The death of the center


Nothing in history is inevitable. But it sure looks like the politically centrist neoliberal order that held sway throughout large swaths of the world over the past two-and-a-half decades may well be doomed.

As recently as the middle of 2017, analysts thought the populist challenge to the centrist establishment would be turned back following the Brexit vote in the U.K. and President Trump’s shocking victory in the United States. Surely the electoral defeat of populists in France and the Netherlands, along with Angela Merkel’s buoyant poll numbers heading into a national election in Germany, were cause to suspect precisely such a rethinking on the part of voters. Yes, they were angry, but now they’d seen the alarming consequences of acting on their destructive impulses and come to their collective senses.

The latest sign that this was wishful thinking comes from Italy, where in a national election this past weekend the governing center-left Democratic Party finished a distant second (with roughly 19 percent of the vote) to the upstart Five Star Movement of left-leaning populism (which won 32 percent). Meanwhile, coming in just behind the establishment center-left was the far right (The League, with approximately 18 percent) and paleo-populist Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia (with just under 14 percent). Forming a government from this mishmash of competing populisms will be extremely difficult, since the parties share little besides an antipathy to the ruling political establishment in Rome and Brussels.

Germany might be just one election from a similar fate. After several months of stop-start negotiations, members of the center-left Social Democratic Party voted over the weekend to join in a national unity government with Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats. It’s the same coalition that governed the country prior to the most recent election in September — only now both centrist parties are substantially weaker than they were, with the newly formed far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) the largest opposition party in the country.

This time around the parties of the centrist establishment refused to entertain forming a government with AfD. But if their share of the vote falls much lower, and/or if AfD gains further ground between now and the next election, that may prove impossible — or else require the formation of a fragile and ideologically incoherent government among the remaining parties.

If the situation in Germany and Italy shows that the rise of anti-system parties can lead to ideological incoherence and practical dysfunction, trends in Hungary, Poland, Austria, and the Czech Republic have shown that when populist impulses coalesce on one side of the political spectrum (in all of those cases, on the right), the act of challenging the centrist consensus need not produce political debility. Whether the European Union proves capable of governing itself, or even staying intact, with growing numbers of its member states opting to shift their politics several clicks to the nationalist right is another matter.

But the populist insurgency isn’t limited to Europe. In Mexico, Brazil, and Indonesia, upcoming elections could catapult anti-establishment …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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