Beyond the "fantacism of the center"

by DANIEL J. MAHONEY

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In elite political and intellectual circles, a consensus has emerged: a dangerous populism, bordering on fascism and the worst political currents of the 1930s, is haunting Europe, Britain, and the United States. The election of Donald Trump, the prospect of a British exit from a Euro-Behemoth, and the rise of populist parties in France, Italy, and Austria are major pieces of evidence for the prosecution. In this narrative, contemporary “democracy,” pure and innocent, and beyond reproach, is under assault from new authoritarians. But there is no evidence that any of these developments or movements has threatened, or will threaten, public liberties.

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[Bernard-Henri] Lévy and [Anne] Applebaum confuse conservative patriotism, albeit of a clumsy and defensive sort, with an incipient authoritarianism, even totalitarianism. They could not be more wrong. They are blind to the myriad ways that late-modern democracy is in the process of losing its soul. They do not see that it is becoming a new form of coercion and authoritarianism, not unlike the “democratic despotism” of which Tocqueville warned. The conflagration is much broader and deeper than they suppose. True liberals, who are also true conservatives, have every reason to be wary—and not just about events in Poland and Hungary.

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