Via Instapundit comes a disturbing report that one-fifth of the British electorate would consider voting for the British Nationalist Party (BNP), which is considered by almost everyone left or right to be a genuine fascist party.
How did Britain come to this state?
Simple, the current liberal order has proven itself ineffective in addressing many of the major problems that Britain faces. As I wrote three years ago, liberal orders don’t slowly evolve into authoritarian ones. Instead, they become less and less effective until they suddenly collapse into an authoritarian order. People simply lose faith that the liberal order can function and they throw their support behind an authoritarian order just to survive.
The major problem in resisting authoritarian orders is the simple fact that they usually work quite well in the short term. In the 1920s, Mussolini was widely admired across the political spectrum for saving Italy from imploding after years of red socialist strikes and violence had all but shut down the country. Hitler pulled Germany out of the Great Depression spectacularly. The communists did manage to rapidly industrialize peasant economies (albeit at a staggering cost in lives). Less dramatically, authoritarian corporatist/state-capitalist regimes in South Korean, Taiwan and Singapore raised the population out of poverty and led to democracy in the former two.
The BNP could very well rise to power by quickly and easily fixing problems that many Britons see going unaddressed by the left.
Britain faces major problems with a permanent economic underclass, low economic mobility, illegal immigration and a large, vocal and often violent unassimilated Islamic subculture. The native working class in particular feels squeezed by economic competition from low-cost immigrants. More importantly, they have seen themselves relegated in social status to the bottom of the heap. Much as in America, where the once-venerated rural poor are now despised and ignored “rednecks,” lower-income white Britons now see themselves pushed aside and spit on in favor of the left fawning over illegal immigrants and Muslims.
The BNP could scoop up a lot of support if it could slow down illegal immigration. Doing so would give an immediate economic boost to Britain’s native low-skilled workers. Even easier, they could no doubt pick up a lot of support merely by treating low-income white Britons with respect and by putting them at the center of their policy recommendations.
By smearing as racist everyone concerned with illegal immigration and the overboard tolerance for radical Islam, the British left is desensitizing everyone to the legitimate charge when it is directed at the BNP. People think, “Well, I’m concerned about illegal immigration, Islamists, the white poor, etc., and I’m not a racist so maybe the BNP isn’t either.” The overuse of the left’s catch-all denunciation deprives it of meaning and force. People may simply stop listening to the left’s warnings because they’ve so many times labeled people with legitimate concerns as racist. By their own narcissism, self-righteousness and contempt, the left is actively driving people to fascist solutions just as their more radical ideological ancestors did back in the 1920s.
Worse, entire generations of Britons have been conditioned to believe that the state has a mo26ral obligation to care for them cradle-to-grave. It is a short step from there to the belief that the government has a moral obligation to care for native Britons first and foremost before all others. Such a longstanding belief in Germany certainly made National Socialism an easy sell to the German working class and poor.
If the mainstream parties cannot address the real concerns of many Britons, and if they cannot at least pretend to respect and value lower-income white Britons, then Britain may be only one ugly incident away from a political seismic shift. A major native Islamic terrorist attack or an immigrant riot might be all it takes to push Britain over the edge. Other European nations are at risk as well, for the same reasons.
Screaming accusations at absolutely everyone even mildly opposed to far-left ideas isn’t a substitute for effective policies that address the concerns of the people. If a liberal order cannot provide economic and physical security, a population conditioned to see state power as the solution to all problems can slide into authoritarianism almost overnight.
The Mother of Parliaments could give birth to something very dark indeed.
[Update (2009-10-26 7:38): I would also note that the current leftist's fad for derogating the history and traditions of Western nations has created a population that may see no value in the traditional concepts of limited government and rule of law. Also, the left pushes the idea that elitist decision making is superior to that of the people acting individually. This creates a built-in justification for authoritarian rule. As Hayek showed, Fascist and Communist regimes in 20s-40s exploited the ground work laid by democratic socialist. We could see the same thing in a modern form.]