Yascha Mounk rose to notoriety when he appeared on news show tagesschau and dropped the phrase “We are in a historic experiment that changes a mono-ethnic democracy into a multi-ethnic one and this comes with strife.” The word that upset people was “experiment.” They thought he was spilling the beans on some Josef-Mengele-style cruelty that the elites put upon us.
Mounk is not the elites. He is a lecturer at Harvard University and teaches political science. He has no special insight and the word experiment is not so unusual. He used it in the past. It simply belongs to his personal style. In short, a piece of faux outrage made him famous.
Now, he comes out with an op-ed in ZEIT titled “Conservatives Could Be the Protection Against the Right.” This sentence makes no sense to English-speakers and it hardly makes a sense at all. The background is a language shift that came with political dishonesty. Like Democrats who tend to be authoritarian and call themselves “liberals”, many German leftists have started to call themselves “conservatives.” A variety of other words moved and we are left with a lot of confusion here.
Throughout this blog I consistently assign labels along the positions that would qualify for them in America. As a less verbatim translation of the title and in line with this blog’s usual use of political categories the title reads “RINO-style Conservatives Could Be the Protection Against the Trumpians.”
Mounk argues that conservatism were historically the “hinch of democracy” because it were collecting fringe groups and stopped them from becoming dominant in their own right. This reflects a condescending attitude. Leftists see conservatives as some quaint backwards people who cannot keep up with the changes of time and who absorb all the wicket people in their ranks. Obviously, there is some truth in it. Not in the backward part, but in the assertion of a big tent. The leftist ideology is such a strong force that people with all kind of opinions revolted against them for the last two centuries. We all know that there is a significant number of nuts in the conservative movement and we cannot throw them out like the left because we are no purists. It comes with the tolerance of the right that it absorbs the crazies quite naturally.
Mounk complains that the Republicans did not fight Trump in 2016. He thought that this problem were exclusive for the United States because “unlike most Western democracies the US has a weak party system and it makes it more difficult for political insiders to control a candidate and his platform.” Yes, the problem is that the US is the only truly free country and the old guards don’t control everything and everybody. I constantly feel reminded of David Horowitz’ bon mot “Inside every liberal is an authoritarian screaming to get out.”
He offers the notion that the US Republicans have radicalized. It has been voiced a number of times, but in America liberals don’t dare to say that anymore because more and more people see that the Republicans have not changed much while Democrats have gone over the cliff. But, of course, this accusation can still be played to an uninformed audience like the Germans. Swiftly, he calls Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie anti-democratic.
This is an ongoing problem in Germany. The authoritarians call themselves democratic and claim that freedom lovers were “outside the democratic spectrum.” In reality, not only Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie would be considered anti-democratic if they were German, but also Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama and literally every US-politician on the Federal level. Minor aberrations from the left-wing cult like being pro death penalty is considered as “outside democracy” or an “attack on democracy.”
Now, he fears that Europe might compromise despite the elite’s “control over candidates and their platform.” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz were relinquishing his entire security apparatus to people with “origins in the neonazi movement.” Angela Merkel were “forging a tactical alliance with the most advanced enemy of liberal democracy: Viktor Orbán” (Prime Minister of Hungary). Orbán’s supposed dictatorial control over Hungary were only possible because he maintained a good relationship with mainstream conservatives.
He singles out Manfred Weber who belongs to the Bavarian chapter of Merkel’s party The Union (sometimes called CDU, the Bavarian chapter is called CSU). Weber called an EU report about supposed encroachments on individual rights “politically motivated.” He warned that the EU becomes like “Big Brother.” The devil also praised Orban as a strong leader and congratulated him for his re-election.
Mounk claims that Hungary had crossed “red lines” and would no longer guarantee “fair elections” and the “independence of the justice system.” He does not bother to specify his accusations. He accuses Orban of “shameless antisemitic rhetoric.” It’s a blatant lie. Hungary has become the safest country for Jews in Europe and Israel considers her to be the best partner within the European Union. Mounk, who is Jewish himself, is silent about countries where antisemitism is actually on the rise: Germany, Great Britain and France.
He sees a danger for the EU. “German citizens can admit that it makes sense to form a united sovereignty with the French voters to gain more influence in the world, but they will not be convinced to do the same with a Hungarian dictatorship.” It would not be sensible for German citizens to reduce their per capita sovereignty, the actual influence of a citizen, in unison with the French, but the propaganda apparatus is perfectly capable of convincing them anyway. The limits would be the demonized Hungarians.
If Weber and Merkel are willing to betray their principles to gain a majority in the unimportant EU parliament, how can we count on them to resist a cooperation with [conservative party] AfD once that would be the price of the day?
Of course, that is scare mongering. The AfD is demonized enough to use them as mud to be slung on Merkel from a left that doesn’t see her implement left-wing policies fast enough.
Ultimately, the entire op-ed makes no sense. The role of conservatism, according to Mounk, is to be a big tent that swallows the crazies and as such conservatism were a protection of democracy. Yet, his specific demand is that the movement should stop being a big tent that has a place for Hungarians. It goes a long way to show that Harvard is no longer a bastion of high-IQ individuals, particularly not in the humanities.