Globalism vs Localism. Is There a New Political Coordinate System in the 21st Century?
A reinterpretation of the Right-Left divide, new fault lines.
The 2019 European Parliament elections may not have delivered seismic change, but they certainly have set off a definite processes of change: new opportunities and new scenarios are clearly visible on the horizon. New fault lines have appeared which in many aspects redraw the old ones – especially the traditional Right–Left divide which must be reinterpreted in a new light, along fresh dimensions. Therefore a new political coordinate system is called for where axes are reinterpreted along the Globalist-Localist and Federalist-Sovereignist front lines. In this new coordinate system, attitudes towards multiculturalism vs national identity as well as the liberal interpretation of democracy vs other interpretations will become decisive. These fault lines over political, trade, economic and geopolitical considerations will make a profound impact on how various sides view the future of the European Union – on the European Union where Hungary, as a member state, will assert its national interests in the coming decades.
A fundamental problem for every era for the political scientist is to describe the theoretical, methodological and disciplinary framework within which to best analyze and, therefore, understand the divisions along parties and political interests. From this perspective, it is particularly important to separate system theory from conflict theory. The main characteristic of modern political relations isn’t the rigidity and the static nature of the Cold War, but a change – a sort of global and continental dynamism and flexibility driven, shaped, reinterpreted and reinstitutionalized by the overarching conflicts between spheres of society such as the state, the global market and (civil) society. Cleavage Theory, as a Conflict Theory, can be useful because it carries the concept of permanent change born of conflict; the concept of change, stabilization and reformation as well as the dynamic interaction between spheres – without which it would be impossible to understand the core of the conflict between Globalism and National Sovereignty.
Cleavage Theory remains today a defining element and method of study of Political Science. The basic concept of the theory is that in modern societies certain conflicts will arise among societal groups that are not resolved through the usual internal mechanisms of the society and as a result they take on a political guise and political parties volunteer to carry these conflicts into arguments within and outside of the legislature and into government vs opposition disputes.
As a result societal conflicts gain significance, become fault lines through the process where nations’ party political divisions are built upon such basis – these fault lines define the nature of political struggle within societies. According the theory, in western societies divisions and conflict within the societies create the party political structure within each country, thus providing the struggle for power with a democratic substance as the parties represent the interests and values of the society in government as well as in opposition rather than “floating” above society, aloof.
The American political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset and his Norwegian colleague Stein Rokkan, who were the creators of Cleavage Theory, identified four defining fault lines based on Western historical development of which two were economic in nature and two were cultural (Lipset 1967). They counted as economic, and as the basis of the Right-Left divide, the conflict between labour and capital and the one between industrial and agricultural interests.
One of the cultural fault lines was religious: the conflict between believers and non-believers as well as between various confessions. The other was an ethnic conflict which meant the tensions between the majority group within a nation and the language and ethnic minorities.
On the other hand it is clear that both Lipset and Rokkan focused on individual nation states – which corresponded to the contemporary historical, societal and political conditions. The process which created the global market got a fresh impetus in the 70s and 80s and a major boost with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and with it the Communist bloc when the world became “unipolar” or more properly: multipolar. Lipset and Rokkan did not properly experience how local, national markets would retreat in the face of global market forces with the appearance of multinational giga-corporations, how the globalized banking and financial sector would dominate manufacturing and agriculture, to what levels speculative capital would influence events – and as a result how financial power would mutate gradually into political power, throughout the globe.
New Fault Lines, New Divisions
Things changed cardinally in the 21st century and the national fault lines within the borders of individual countries are gradually becoming subsumed by global fault lines. As a result we must reinterpret the Cleavage Theory of the two classics; not throw it away but on the contrary adapt it to the new realities.
The core of this “reinterpretation” is that divisions on the “national level” are becoming less crucial, but the nation, as an institution created by God, or according to others by society, finds itself in opposition to the global market, the global power structure, the world of supranational organizations – for which the nation state has become an obstacle to be dismantled on the way to profit and the triumph of their political and power interests. This new, 21st century fault line for the nation state has been reduced to Hamlet’s dilemma: “to be, or not to be”.
Stemming from the above we arrive at the conflict between the new global market and the nation state; globalism and democracy. This is why nobody should be surprised when powerhouses of the global market attack so vehemently the confines of the nation state as “rabid” – they well know that dismantling the nation state would mean the subjugation of democracy itself as something operating within and arising from the nation state and as such, according to them: “ineffective”.
To summarize the above and the current state of affairs: here, in the 21st century, a historically unprecedented fault line has appeared between the globalized market and the supranational organizations on one side and national sovereignty (including national democracy) on the other.
This fault line between globalism and democracy as well as between the global market and existence as a nation state is a complex conflict as it incorporates such dimensions, important on their own, as Globalism vs Localism, Federalism vs Sovereignism, Multiculturalism vs national identity; and of course this conflict overarches our relationship and attitudes towards democracy.
- United States of Europe or a Europe of nations.
The former would be equivalent to the abolishment of member state sovereignty and the creation of a concentrated super federalist state which would then become part of the global supranational power structure.
- Liberal or non-liberal democracy
The mainstream, neoliberal interpretation of democracy sides with Globalism and accepts only such a form of democracy as legitimate which pushes back on the majoritarian concept of democracy, which is based on the idea that the “majority decides”, and overestimates the rights and privileges of radical individualism, the opposition and “new minorities” – thus diluting the central authority which bases itself on traditional culture and national identity. Every nation where the legitimate power of the majority is exercised will immediately be stigmatized as “semi-democratic”, “authoritarian” or “illiberal”.
- Multiculturalism or national culture
Adherents of Globalism will use the equal diversity of cultures, religions, ethnicities, etc. as grounds to propagate the protection of generally artificial “new minorities” (immigrants, sexual minorities, etc.) from the majority, or how they often refer to it – the “oppressive, white, Christian nationalistic middle class”. Their ideal is the cosmopolitan citizen devoid of national identity, religion, traditional culture. Opposing them, there are the adherents of a culture based on nationhood and Christian values. They reject the idea of mixing together genuinely irreconcilable cultures which are based on diverging behavioural models and systems of symbols. They consider such a mixing or melding a mortal threat to nationhood and the nation state because they see the corruption of national identity as undermining sovereignty.
- Progressive elitism or anti-elitism (“populism”)
Adherents of Globalism trust the expertise of supranational, cosmopolitan politicians (i.e. eurocrats), companies that are market leaders, their managers, banks, “investors” above all; they believe that the world should be guided by an expert elite. Those who oppose the Globalist elites however ground their opposition in the notion that elitism intensifies social differences between an increasingly concentrated, caste-like, “super rich” layer and the billions of humanity to a breaking point – which can lead to catastrophic repercussions. The so called “populists” also point out that although this global elite poses as a defender of (liberal) democracy, the moment the “will of the people” fails to serve their interest they turn against any decision regardless of the democratic pedigree of the process that has led to it being taken.
- Migration, as an opportunity or a threat for Europe
The position of the Globalists and the European elites is clear: immigration is a positive development. Moreover, it is a human right. This position is opposed on the other side by those who want to protect European culture and Christianity (led by the Visegrad Four: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia).
We see not the end of history envisioned by Fukuyama (Fukuyama, 1992), but rather, much closer to the projections of Huntington (Huntington, 1998), in the 21st century the political rivalry within the nations is replaced by a struggle between the nation states and the global elite on one hand and the rivalry of political ideologies is replaced by a struggle between cultures and civilizations on the other (see the conflict of Christianity and Islam).
As we have seen, the defining fault lines of the 21st century run along the lines of globalism and localism; it is defined by the opposites of physical and the virtual, being anchored to the physical location and not. It of course doesn’t mean that within the nations a united front is created against globalist institutions and ambitions; instead parties, political groups or movements as well as various media and NGOs find opposed to each other along this fault line, more or less independently of the traditional Right-Left divide.
Attitudes towards the Global Elites among the Traditional Left and Right.
Naturally, the trend that the classical left or left-liberal parties side with Globalism more readily than the political groups traditionally on the right who are more likely to protect national interests, national culture and national sovereignty – this follows from their political heritage. However, the geopolitical position has become increasingly relevant along with how many of the advantages of globalization and Globalism the country can harvest, how well a given country’s economic elite is integrated into global institutions and what influence the country itself has on the process and course of globalization. In many of the central powers which play a defining, controlling role in and taking the most advantage of globalization, i.e. Western European countries, the classical center right and center left parties (the elite parties) have been observed to come to a compromise agreement on the very issue of globalization and its sub elements (migration, Multiculturalism, political correctness, a cult of the new minorities, human rights fundamentalism, etc).
It is conceivable that for instance in Germany and France, the parties on the left still believe in classical ideas of progress and the perfectibility of the world derived from the Enlightenment – but this optimism seems to be on the verge of disintegrating. The fall of Communism and the Soviet Union caused quite a shock and disillusionment for the socialists and the social democrats on the left and recently they have been hemorrhaging support and losing ground – a process clearly reflected in the results of the 2019 European Parliament elections. The (left) liberal side strongly believed that after 1989 the final victory of liberal democracy and the end of history (see Fukuyama’s above mentioned work) was within their grasp, but, at the latest, the collapse of the Neoliberal economic and financial order in 2008 sufficiently inoculated them against over optimistic illusions.
Today both camps on the left have it as their main political objective to integrate to the fullest possible extent with the supranational power structure, shaped, controlled and supported by the global financial and political elite, and gain positions within it. The global elite uses them in power politics on one hand and to propagate the Globalist, Neoliberal, and cosmopolitan views which best promote their interests in the world media on the other. Parallely, and with a great impact on these parties themselves, they have abandoned their traditional identities as Trade Unionist and Labor movements and they are now actively “seeking out” or even creating new allegedly oppressed groups such as the immigrants, feminists and sexual minorities. They have exchanged their economic demands concerning industrial labour rights for the excesses of human rights fundamentalism.
Unfortunately, the traditional center right parties in Western Europe have adapted themselves to this trend as well. The Conservative, Christian Democratic parties, who are traditionally seen as able to govern from Germany through Austria to France, beginning with the 70s and 80s, were forced first to collaborate with supranational interests meddling with the internal matters of countries and nations and in later years to adapt to these interests. They had to make this compromise in order to stay relevant on the European political map and within the EU.
However, as a result of this process the political elites of the big European countries have met in the middle of the traditional Right-Left spectrum, they “reached out” to each other, and increasingly more often in recent decades, elections were followed by grand coalitions, political stalemates, governments lead by delegated Prime Ministers (Italy, Greece). This political “embrace” in the center – the most striking example of which is the cooperation within the European Parliament between the European People’s Party and the Socialists, which has been manifest since 1979 – however, means that the Right-Left spectrum itself is dissolving, in other words becoming irrelevant from the point of view of the ideological power structure
As a reaction to or pushback against this process new parties have appeared in the West in the last two or three decades; parties which oppose the “mainstream” (the direction taken by the unified center left and center right) as they reject Globalism coming either from the right or the left. The ones coming from the right will not accept giving up their countries’ cultures and identities, immigration, an artificial transformation of their nations’ population into a mixed one. These parties are no longer “on the right” as they oppose not only the parties and governments on the left but also the Globalist political elite which now incorporates some “center right” elements. (See for instance Sweden where the center right and center left have created a unified front against the Sweden Democrats; another good example is the resistance from both the Right and the Left to AfD in Germany and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National in France.) Naturally, the mainstream parties like to call the Sovereignist parties names like “Far Right”, “Neo-Nazi” or “racist” etc., but these epithets are meaningless beyond indicating the vehemence of the political struggle between the Globalists and the Sovereignists even in the sphere of language.
The situation is quite different in Central and Eastern Europe and the Central and Eastern European member states of the EU. These countries, including the Visegrad Four, are not among the primary beneficiaries of globalization, not least because the central powers of Western Europe, having obtained a geopolitical and historic advantage refused to share their position of influence with the Central and Eastern Europeans. These countries could not sufficiently integrate themselves into the global economic bloodstream and the leading powers of the EU did not offer an economic program fast tracking the development of the region, in other words there was no Marshall Plan for Central and Eastern Europe. However, in recent years and decades the Central and Eastern European countries had to suffer the representatives of the global and central EU structures misrepresenting the mutual benefits of the integration as the “West” always giving to the “East” and in return for this “charity” the latter was supposed to be under an obligation to accept a set of “European values” and “Western standards”. Or in other words, the older members of the “club” tried to force the Globalist markers onto the “new” ones which, for instance in the case of the Visegrad Four, go hand in hand with cultural disadvantages, even subjugation and a loss of identity and national sovereignty. This Western approach does not appreciate the fact that the integration process isn’t one sided at all, the countries joining it over the last two decades surrendered political and legal competences, offered economic and financial concessions (strategic sectors and industries were privatized, their internal markets, including the labor market were completely opened up and competences deriving from sovereignty are being shared, etc.). So while the Western countries dream of becoming the economic beneficiaries of Globalism in exchange for giving up their national cultures and identities, which in the long term is an illusion, of course; at the same time Central and Eastern European countries are expected to surrender their identity and their culture knowing that economically they would be at the mercy of global forces.
As a result we can clearly observe in our region, which has long standing democratic traditions and a historical aversion to suffering subjugation, that regardless of the traditional Right-Left scale various political parties and governments have adopted policies protecting sovereignty, national identity, and national economic interests. Naturally, these countries also have those parties which for illusory advantage or real political conviction slavishly follow the Globalist-Federalist agenda and the will of the EU elite; in practice they are no longer characterized by the traditional Left-Right divide, rather by a lack of allegiance to the national identity.
Regardless, we have to underline the fact that the Left vs Right divide still exists, and is likely to exist in the future – but it will not necessarily be the defining difference, as in this new historical era new fault lines have become or will become the primary factor. This “new state of affairs” can be described in terms of seeing the Left-Right fault line through a different prism and interpreting it along new dimensions. Naturally, what is most important in a political landscape is shown to a great extent by which parties ally themselves to which. There is always the possibility of temporary and unnatural coalitions or alliances of necessity, however, the events and trends of recent decades clearly indicate that it is no longer out of necessity that center right and center left parties form their alliances, especially governing coalitions, and it hasn’t been necessity that drives them for quite a long time. These alliances have become enduring in their nature which shows that the parties and politicians of the two sides have shared values and interests which they prioritize over their traditional differences in the 19th and 20th centuries. In a sense, they have stepped over, bypassed the latter. As a result the Left vs Right issue, as so many other issues in history, wasn’t exactly resolved it has been subordinated by other conflicts and fault lines.
After the European Parliament Elections: New Coordinates and Divisions on the Map of the European Union
Based on the above we can project that based on the new fault lines new political coordinates will appear and although they are unlikely to sweep away the traditional Right-Left scale completely, they will put it into a significantly different light.
Let us take a closer look on how these new developments manifest themselves in the results of the European Parliament elections and the redrawing of power relations. The first and most visible sign is the weakening of the traditional big tent parties on the right and the left in the European Union. This applies to both the socialist/social democratic parties and the conservative/Christian democratic ones but is more pronounced in the case of the parties of the Left. Consider this: the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) picked up a mere 15% of the vote, which is a historic low for the party; it isn’t implausible for the Social Democrats to leave the “grand coalition” (CDU-CSU-SPD) before the end of the year, which could lead to the resignation of the government and early elections.
The Left’s fall in France is even more spectacular: The Socialist Party of former president Francois Hollande, got a mere 6% of the vote – this is the utter collapse of the traditional Left in France. But there’s a host of no less shocking results: the profound defeat of UK’s Labour, the worst result since 1910 (!) of the Swedish Social Democrats and of course the 6,6% result for the Hungarian Socialist Party, as a post-communist party, must be included in this list of catastrophic collapse.
However the big tent parties on the right fared only a little better. CDU/CSU found themselves in uncharted territory – as they had never dipped below 30%. The French Républicains (of former president Nicolas Sarkozy) ended up among the also-rans. The British Conservatives suffered another historic defeat, although that of course can be attributed to chaos surrounding Brexit; the Spanish Partido Popular is in dire straits too.
As a result EPP (the originally center right, Christian democratic grouping) lost 35 European Parliament mandates, just as the socialist/social democratic group, which has also lost 35 compared to 2014. (EPP currently has 181 seats, the social democrats 152).
In contrast, on one hand the Liberals and the Greens came out stronger and on the other the euro-critical, or rather: euro-realist, national parties also managed to increase their weight in the European Parliament on the whole. Let us take a look at the numbers: the liberal group now has 108 seats, 39 more than in 2014, to a large extent owing to the fact that the 21 MEPs of Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche joined this group, which thanks to the initiative of the French President has recently renamed itself Renew Europe – although that name change has had no effect on their ideological orientation. The Greens following some minor success in individual member states were hoping for an “environmentalist revolution”, but that has not materialized: they gained a mere 23 seats, largely due to results in Germany. The group of European Communists lost 11 mandates.
On the other hand the Sovereignists also gained strength: the group called Europe of Nations and Freedom increased its European Parliament group from 37 to 73, the new name of the group is Identity and Democracy. Within the party family Matteo Salvini’s Lega plays a leading role, its other members include Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, the German Alternative für Deutschland and the Austrian Freedom Party. European Conservatives and Reformists won 61 seats, the defining member of the group is Law and Justice (PiS) party.
These great, explosive changes clearly indicate that along new fault lines new political divisions are created, which subordinate and overwrite the long standing, decades old conflict without rendering them completely obsolete. The main axis or fault lion of this new political coordinate system is increasingly along the lines separating the Globalist – those who support the idea of a United States of Europe, migration, Multiculturalism and a global society and the Sovereignists who want to build a Europe based on strong nations, to end migration and to protect Christian culture.
Taking a closer look we will increasingly find that this new axis defines the nature of alliances between various parties and governments in Europe. Let us now explore the tangible signs of this process:
- First, consider the Visegrad Four. The four countries have four governments representing four differing approaches to politics in a traditional sense: Poland has a Conservative government, the Czech Republic a liberal one, Slovakia a social democratic one and in Hungary we have a National Christian Democratic government – and despite all that these countries cooperate with increasing effectiveness in several fields. This is explained by the fact that old, traditional Left-Right political differences are superseded by the protection of national sovereignty in the face of an imperial EU, shared economic interests, a rejection of immigration and the protection of Christian culture.
- Or let us take Salvini’s new alliance: the Identity and Democracy group. It has parties from Western and Central Europe and among the members one can find radical nationalists, conservatives, even left leaning and “centrist” parties.
- But perhaps the most important: the grand coalition of the European People’s Party and the Socialists. For forty years now – since 1979, the first European Parliament elected by European citizens – they were leading the European Parliament in a grand coalition; this however has now changed, the two of them no longer constitute an absolute majority. Since the elections, Manfred Weber, the spitzenkandidat of the EPP as well as other leaders of the group have made clear that they will approach the leftist, liberal and green groups with intent of forming a majority and that there was no chance for an opening towards the “Right” or in their terminology the “nationalists”, “populists” and the “Far Right”. What is this if not a complete about face, a rejection of traditional affinities? The reason is obvious: EPP’s “mainstream” formerly on the right, has prioritized “ever more Europe” (see super federal union), “managing” migration and a Europe with a mixed population over their devotion to a “bright future”. For this the only place where they can hope to find partners is the liberal Left: therefore this is where they will move.
- In the Baltic States – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, one often finds strange governing coalitions and opposition alliances which are often incomprehensible to traditional political wisdom, and they often change to boot. An overview of these coalitions and alliances would require a separate paper in order to analyze their particularities, which consequently we will not attempt here. It is however clear that these party political alliances and cooperations as well as separations happen largely due to the parties’ attitudes towards Globalism, Federalism, Sovereignty, Multiculturalism and migration and not due to more traditional political divisions.
- Denmark is a peculiar and fresh example: as a result of recent parliamentary elections the Socialist Party led by Mette Frederiksen won and is given the opportunity to form a governing coalition but not mostly, or primarily because it follows the leftist approach to economic matters. According to polls the party’s victory is best attributed to the fact that they offered an even more hardline migration policy than the departing liberal conservative Rasmussen government – they promised to force those migrants who are illegally in Denmark to depart the country as soon as possible. It seems Frederiksen won not due to her position along the Left-Right axis but because along the Globalist-Sovereignist axis she adopted the position favored by most Danes on the Sovereignist side. (And she has been on course to fulfilling her election promises since taking office.)
- Beyond the party political aspect we should mention the phenomenon where according to the polls an increasing number of respondents in Western Europe place themselves in the center of the Left-Right spectrum, a characteristic example of this is Germany. In reality, this means that an increasing number of people in fact cannot place themselves along the Left-Right axis and as a result they are forced to adopt a neutral position, or in other words the Left vs Right divide is no longer relevant to their identity, however an alternative way of defining themselves was not suggested in the polls. It is entirely possible that along the Globalist-Sovereignist fault line they would present a more strongly held political identity.
What follows from all of the above for the political landscape of Europe is not at all reassuring: political divisions are not fading or weakening, on the contrary they are becoming sharper. Recent decades, as indicated by the cooperation of the EPP and the social democrats in Europe, saw the creation of something that was almost a consensus between the traditional center left and center right parties; although, this consensus often led to elitism, sweeping problems under the carpet and corruption (see the fates of the German and Austrian grand coalitions). However, traditional leftist parties are seemingly under threat from the Greens and the traditional Right is losing support to the Sovereignist parties. And the ideological distance between those two is truly enormous. Europe’s future, the future of Christian culture and the issue of migration, of course, all carry enormous weight. They are a matter of life and death.
As a result, in this divided, new Europe we see the emergence of a political war and we Hungarians cannot extricate ourselves from it, not least because we find ourselves at the frontlines of this political conflict. As we so often have throughout our history.