Tuesday, February 16, 2016


"Mainstream politicians across Europe face serious challenges from populist and xenophobic parties. How should they respond? One thing is certain: excluding such parties from the political process does not work; it only lends them more support. Bringing them into the fold makes more sense. The contrasting experiences of Finland and Sweden bear this out. The anti-immigration, populist Sweden Democrats are on a roll. In an opinion poll carried out shortly before Christmas, 18.9 per cent of voters said they intended to vote for the insurgent party in the 2018 general election. A crackdown on the numbers of asylum seekers trying to enter Sweden announced by the centre-left government in November reflects the extent to which the Swedish Democrats have shaken up the country’s politics. In Finland, by contrast, the True Finns, one of the first populist parties in Europe to seize on voters’ anger over eurozone bailouts, are struggling. The difference? While Sweden’s mainstream parties have refused to co-operate with the Sweden Democrats, the True Finns are part of a centre-right coalition government. The result? The more serious the refugee crisis has become in Sweden, the more support the Sweden Democrats have gained. The reverse is true in Finland.... The central paradox in European politics today is the following: on the one hand, countries are attempting to integrate newcomers from outside Europe who often subscribe to quite alien political values. On the other hand, politicians exclude substantial numbers of their own citizens for the same reason. We welcome refugees, while telling some of our compatriots to shut up. Both groups — refugees and supporters of populist parties — include extremists and fanatics. We must not let the irresponsible behaviour of the few colour our attitude to the many. I do not claim to know what the supporters of Marine Le Pen in France or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are like. But I do know that a majority of the supporters of Timo Soini’s True Finns are decent people. If we are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the newcomers, we should be willing to do the same for our own citizens. Demonising your opponent is an age-old strategy. It was applied during the Thirty Years War by both sides. It was used again during the cold war. And it is being used now. The solution to the threat of populism is not to pretend that we agree with the xenophobes. Rather, we should welcome them in the political process. As long as they abide by the rules of an open democratic society, we must engage with them. If they go beyond the pale, then we should beat them in elections. That is what European democracy is all about. Right?"
Risto Penttila, "We should engage with xenophobes, not silence them". The Financial Times. 9 February 2016, in www.ft.com.
"Stupidity is for the vast majority of people, no doubt the only solution to the problem of thinking".
T. S. Eliot.
While I whole heartily agree with the sage observation of the man who taught me how to think as it relates to the conceptual capacity or lack thereof of the vast majority of my fellow human beings, the fact of the matter is that as long most of mankind is governed by a system of government which mandates that almost everyone, including convicted criminals (in some cases) and registered idiots and lunatics (in others) are able to participate in the political process, then one is forced to engage with respect with the 'vast majority of people'. Given the socioeconomic ramifications of our post-industrial / post-modern society, in conjunction with the slowing of economic growth in the West in the past ten years, it is not in the least surprising that 'populist' parties of various types have emerged in Europe. Or in the case of the United States, populist personalities and candidates. Which is not to gainsay the fact that such developments are more often than not to be deplored and bemoaned. Id. est., no one in their right mind, can view with favor the political success of such a horrible demagogue as Mr. Donald Trump. Or for that matter (albeit an infinitely more intelligent man) Senator Sanders of Vermont. That dislike or detestation which I share with our bien-pensant elites, cannot gainsay the fact that the masses of people who are supporting the Trumps, the Sanders, the Le Pen's and the Wilders cannot be made to disappear. As the very very cogent arguments of Mr. Penttila in the Financial Times clearly delineates, what is needed in dealing with populists is not denunciation but an intelligent and subtle outreach. An endeavor in fact to try to assuage their concerns and political aspirations. As Mr. Penttila rightly notes: these people are our fellow citizens and not beings from outer space or for that matter from abroad. They are entitled to be respected and if they are willing to play the democratic game, some form of political compromise with them is necessary. That is to my way of looking at the matter, a far more intelligent way of dealing with the rise of populist parties, movements and personalities than the traditional bien-pensant's de haute en bas ways of dealing with the same. Ways which have proven to be uniformly unsuccessful.


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