The suggestion that Europe’s slightly left-of-centre liberalism is in retreat is easier to argue than dismiss.
Versions of rightwing intolerance and authoritarianism are in the ascent, in a way that cannot but stir the ghosts that remind us all of Europe’s appallingly divided and violent past. Brexit, the renewal of the right in Austria, France, Germany, Poland and, if the polls are accurate, Italy, too, all suggest that human nature is always susceptible to fear and strongman promises to neutralise that fear.
Though the left is not in anyway blameless in Europe’s bloody past, it will take comfort in the weekend by-election defeat of Hungary prime minister Viktor Orbán’s anti-migrant, populist party. Orbán, who says Hungary is the last bastion against the ‘Islamisation’ of Europe, goes to the polls in April, seeking a third term in office.
His defeat would be a reassuring indication that we have absorbed some of history’s cruellest lessons. Europe and its neighbours already have more than enough old-style blowhards who would undo the democracies built since our last great catastrophe.