For decades, Western European democracies have taken pride in their liberal values, harbingers not only of peace and prosperity, but inspirers too of open societies and representative governments across the globe. Pursuing policies based on such values also helped them in grand integration of the continent into the European Union.
But are these values nearing extinction? Importantly, are leaders steeped in liberal tradition so out of touch with the ground reality that they are stupefied by changes in many parts of the West? These are concerned queries that have gathered greater salience since the victory of Donald Trump.
“Populism is not anti-democratic but it implies an illiberal version of democracy,” says Alberto Martinelli, professor emeritus at the University of Milan. Martinelli says it brings to the surface the constant tension between the two components of the “democracy of the modern”, the liberal and the democratic. It tries to solve the tension between the two by exploding the former and limiting the latter. “It is a recurrent attempt within democratic societies to dissociate democracy from liberalism.”
Many feel 2017 might well begin a period that could redefine liberal democracies and allow the fissures deep within to surface and pose a serious threat to the West’s liberal values.
The victory of a xenophobic-protectionist leader like Trump in the US presidential polls has given a huge moral boost to right wing parties across Europe—forces already ascendant have now been catapulted into the political centrestage. They are likely to pose a threat to established political parties when a number of key European countries go to polls next year.
“It does not signal an end of liberalism—either in the sense of economic and social...