In a first-time collaboration, the CEU Democracy Institute and European Forum Alpbachpresented the discussion “Comparing Right-Wing Illiberalism in the United States and Europe—and Beyond” with Thomas Carothers, Senior Fellow and Co-Director of Carnegie’s Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program, and Ivan Krastev, Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies and Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences, IWM Vienna.
Renata Uitz, Co-Director of CEU’s Democracy Institute and Professor in CEU’s Department of Legal Studies, moderated the discussion, which explored rising illiberal right-wing political figures and pressures primarily in the United States and Europe. The conversation revealed differences in the roots and reach of such troubling political currents and examined implications regarding the level of threat they present to democracy.
Following welcome remarks from CEU President and Rector Shalini Randeria, Uitz initiated the conversation with an inquiry regarding the recent U.S. midterm elections. Carothers highlighted calcified politics divided by two sides in the U.S., asserting that, “The negative spiral of the toxic polarization is continuing.” Krastev additionally noted the relative tolerance of violence in the U.S. context, as well as the threat of normalizing views that were previously associated solely with Trump now via other Republican candidates like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
“We are in a battle for the soul of the conservative party between the moderate Right and the hardline conservative Right,” highlighted Carothers. He added, “This midterm election is just one more step in the winning of the soul of the conservative party. Trump is no longer essential because all of the candidates are now part of that.” Carothers finds that being stuck in a two-party system exacerbates this shift, distinct from the multi-party European system.
Krastev further emphasized the role of intensity: “The far right is rooted in a demographic anxiety. You have ethnic or political groups fearing that they are losing power and numbers.” He raised the idea that fears about the world changing in a direction one does not understand drives an intensity that changes participation in politics. He further suggested that perceived demographic determinism will lead to a sense that we are having the final elections. “Democracy is preconditioned on the idea of a future as a normative horizon on which you can solve the problems of today. Future is important because democracy is about promising things.”
Uitz advanced the discussion introducing the topic of depolarization. She noted how depolarization is helped by an international context that points to civilized politics and processes of resolving disagreements, and how transmission and identity politics also play a role.
“We think depolarization would be a good thing but the path to it could be very dangerous,” said Carothers. He shares Krastev’s sense of increasing intensity in politics and asserts that depolarization is about decreasing the temperature on fundamental insecurities. Extending his earlier point, Krastev concludes that “Depolarization is impossible without being able to imagine a future.”