European Left Down But Not Dead

Angela Merkel GrinningThe magnitude of the win of Angela Merkel’s coalition, coming on the heels of a center-right romp in the recent European Parliament elections and the ouster of several conservative governments in recent months, has spawned much hand-wringing about the decline of Europe’s Left.

I round up and analyze some of this commentary in my New Atlanticist essay, “Whither Europe’s Left?

Ultimately, I view this as a cyclical rather than an ideological phenomenon.

Even the most moribund opposition parties will eventually find a charismatic leader to capitalize on the public’s fatigue with the governing party.  Republicans have dominated the presidency during my lifetime, winning 7 of 11 elections going back to Nixon’s landslide in 1968.  But, every time it looks like the Democrats are a permanent minority party, they either come up with a particularly dynamic leader (see Clinton, Bill and Obama, Barack) or they capitalize on Republican hubris (see, Carter, Jimmy and Obama, Barack).

[…]

Just when the American Democratic Party seemed to be too left-leaning and out-of-touch on the issues, Clinton and company rebranded them as “New Democrats.”  Margaret Thatcher and John Major and the British Tories held the reins of power for 18 years before Tony Blair and “New Labour” won a landslide victory; they’ve now held power a dozen years and are running aground.

It’s a virtual certainty that Europe’s center-left parties and America’s Republicans will, in the not-too-distant future, win back control of their respective governments.  And it’s an absolute certainty that, when they do, they’ll do so on decidedly different platforms than the last time they did so.

What do you think?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Pining for the fjords, no doubt.

  2. GS says:

    It’s hard to say. Britain has never trusted the intentions of the Continent. I think that the UK is more conservative than Labour has tried to make it for the past twelve years. I’m hoping they’ll begin to trend against the nanny state rather than going the route of the BNP. Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are more conservative as well, and also have traditions of freewheeling capitalism. I think that France and Spain will trend left, as will Portugal. Greece is perennially leftist, their leftists are just also ardent nationalists. Italy’s politics are so weird that I would never even pretend to predict them.

  3. Our Paul says:

    To answer your question, we have to deconstruct this:

    It’s a virtual certainty that Europe’s center-left parties and America’s Republicans will, in the not-too-distant future, win back control of their respective governments. And it’s an absolute certainty that, when they do, they’ll do so on decidedly different platforms than the last time they did so. (My italics, OP)

    And, to set the table, we will quote Stefan Thiel (Newsweek) from your New Atlantic Piece:

    Among them, they are facing a center-right that is increasingly adept at cherry-picking policies that used to be considered “left”—like education, environmentalism and social justice. (My italics, OP

    Comparison of the Center Right in Europe to the Center Right in the US is a fools errand, they certainly are not pari passu on most social issues, as brother Stefan points out. Somehow he left out bank regulation, and executive pay, two issues that Angela Merkle has wagged a finger at the US. She of the complimentary photograph also instituted economic reforms and a cash for clunkers program that proved to be popular, and unlike here, were supported by the opposition left coalitions which recognized their need.

    The fuel for the center right take over in Europe differs from country to country, but if there is a common strand it is the question of immigration, and the inability of the Muslim populations to secularize either their religion, or clothes. One thing for sure, any attempt by the right to weaken the social contracts between the state and the people (health care, child care, education, work place rules etc.) will severely weaken any center right party.

    The meme as to whether the right in the US will have a resurgence simply cannot be coupled to that in Europe. For one thing, American Conservatism is riddle with fundamental Christianity, and their message does not change over time. All one has to do is recall the Conservative brand going nutso when Obama was invited to Notre Dame. The other problem is that Conservative philosophy does not necessarily equal GOP ideology. The former is reflective, the latter is operational, seeking power, at the expense of potential societal solutions. Daniel Larison, of the American Conservative fame, recently examined this dichotomy between the Elites and the Grassroots, and it is well worth a read.

    Will the GOP regain power? At your request, my view: Not for a long time. In a separate column Larison has pointed out that Conservatives and the GOP have lost the ability to self criticize and admit to error. And until they gain that ability, they will never be able to develop the different platform you visualize in the future.

  4. Mr. Prosser says:

    GS, I agree, particularly your referencing the social contracts in European countries. The same is obvious in the US. The US conservative reaction to health care reform is that a new contract can never be rescinded, only tweaked. It is my opinion any US conservative resurgence will be incremental, based on the election and re-election of candidates who repudiate the present regional and demographic base and can show an ability to work deals with the other side. There will be no major conservative success for years, even if the 2010 mid-terms increase representation somewhat based on the present Southern regional fears and far-right clamor.

  5. […] European Left Down But Not Dead The magnitude of the win of Angela Merkel’s coalition, coming on the heels of a center-right romp in the recent European Parliament elections and the ouster of several conservative governments in recent months, has spawned much hand-wringing about the decline of Europe’s Left. […]

  6. ggr says:

    Will the GOP regain power? At your request, my view: Not for a long time. In a separate column Larison has pointed out that Conservatives and the GOP have lost the ability to self criticize and admit to error. And until they gain that ability, they will never be able to develop the different platform you visualize in the future.

    The same was said numerous times about the democrats over the last few decades. I suspect its no more true of the GOP then it was of them – generally it only takes the party in power to make the inevitable mistakes and/or unpopular decisions that come with governing to swing an election the other way.

    A large portion of the population distrust and dislike both parties, and until that changes no one party is going to have a lock on power for an extended period.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    The same was said numerous times about the democrats over the last few decades. I suspect its no more true of the GOP then it was of them – generally it only takes the party in power to make the inevitable mistakes and/or unpopular decisions that come with governing to swing an election the other way.

    A large portion of the population distrust and dislike both parties, and until that changes no one party is going to have a lock on power for an extended period.

    And yet the GOP is pursuing a strategy that does bring down Democrats but also drags down the GOP even lower…by the way, it is laughable to believe that a move to the right in Europe would presage any good news for the GOP here…as others have noted, conservative parties in Europe are well to the left of the Republican Party and conservatives here, and even, on some issues, to the left of the Democratic Party…

  8. sookie says:

    ggr has it more accurate than one else. It is cyclical precisely because a great number of people distrust both parties. It’s not our fickleness, they continue to give us many reasons to distrust.

    My approach is to vote gridlock. Our system generally works best when we have strong opposition.

    And when it isn’t working, at least they aren’t making it worse. Look at the Reagan and Clinton admins. Hopefully balance will come to Obama’s next year.

  9. An Interested Party says:

    A rather large example of the difference between European and American conservatives…