The contest between an open and a closed society

Carl Bildt, a former prime minister of Sweden, writes: With the old political landscape fading, we see the rise of parties in more or less fundamental opposition to the ideas and principles that have governed the West until now. The politics of ideology has faded, and the politics of identity has been gaining ground.

The rise of the nationalist right has been faster in Austria than in most other countries. It is obvious that it has been boosted significantly by legitimate revulsion against the old-fashioned system of Proporz. Change has been in high demand.

With faith in the future also waning in view of economic difficulties and rapidly changing societies, it has been easy for these forces to trumpet nationalist myths and gain adherents for their calls for closed borders and old values. The Muslim hordes are at the gates, they say; Brussels is just bureaucracy, trade is treason, and the United States is aggressive and alien. These have been the messages resonating in the valleys and on the plains of rural Austria.

While the politics in the past was about different ideas about a better future, this is about bringing protection against change and a future that many fear will be even more different. Previously you won elections by saying that tomorrow will be better than yesterday. These forces are promising to bring back a yesterday that they portray as better than the tomorrow they see coming.

Immigration is clearly one part of the story that Austria has had difficulties handling. But that voters in more diverse Vienna strongly rejected the siren songs of closed borders is a good sign in the darkness.

It was Karl Popper, born in Imperial Vienna, who not only conceived the ideas of open society but also warned of the “strain of civilization” that can occur when change is seen as too rapid, and the lure of a return to the tribe makes itself felt. [Continue reading…]

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