I knew all along that no good would come from promiscuously allowing them into the E.U. and then NATO. 2016 has shown the price to be paid.
Like the rise of Soviet communism and both World Wars, the Western liberal order’s apparent collapse in 2016 could turn out to be yet another historic upheaval that began in Eastern Europe. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s brand of “illiberal democracy” was quickly adopted by Poland’s de facto ruler, Jarosław Kaczyński, and is now making inroads in the heart of the West—first with the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum, and then with Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s nascent democracy has already given way to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strongman rule, and the Philippines is now led by a populist authoritarian, Rodrigo Duterte. As we head into 2017, something is clearly rotten in the state of democracy.
...Illiberal democracy subverts the idea—held by European social democrats and American democrats since the Civil Rights era—that working-class and minority voters should forge a progressive alliance to counter conservatives. Intellectually, such a “stronger together” alliance makes sense; but it has three major flaws that Orbán and Kaczyński have exploited.
First, the economic interests of white (or native) working-class voters and those of minorities are often not aligned, because they are competing with one another for jobs and social benefits. This is especially true when slow growth turns the division of the economic pie into a zero-sum game. When funds are limited, should the Hungarian government spend money on educating Roma children, or on retraining displaced ethnic Hungarian workers?
Second, working-class voters often adhere to traditional conservative values. While a farmer in Eastern Poland or a factory worker in Michigan might be persuaded to support gay rights or women’s empowerment in exchange for economic redistribution, working-class voters have not supported such causes in large numbers.
Illiberal democracy is effective because it disentangles desired goods from unwanted add-ons, which is the essence of modern business innovation. Just as Airbnb allows us to find lodging without unnecessary hotel frills, illiberal democrats offer working-class voters economic help with no civil-rights strings attached.
Third, in many electorates, members of a social majority seem to value vilification of minorities as an intrinsic good, irrespective of wealth transfers. And as Yale University’s Amy Chua and others have shown, targeting minorities can be a highly effective tool for political mobilization.
Moreover, illiberal democracy can ignore issues that it considers as a non-essential, such as human rights and the rule of law: its only imperative is to satisfy its customers. More surprisingly, illiberal democrats also do not seem to be overly concerned about economic growth. Hungary had a relatively robust recovery after the 2008 recession, but its economy is now slowing; and in both Poland and post-Brexit UK, the high economic costs of illiberal democracy are already apparent. If Trump pursues his promised trade protectionism, he will likely push the entire world into recession.