So the Sweden Democrats—that is, the Swedish anti-immigration nationalists—won a victory over the weekend. Sweden now has a substantial populist conservative movement, placing it alongside just about every other country in Europe.
Actually, the Sweden Democrats came in third, with 17.6 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, the Social Democrats, the party of the incumbent prime minister, Stefan Lofven, won the most votes with 28.4 percent—although that was their worst showing since 1908.
Of course, the reports from the mainstream media are as alarmist as you’d expect. The BBC, for instance, declared that Lofven is “‘very concerned’ about far-right Sweden Democrats.” Just before the balloting he had declared, “This election is a referendum about our welfare…and not letting the Sweden Democrats, an extremist party, a racist party, get any influence in the government.”
It remains to be seen within that country’s multiparty parliamentary system whether or not the Sweden Democrats will actually enter the government. Still, in a nation noted for its electoral stability, these populists, brandishing a tough law-and-order message, have become noisy newcomers. The party only came into existence in 1988, and it failed to win so much as a single seat in the Riksdag until 2010. Now it holds 62 seats. Whatever happens, the Sweden Democrats are destined to be a loud voice.
In recent European history, it’s 2015 that will be remembered as a hinge year—the year that politics swung wide. That was when German chancellor Angela Merkel launched her Wilkommen policy, opening her borders to a million refugees, urging the rest of Europe to join her in welcoming even more.
To critics, the policy was an obvious disaster from the start—a scenario straight out of Jean Raspail’s dystopian 1973 novel, The Camp of the Saints. But of course, at the time, liberal chatterers trilled that Germany was emerging as a “humanitarian superpower,” inspiring others with its kindly radiance. Indeed, one might speculate that the open-door policy was Merkel’s bid for a Nobel Peace Prize, as well as a step in Germany’s endless quest to atone for Hitler and World War II.
Yet of course, the result has been the complete opposite of Merkel’s high hopes. Thus have we all been reminded yet again of Edmund Burke’s wisdom: “The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity; and therefore no simple disposition of direction of power can be suitable either to man’s nature or to the quality of his affairs.” Unfortunately, the Germans lack a Burkean tradition of cautious conservatism; as we have been reminded, for all their seeming stolidity, they have an unsettling tendency to make sudden moves. Yet it’s also evident that other leaders around Europe, many of now them ex-leaders, would have benefited, too, from brushing up on Burke.
Instead, the ruling classes chose to rely on trendy new thinking about a “borderless world” and “the twilight of sovereignty.” That is, we were supposed to believe that the last 5,000 years of human history—including deeply ingrained instincts of faith and tribe—were just so many residues to be vacuumed away by the machine of globalism. Another key pop document was Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book, The World is Flat, which this author reviewed for TAC. It would seem the flat-minded elites forgot that culture and identity don’t migrate as easily as money and data.
Moreover, if the elites underestimated their ability to assimilate peacefully millions of Third World people, so, too, did they underestimate the First World political backlash. The year after Merkel’s mistake, the British voted for Brexit and the Americans voted for Donald Trump. In the meantime, in the middle of Europe, conservative regimes, openly hostile to the European Union’s open-borders policies, further entrenched themselves into power. And in 2018, another domino fell in Italy, when the nationalist coalition there took power.
To be sure, the dominoes are not all falling the same way: 2018 also saw the collapse of a traditional center-right government in Spain—that is, leaders who were more business-oriented than nation-oriented—to be replaced by overtly open-borders leftists. Still, one wonders how many incidents such as this videotaped beach landing will have to occur before Spain, too, comes to its senses.
As for Sweden, there were plenty of warnings for that country’s mini-Merkels. In a 2016 piece in Foreign Policy, we can read: “The Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth: Little Sweden has taken in far more refugees per capita than any country in Europe. But in doing so, it’s tearing itself apart.”
Yet interestingly, if not surprisingly, the global-minded elites spent most of their energy denying that there was any problem with immigration. We might recall the argument over the existence of dangerous “no go” zones in immigrant-heavy cities. In 2017, the left-leaning American website Snopes.com—not known for its Swedish expertise—declared the no-go allegation to be “false.”
So it was left to others to tell the truth. “Sweden’s violent reality is undoing a peaceful self-image,” blared an April 2018 headline in Politico.eu, not exactly a rabble-rousing publication.
Indeed, the reality that this was no longer your farfar’s Sweden came clear just before the election, when The New York Times published a piece by Jochen Bittner, a German journalist. Bittner took note of some distinctly no-go-ish characteristics of one Stockholm neighborhood, “where some 90 percent of residents have a foreign background, roughly 80 percent live on welfare or earn low incomes and 42 percent are under age 25. It is a violent place: Sixteen people were killed there in 2016, mostly in drug-related conflicts, an unheard-of number in this typically peaceful country.”
Those data points undeniably showed the impact of barely controlled, and mostly unassimilated, immigration. And yet Swedish elites, obedient to their globalist dogma, were happy to deny it. Indeed, they typically preferred to smear dissidents as “racists,” smug in the thought that such a hex would end the threat to their power. Interestingly, the Times’ Bittner quoted one close observer, Ahmed Abdirahman, a Swede born in Somalia, predicting that the rulers’ strategy of simple dismissal would meet its comeuppance: “If the major parties had been able to read the majority’s concerns, things would have been different.”
In the wake of the election, another Swede of foreign origin, Tino Sandanaji, published an article in Politico.eu, “The cost of Sweden’s silent consensus culture.” As the author explained, it was the elites’ unwillingness to acknowledge un-PC truths that created the space allowing insurgent restrictionism to erupt. That is, if crime, disorder, and dependency were obviously rising, and the authorities insisted that it wasn’t happening, well, then, maybe the elites weren’t to be trusted. In Sandanaji’s words, “The perception that the government is lying about important issues is a key reason why support for the Sweden Democrats has not declined, despite a reduction in migration flows. Voters simply don’t trust the government to tell the truth.”
We might step back and observe that many populist uprisings begin just this way—when the people figure out that their government has been lying to them. And once the populists get going, there’s no telling where they will go.
To be sure, the establishment elites are not without counter-measures. And perhaps the best is the one that they have been slowest to consider. That would be co-optation, which is, of course, the most Burkean approach. Or, to put the same idea in less grand terms, stealing the thunder.
Such co-optation would start with an honest acknowledgement that Merkel and her fellow European Unionists made a mistake. Moreover, it would add that the whole idea of a deracinated world, in which people are interchangeable, is an illusion.
In fact, there’s growing evidence that nimble figures on the right are currently thinking in new ways. In Britain, the Conservatives have substantially abandoned the corporate globalism of former prime minister David Cameron—and before him, of Labour prime minister Tony Blair—and moved back to English nationalism. In so doing, they have crimped the upstart energy of Nigel Farage’s U.K. Independence Party.
Moreover, in France, Laurent Wauqiez, leader of the Republicans, now says that immigration is a “cultural threat to European civilization.” With talk like that, Wauqiez might squeeze out the National Rally (formerly National Front), led by Marine LePen.
Even in Germany, some leading center-rightists, looking to a post-Merkel era, are seeking to co-opt. One of these is Manfred Weber, who says now that responsible conservatives must “show people that we’re able to protect our borders.” And on our side of the Atlantic, we might observe that the Republican Party, too, is shifting towards restrictionism: the utopian open-borders-ism of George W. Bush, so strong just a decade ago, now seems like a distant memory. (Of course, since not all conversions are sincere, immigration hawks are always well advised to keep the threat of political insurgency at the ready.)
Yet in the meantime, some parties on the left are actually moving further left on migration issues. The words “Abolish ICE,” after all, translate into many languages.
So there’s a coming showdown between nationalism and open-borders-ism—or, if the choice is properly framed, between order and chaos. And if that’s the frame—order versus chaos—it won’t be much of a fight.
James P. Pinkerton is an author and contributing editor at The American Conservative. He served as a White House policy aide to both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.