If you’re not paying attention, you should. Some of the assumptions we consider axiomatic are under increasing pressure. The conventional orthodoxies are endangered and the ground is prospectively shifting.
For instance, Austria’s October 15 election was the latest demonstration of popular resistance to the tide of supra-national multiculturalism. Notwithstanding its status as received wisdom, the idea that sovereign states and homogenous cultures have to inevitably give way isn’t universally popular.
And depending on what happens in Japan on October 22, the retreat from Pax Americana might take a hugely significant step. Whether explicitly acknowledged or not, the concept of the U.S. as global policeman has been the fundamental building block in international arrangements since 1945. Accordingly, all sorts of countries have been prepared to abdicate substantive responsibility for their own defense.
Let’s look at Austria first.
Taken together, the (hitherto) centre-right People’s Party and the far-right Freedom Party will wind-up with between 57 and 58 percent of the vote. This represents a gain of around 13 percentage points from the previous election in 2013.
And to underscore the shift, it’s important to note that the People’s Party has itself undergone a significant transformation. In key respects, it has become a more respectable version of the Freedom Party. The Austrian academic Anton Pelinka puts it this way: “What’s particular to Austria is that the anti-immigration agenda of the far right has been taken over, in a civilized and genteel form, by a mainstream party.”
The man who’ll almost certainly lead Austria’s new government is 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz. Since assuming control of the People’s Party in May, Kurz has put his own stamp on it in terms of both policy and image. But Canadians who notice Kurz’s youth, charisma and penchant for selfies would be wise not to confuse him with Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau’s famous declaration that “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada” wouldn’t be sympathetically echoed by Kurz. Nor would he share Trudeau’s enthusiasm for immigration. Indeed, Kurz ran on a platform emphasising such things as shutting down migrant routes to Europe, reducing social benefits for refugees, and imposing a five-year residency requirement on foreigners who wish to access Austria’s welfare system.
Where Trudeau lauds Canada as the “first post-national state,” the movement that Kurz represents has no desire to be post-national. Rather than seeing socially transforming multiculturalism as a laudable objective, the voter coalition that gave the People’s Party and the Freedom Party 57 to 58 percent of the vote is happy with Austria’s traditional national identity. They like what their society is and they intend to keep it that way.
What’s happened in Austria is another example of pushback against perceived threats to cultural identity. What might happen in Japan is a different matter.
If Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s governing party does really well, there’s a distinct possibility that he’ll use the mandate to revise Japan’s pacifist post-Second World War constitution. The goal would be to develop the military in order to give Japan sufficient clout to protect its own interests. In other words, to eliminate its absolute security dependence on the United States.
You might be tempted to see this as a negative reaction to the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump. But you’d be wrong.
Abe is supportive of Trump’s posture towards North Korea and the two men apparently get along well. And in any event, Abe’s desire to recalibrate Japan’s military position predates Trump’s political ascent.
The bottom line is that the credibility of Pax Americana is withering away. Yes, there’s an influential foreign policy establishment that’ll fight tooth-and-nail to maintain the post-1945 U.S. role as global policeman. Reality, though, intrudes.
Pretend you’re a Japanese prime minister and ask yourself a fundamental question: When the time comes that North Korea’s nuclear capability is such that it can directly strike the U.S. homeland, do you seriously believe that an American president – any American president – will risk sacrificing Seattle, San Francisco or Los Angeles in order to protect Tokyo? Or more pointedly, to protect something that Tokyo defines as a vital Japanese interest?
Although we love to complain about American arrogance and presumption, sheltering under the American umbrella is something we’ve gotten used to. The world will be both a more complicated and more realistic place without that illusion.
Pat Murphy casts a history buff’s eye at the goings-on in our world. Never cynical – well perhaps a little bit.