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Europe’s Politics of Dystopia

TOKYO – The recent victory of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland confirms a recent trend in Europe: the rise of illiberal state capitalism, led by populist right-wing authoritarians. Call it Putinomics in Russia, Órbanomics in Hungary, Erdoğanomics in Turkey, or a decade of Berlusconomics from which Italy is still recovering. Soon we will no doubt be seeing Kaczyńskinomics in Poland.

All are variations on the same discordant theme: a nationalist leader comes to power when economic malaise gives way to chronic and secular stagnation. This elected authoritarian then starts to reduce political freedoms through tight-fisted control of the media, especially television. Then, he (so far, it has always been a man, though France’s Marine Le Pen would fit the pattern should she ever come to power) pursues an agenda opposing the European Union (when the country is a member) or other institutions of supra-national governance.

He will also oppose free trade, globalization, immigration, and foreign direct investment, while favoring domestic workers and firms, particularly state-owned enterprises and private business and financial groups with ties to those in power. In some cases, outright nativist, racist parties support such government or provide an even deeper authoritarian and anti-democratic streak.

To be sure, such forces are not yet in power in most of Europe. But they are becoming more popular nearly everywhere: Le Pen’s National Front in France, Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord in Italy, and Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) all view Russia’s illiberal state capitalism as a model and its president, Vladimir Putin, as a leader deserving of admiration and emulation. In Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Austria, and Sweden, too, the popularity of populist, anti-EU, anti-migrant right-wing parties is on the rise.