.  By contrast, it’s understandable that people who live on the continent tend to like it more. 

Another reason, of course, is Britain’s trouble over actually implementing Brexit, which will soon lead to “Mexit”—that is, the exit of Prime Minister Theresa May.  Will the next prime minister do better?  Will he or she achieve Brexit and avoid dislocation, even recession?  We’ll have to see, and yet in the meantime, while European conservative nationalists wish to change the EU, they don’t wish to leave it. 

Indeed, according to one mega poll of the EU 27—that is, the European Union minus Britain—favorable thinking toward the EU in the last three years has actually ticked up nine points. Moreover, a full 80 percent of EU 27 agrees with the statement, “What brings European citizens together is more important than what separates them.”

We might also note that the EU has changed.  The biggest change is the political fall of German chancellor Angela Merkel—the onetime conservative who went rogue and inadvertently touched off the populist explosion with her reckless open-borders policies of 2015-6.  Merkel is still in office, and yet she’s a lame duck, scheduled to retire in 2021.  In fact, according to reports, her own party might push her out even sooner.  (In the meantime, Merkel keeps herself busy blasting Donald Trump at–where else?–Harvard University.)

Yet the EU, if not Merkel, has learned a few things; asylum requests into the EU are down by half in the past three years, and illegal entry has virtually disappeared, mostly because Italy has gotten tough on enforcement.

So now that the worst of the immigration crisis seems to be over, conservative nationalists are thinking more about reforming the EU, as opposed to exiting from it.  One such is France’s Marine Le Pen; her National Rally just finished first in her country’s balloting, humiliating French President Emmanuel Macron—and now LePen calls upon him to resign.  

Yet even so, LePen is not interested in “Frexit.” As she explained last month, “We have made changes in the last two years.  The situation of isolation that we had in Europe is now over.” Referring to the old days, she added, “We didn’t have much choice: either we had to submit [to the EU] or we had to leave it.”  That is, when LePen and her fellow nationalists were alone in the EU, they wanted out.  “But now,” she continued, “we have allies.” 

There is, indeed, a lot to be said for being in the union, because there’s a lot to be said for being big, not small.  We might start with the concern over immigration—or, as Salvini calls it, “Eurabification.”  On the closely connected continent of Europe, it’s fine for one country, such as brave Hungary, to say nem to open borders, but as a matter of elementary security, it’s a lot finer if all the countries work together.  That’s a big “if,” of course, but common border security is a goal worth working toward.  

Similarly, if Europe is going ever to stand up to Russia and China, it will be more effective as a unit.  Of course, some will say that such collective defense was the purpose of North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which precedes the EU, and so who knows—maybe the EU will grow to be more appreciative of NATO’s successful model of integrated-defense, as opposed to the failed model of attempted integrated-everything,

Fourth, conservative nationalists still have a way to go in their politicking.   Yes, they won in Australia and in India—and earlier this year, they also won in Israel, and last year they won in Brazil as well—and yet in the just-completed European Parliament elections, the conservative nationalist parties won just 112 seats.  That’s up from essentially zero a few years ago, and yet still, their total is barely one-seventh of the 751 seats in the chamber. 

Moreover, just on June 2, Breitbart News noted that the conservative nationalist grouping within the European Parliament will not include Hungary’s contingent, and perhaps also, not Britain’s.   Such coalition challenges might not be insoluble, but they do speak to the continuing challenge of creating a common front across national boundaries.

So while it’s true that Euro right-wingers had a good night in the EU elections, Austria’s right-wing chancellor, the 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, was pushed out of power in an intra-coalition struggle.  In parliamentary systems, such power struggles happen all the time, and they don’t necessarily mean anything come the next election, and yet still, after less than two years in office, one young star is no longer rising.  

Moreover, in one part of Europe, there’s the nagging issue of Brexit.  As Edward Luce, a correspondent for the arch-globalist Financial Times, pointed out, “Overlooking Farage’s personal triumph, this was actually a bad result for Brexiteers.”  As Luce observed, the hardcore Brexit parties won a little over 34 percent of the vote, while the rest of the vote was scattered among anti-Brexit parties or others with an often unclear opinion.  As of this writing, the best we can say is that Brexit is still a work in progress. 

So we can see: The European conservative nationalists have had a huge impact, but they still have much to do.  As Salvini said on the night of his party’s victory, “As of tomorrow, our workload will double.”  So whether the issue is immigration, or the economy, or security, the ascendant conservative nationalists need to settle in to do the hard work of freedom and sovereignty.  Because as the German sociologist Max Weber explained, “Politics is the slow boring of hard boards.” 

For more perspective, we might consider the situation here in the United States, which reminds us that politics indeed isn’t so easy.  Three years ago, conservative nationalists here won a big victory, albeit at the presidential level—the results in lesser elections were murkier.  President Trump has had his share of successes, and yet he has also had his frustrations—and that was before the Democrats won back the House of Representatives.   

Now, despite brief high hopes about the possibility of an infrastructure breakthrough, it seems that 2019-20 will be given entirely to investigations and elections, as opposed to legislation.  

In fact, in small “d” democratic societies, it usually takes more than one election to bring about real change.  And so here in America, in Europe, and around the world, conservative nationalists need to gear up for a protracted process. 

Yes, it’s possible to shake the world in ten days, or even nine days, but to actually change the world—that takes a good while longer.   

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