Europe: One Step Closer to the Populist Precipice


EspañolBy Julio César Mejía

The strengthening of radical statist political movements in Europe is alarming. It seems as though a good part of the European electorate are desperately seeking for politicians to tie a Gordian knot at their throat, saying pretty things while they do it. It’s no exaggeration to say that Europe is preparing to fall into the same trap in the 21st century that it did during the 20th.

The proof: witness the notable share of the vote that the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) won on January 25 in Greece, as well as the multitudes recently marching for socialist grouping Podemos in Spain. In the same way, the success of nationalist movements such as Hungary’s nationalist Jobbik party and France’s National Front would suggest that walking the road to slavery once wasn’t enough for some people.

New populist organizations transcend left-right divisions, instead embracing a dangerous collectivist ideology. (

Who would have thought that Venezuela’s populism, complete with elastic and ambiguous terms such as “neoliberalism,” “the people,” and “the national interest,” could be exported so successfully to Europe? Who would have suspected that European politicians would once again repeat the mistakes that cost humanity so much? Only a few decades ago, few would have seen it coming.

But the greatest error would be viewing this phenomenon through the jaded definitions of “right” and “left.” Europe isn’t experiencing the flourishing of extreme opposites of the political spectrum. To the contrary, those who are often represented as ideological adversaries have much more in common then they’d like to admit. One need only look at the striking speeches and political programs of these radical groupings.

In the first instance, they seek to confront a difficult economic situation through the same measures that caused it: by increasing economic interventionism, upping public spending, restricting the labor market, nationalizing entire industries, and opposing free trade. Second, they cleave to the old tactic of blaming external enemies, be it Germany, the United States, the European Central Bank, the IMF, or Europe’s negotiating wing, the Troika.

And finally, they try to subsume flesh-and-bone individuals into abstract ideas such as “the people,” “the fatherland,” “the working classes,” or the “nation.”

Put another way, the resurgence of these radical groups, far from being contrary to each other, are in reality the expression of the same phenomenon: the disappearance of the logic of the individual and its replacement by a dangerous collectivist logic. Their common root is ignoring that individuals are an end in themselves, instead seeking to turn them into a tool for the ends of someone else.

The good news is that these collectivist currents will discover that state interventionism, regulations, high public spending, and soaring fiscal deficits didn’t generate greater wealth then, and won’t do so now. Sooner or later, they’ll realize that nothing has changed, that the problem of the Leviathan can’t be solved with still more statism, just as throwing petroleum on a fire won’t put it out.

But it’s worrying to see that so many progressive intellectuals remain blind to this, celebrating the victory of a model that has failed in Venezuela as it comes to power in Greece and grows in strength in Spain. They’ve failed to understand that the ghost haunting Europe isn’t that of any ideology, but a collectivism that left so much misery in its wake. They fit perfectly the definition of madness apocryphally attributed to Albert Einstein: doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.

Julio César Mejía is an expert in international relations, and formerly served as a public relations advisor to the Colombian army high command, and local coordinator for the Students for Liberty organization. Mejía is currently director of the Colombia Free Will Center. Follow him @JulioMej49.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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