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Rescuing Europe’s Illiberal Democracies

Brexit and the rise of xenophobic populism in many EU countries have exposed a strain of European politics that many complacently assumed had been eradicated three decades ago. To turn back illiberal forces, EU leaders need to muster a stronger defense of EU values, starting with the rule of law and good-faith engagement.

BRUSSELS – After 1989, the West, buoyed by political theorist Francis Fukuyama’s seductive notion of the “end of History,” entered an era of self-satisfied complacency in which it seemed that liberal democracy and capitalism could be taken for granted.

Three decades later, History is back with a vengeance. A populist nationalist is now president of the United States. The United Kingdom is withdrawing from the European Union. And self-proclaimed illiberal democrats are in power in Hungary and Poland. It turns out that, at the “end” of history, the enemies of open, democratic societies never actually surrendered. They were just pushed into the shadows.

There are a number of sociological reasons why illiberalism is resurgent today. Across the West, once-universal public spheres have been weakened and divided, and once-public social concerns have been “privatized.”

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