CHICAGO: "Only de Gaulle could free Algeria; only Nixon could open up China." Behind these slogans rests an notable principle: self-interest often causes political parties to radically depart from, even to abandon, their traditional ideologies. This insight is particularly useful in Europe, and increasingly around the globe, when examining the actions of supposedly leftwing and socialist governments.
In the late 1950s France came near to civil war over Algeria. Out of power since 1946, Charles de Gaulle was summoned back to the Elysée to lead France out of this quagmire. Because of his patriotism, de Gaulle seemed the only man able to set Algeria free.
Starting in the late 1960’s rapprochement between Mao’s China and America became possible because China was involved in political and military conflicts with the Soviet Union. America’s Democrats knew this as well as the Republicans, but President Johnson was afraid to approach China because his party was supposedly soft on communism. Only a dedicated anti-Communist like Nixon had sufficient political support from the right to visit China and urge cooperation between the US and China against their common enemy in the Kremlin.
Economics is not immune from this dynamic. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher successfully promoted lower income taxes, privatization of government enterprises, weaker unions, and a generally smaller role for government. The popularity and success of their programs induced liberal, labor, and social democratic governments in many nations to also promote free market policies in direct conflict with their traditional ideologies. Often, only these parties have sufficient political support on the left to succeed in introducing needed reforms in labor and other markets.