Sweeper: The Comfort of Authoritarianism

This week we discussed the comfort that people felt under authoritarianism.  In Eastern Europe many people still alive today remember living under the specter of communism during the Cold War.  In  countries such as Hungary and Poland, they are relatively new democracies without strong democratic institutions.  That creates a situation where it is relatively easy to see why some might have felt better under authoritarianism.

The role the government played in the lives of people under authoritarianism was one that allowed for people to live their lives not having to worry about making any political decisions as you could never question them.  Under democracy problems can be blamed on the leaders that have been elected but authoritarianism projects a certain aspect of strength in a regime.  Many in the country during authoritarianism could have seen themselves as a part of a country that was strong in their conflict against the West.

Now, globalization and democracy have taken their toll on the people and they have pent up frustrations that causes them to move towards populism over traditional democratic leaders.  Populism rises where democracy does not have a strong base and the democracies in Eastern Europe are only 30 years old.



Sweeper: Europe’s nostalgia

Our discussion this week was centred on Europe and the rise of the far-right. It was particularly interesting how we talked about a nostalgia that many Europeans have who grew up under fascism.

Those who grew up under fascism rules, such as Hitler’s or Mussolini’s, can remember a time when they were guaranteed peace from their leaders so long as they follow the rules set forth. As long as you weren’t apart of an “enemy” religion or group it was easy to live an uneventful life.

This can also be seen as dependence. Like the dancing bears analogy, these people forget how to live without an iron hand telling them what they are worth.

And why shouldn’t they be nostalgic? If you weren’t Jewish or an immigrant then you have nothing to fear and a peaceful future ahead of you.

The speech by Vikor Orban we read is reminiscent of this. While the Prime Minister did not grow up under a fascist rule, his dislike of the liberals is clear. He blames liberals for supporting immigration and promoting a the “European dream” for refugees seeking asylum. It can be read that he thinks this European dream should be reserved for Europeans and not promoted as possible for unwanted immigrants.

Immigration in Europe is a tough subject due to the millions that have fled war and settled there. Although many welcome them, an equal number reject them. It can be seen that those who reject them are worried about being overrun by immigrants and lose the life they know and are comfortable in.

Sweeper: Eastern Europe, explaining the resurgence of anti-Semitism

In writing for my personal blog this week I came across two different articles on the return of anti-Semitism in Europe, not just Easter Europe though, France and Germany.

For France, the anti-Semitism is a sentiment that appears to remain from the distant past when Christianity was everything to the nation and the Jewish people were a hated religious minority. Their anti-Semitism was rampant during the second world war, and they actively persecuted the Jewish people.

For Germany the anti-Semitism is also historic but is also influenced by other factors. A recent influx of over a million immigrants and refugees, many of whom are from the Middle East or Muslim has stoked the feelings of anti-Semitism in Germany due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In Eastern Europe where countries tend to be, to put it bluntly, less progressive and less liberal anti-Semitism is on the rise again but for different reasons.

For Poland, it is a call to a form of imagined, idealistic nationalism. As Maya Vinokour points out in this article, the new wave of far-right sentiment in Poland has aroused a desire to reclaim and save a pure Polish people. In order to do so, they need to point the finger at the impure, in this case the Jewish people.

Rather than openly attacking the Jewish people, they are choosing to systematically erase Polish involvement in the persecution of Jewish people during the Holocaust, a form of historical revision. Their invented narrative also elevates and prioritizes Polish suffering during the second world war over the suffering of Jewish people.

This a more subtle but still powerful form of anti-Semitism, as memory is a form of power.

The resurgence of nostalgia for nationalist myths helps to explain the anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe alongside the rise of the far-right and totalitarian governments.

Sweeper: Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe is currently a hotbed for authoritarian leaders, even in the aftermath of the Cold War. We focussed particularly on situations in Poland and Hungary and how their political systems have not evolved into the Liberal Democracy of the West.

The discussion in today’s lecture established that this because neither countries had a real transitional process from part of the Eastern Bloc, to part of a united Europe.

Furthermore, both countries have been subjected, throughout the 20th century alone, to numerous invasions. This has created a heightened sense of nationalism at a time where they have full control over their country. This is the reason Hungary’s Orban is almost declaring war on immigration and Poland has reignited its quest against Anti-semites. Both countries wish to have full control over their country and ensure that these multiple invasions (whether it be by immigrants or tyrannical leaders) do not happen in the 21st century.

The role of the EU is interesting in Eastern Europe. Both Poland and Hungary are part of it but both are going against the fundamentals of western democracy; Hungary is trying to close the European University in Budapest as it encourages the influence of liberalism Judaism, and Poland have dramatically limited free speech and thinking. Yet the EU continues to let these policies thrive. People do fear that a stand-off between Western Europe Liberal Democracies and Eastern One-Party states could lead to the break up of the EU.

On reflection, although it may seem wrong to Westerners that they are rejecting Liberal Democracy in favour of Authoritarianism, I think their reaction is unsurprising; the political parties in power want to take hold of their own destiny rather than be at the hands of others (although both are undoubtedly influenced by both the US and Russia- more considerably the latter). This is a clear example where it is important to understand the history of a country to fathom the direction it is now going in. Both countries are reacting to the 20th century in order to find their path for the 21st.


First Responder – Eastern Europe

In a couple of this week’s readings I found that there was an interesting connection in theme between a couple of the assigned pieces. Looking at G.M. Támas’ article as well as the speech from Viktor Orbán there is a somewhat shared idea that liberalism, as we understand it, is on the way out. Now, both these pieces address this in very different ways, but the fact that it is present in both readings is interesting.

Much of Támas’s piece looks at how the term populism is applied to broadly, and that many people who are labelled this are just repeating old patterns of life. I found it especially interesting that he questioned whether or not Donald Trump was a populist. In the final paragraphs of his article, he notes that the political left are disappearing and that this is in part due to the fact that the practice living up to their own standards and ideals has been corrupted.

The speech given by Orbán is much less academically critical in its description of liberal politics, but rather states that being liberal and economically prosperous and content are incompatible things. At one point he states that liberalism can only be put into practice in the realm of ideas.

Both these pieces are interesting because they highlight the feelings about liberalism in Eastern Europe. Orbán’s speech does not seem out of place, seems relevant when considering more recent issues such as debates about free-speech in Poland. These readings raise interesting questions about the function of liberalism, and whether it is truly suffering in the way that these authors say it is, or whether these opinions are based on the history of their own political climates. I was interested to see how different these perspectives are from those we commonly see when discussing Western Europe and North America.

Sweeper Response: Brexit and the myth of lost glory

Our group’s discussion on Brexit was focused on the role of nostalgia in both establishing and maintaining populist movements. A reoccurring theme that becomes increasingly evident when examining the history of populism within Europe is the dependence on a grand historical myth which can be used a point of contrast in order to reinforce and ideology of victimization and lost glory. This is seen in the rhetoric of historical populist movements such as that of the Italian fascists which harkened all the way back to the roman empire in order to portray modern Italy as a fallen power which had become victimized. Keeping this in mind it was interesting to see similar rhetoric used by the Brexit campaign in order to rally middle class Britons against the European Union. Throughout the campaign proponents of Brexit consistently portrayed the UK as power in terminal decline contrasting its current state with its former glory as the head of the British Empire. The blame for this decline was then pinned on various scapegoats which acted as symbols of the European Union whether they be bureaucrats in Brussels or migrant workers from Eastern Europe. While this narrative is plagued with historical inaccuracy as the UK was in steep economic decline prior to joining the European Union, not to mention the fact that the “greatness” of the British Empire was built of the exploitation of its non-British subjects rather than hindered by it, it had an undeniable impact on the course of the Brexit referendum. Not only does the image of a victimized and declining nation connect with a middle class which has been plagued by both austerity and stagnant wages, but the focus on a former glory exclusive to Britain prevents a sense of solidarity from forming between the British middle class and its counterparts across Europe. The decline of the middle class due to the relentless assault of austerity crippling the welfare state is not exclusive to Brittan. It is a reality across Europe which requires cooperation and solidarity across national boundaries in order to effectively address, the isolationism advocated by the Brexit campaign will do nothing but worsen the situation. The true tragedy of anachronistic propaganda of the “leave” campaign is that it has blinded much of the British middle class to its most valuable ally that being the middle class across Europe, in favour of a delusion desire to restore Brittan to a semi-mythical state of glory that was supposedly experienced in the distant past.

Sweeper: A misunderstood Brexit?

Our discussion on Friday centered itself mainly around the aspects of Brexit and British populism that are perhaps overlooked by scholars and media. Namely, feelings and sentiments held by the “leave” camp surrounding immigration.

Of course the role of immigration in British culture has been a touchy subject long before Brexit, particularly in regard to eastern Europe. The migrant crisis of 2015 worked to exacerbate these existing anxieties and as we discussed, is perhaps not as well recognized as it ought to be.

In class we saw the areas of the UK and the demographics that tended to vote for the “leave” side on average. In discussion, this was built on and unpacked some more.  Older, more conservative individuals in the UK were worried about immigration and wanted to maintain autonomy from the EU.

This got me thinking about the built-in biases that individuals such as ourselves carry into these analyses. Most people do not think the way we do. There is a large portion of society that is never exposed to post-secondary thinking or the liberal values that are so well-drilled into students or faculty such as ourselves.

This makes topics like immigration an intimidating and confusing unknown to a lot of people, which subsequently became a focal point for the “leave” campaign to utilize.

As we discussed, these issues are therefore brushed aside in conversations similar to ours. We would never even consider going into the subject of immigration as a factor for Brexit, as they are wrong and therefore inherently sterile in our eyes.

What should be checked at the door by more by journalists, academics and professionals is their principles when delving into these kind of issues. If you want to understand populism, maybe you need think along the same lines.

Op/Ed II: The Devil we Know

A recent article by Bloomberg titled ‘Why some Nations are warming to technocracy’ gives interesting insight into how people view democracy, and what, if any alternatives to democracy people are willing to entertain. In a survey which included 41,953 respondents, spanning 38 nations, the Pew Research Center found: when asked to choose an alternative to democracy, the majority choice Technocracy. The survey also found that newer democracies, and poor nations view technocracy positively, whereas nations with long established democratic traditions view a technocratic tradition more negatively. Overall though, the idea of a technical or scientific based government is becoming more popular, and seems like a rational thing to consider.

Never before in human history have so many people had access to education, information, communications, and technology. It cannot be by chance that as the world becomes more educated, people are realizing that if we do not change how we govern ourselves we will not survive. What needs to change is current democratic institutions. Current political and legal systems are slow, and not advanced enough to face the range of problems human civilization will face in the coming decades.  If our current democratic institutions want to enjoy their continued influence, they will need to change and make choices based on the insight the scientific community can provide; if not, we will destroy this planet and all life on it, including us.

Climate change and ecological conservation, sustainable food and water security, renewable energy and sanitation, disease epidemiology, effective urban development, computers and automation, and infrastructure are all issues that we face which require specialized and technical leadership. Leadership the technocracy can provide. Canada seems to be moving towards having technocratic tendencies—is  that really a bad thing? Engineers supervise engineering, medical professionals supervise medical care, social workers supervise social welfare, and the government makes decisions based on statistical evidence and reason. This sounds like a very rational way to govern, yet people resist it still. There is a wave of unstoppable social, global, and technological development that is coming—why fight it? Current technological progress is totally unprecedented, and therefore will require unprecedented political change. We need to move towards a form of government that can effectively analyze, and incorporate ongoing technological change, and not simply stick with the devil we know.

The main argument cited against a technocracy is: there will emerge a new ruling class, and we will enter into some kind of dystopian future brought on by the unsupervised and vulgar use of technology and science. However, a lot of the resistance of technocracy seems to stem from people simply not understanding science, or not understanding how the scientific method works. We all have different strengths and talents that may not be based in science, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. Not everyone has to be a particle physicist or study the mathematical underpinnings of quantum reality. However, we should make public policy based on the recommendations of the scientific community. We should elevate scientists, legal scholars, and prolific thinkers to the celebrity status of the Kardashians. If we did this, there would be absolutely nothing beyond the capacity of human potential and creativity.

In the meantime, more should be done to put technical and scientific experts in positions of authority, so they can solve scientific and technical issues they are experts in; issues that just so happen to the be critically affecting human civilization. In our increasingly globalized world, we all need to work together, support each other, and share with each other. Political decisions based on raw emotion, or cherry-picked evidence needs to stop. We need to make economic and policy based on what science or evidence tells us—not what popular opinion is at any given time. There is no reason why we, a scientific-based democracy, cannot peacefully coexist with the legal, civil, and human rights that should be enjoyed by all people. If human civilization is to survive we need to move away from the old system, and move towards a system that will better equip law makers and leaders with the information and technology needed to make informed policy; thus, we should move towards a technocracy.

Sweeper Response: Brexit

Many of the first responders this week focused on the topic of immigration. In our discussion, one of our first responders chose to open the conversation with a question on whether or not the focus on immigration tells the whole story. The consensus became that fears over ‘excessive’ immigration is a significant factor in people voting for Brexit, as shown by the statistics in the readings. However, it is a part of a larger narrative of concern about economic prospects and underfunded social programs. Immigration becomes the (misguided) scapegoat for these issues and therefore dominates the conversation. This also may explain why Brexit happened now: the refugee influx coupled with still-present economic issues created an environment for this radical re-thinking of political norms.

The second part of the discussion today focused on underlying nostalgia for the former British empire. A part of these anxieties seem to be a sense of unease at no longer being a hegemonic world power. In the speech we watched in class, Margaret Thatcher explicitly mentioned Britain’s past as a “civilizing” empire and European integration, in some instances, may serve as a reminder that they are no longer the leading military or economic nation anymore.

First Responder: Bye Bye Britain

While Brexit might have come as a shock to the rest of the world, history teaches us that its sentiments have been around for a long time.  This weeks readings and videos circled around the idea that Brexit has historical roots, with a long past of Britain feeling anxiety about their economy and immigration.

A major factor in Britain’s decision to leave the EU, is its fear of immigration. In Enoch Power’s speech, “river of blood” we begin to see how the anti-immigration sentiment is one that is present in the past. We see how the fear of immigrants and the idea of losing national identity has been something that has effected prior times as well.

Britain’s involvement in the EU has also been historically problematic according to the Meon and Selter article which highlights how Britain was not apart of the European coal or Steel community and that they still used the pound as currency. This disconnect is also a factor in rising tensions between Britain and Europe.

What I found interesting about this week’s readings was the Hobolt article, and the explanation of how Brexit occurred due to many differences in its demographic. Some of these factors include difference in age and education. This idea of old and new mentality and its impact on citizen’s political opinions was fascinating to me, and something I can see in other cultures as well. We can see how many older citizens feel nostalgic to times when Britain was a superpower. This idea of importance of nationality and superiority is something that we have discussed in our class, and it is interesting to see it played out in our time. Just as though immigration has been a fear of the past, it is a fear that is still evident in the present.

Will Britains exit from the EU lead to more nationalism amongst its country? Could this been seen as a problem? What does Britains need to stop immigration over its economic security say about how its citizens feel about immigrants? Is this an example of the “fear o the other” sentiment that we have discussed at length in class? In Brian Lewis’s video, he discuses right wing politicians used strategies such as support of same-sex marriage as a tool for political gain. Is it fair for the government to alley with groups such as same-sex supporters as a political tactic? What does this say about the government and its willingness to do whatever it takes to win a vote? Is this democratic?