As the second vice-chair of the committee, I'll be chairing today's meeting in the absence of Michael Levitt and Erin O'Toole.
This is the 138th meeting of the committee, and we are continuing our study on threats to liberal democracy in Europe.
To do so, we start by welcoming the following two witnesses.
First, from London, England, we welcome Anne Applebaum. She is a historian, Pulitzer Prize winner, Washington Post columnist and Professor of Practice at the Institute of Global Affairs, London School of Economics.
Her publications include: Gulag: A History, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 and Red Famine, Stalin's War on Ukraine.
That was published in 2017.
Ms. Applebaum, welcome to the committee.
Then, from Warsaw, Poland, we will welcome Rafal Pankowski, Associate Professor at the Collegium Civitas, Warsaw, and co-founder of the “Never Again” Association, which describes itself as the main anti-racist organization in Poland.
His publications include Neo-Fascism in Western Europe: A Study in Ideology, Racism and Popular Culture, and The Populist Radical Right in Poland: The Patriots.
Mr. Pankowski, welcome to the committee.
We'll start with Ms. Applebaum, who has 10 minutes, and then we'll go to Mr. Pankowski.
Ms. Applebaum, the floor is yours.
First of all, thank you very much.
I'm very flattered and delighted to be appearing before this committee by video link. I apologize that I couldn't make it there—maybe another time.
I've had a look at who's testified before you already, and I know you've discussed general issues of democratic decline in Europe. You also have Mr. Pankowski about to speak. He's a great expert on Poland.
I'm going to talk about something more specific today, which is the media and information environment that is enabling this decline not only in Europe, but also in North America. This is something I work on very specifically at the London School of Economics.
Clearly we're living through a revolutionary moment. So many elections and so many democracies are suddenly taking surprising turns. Nationalists and xenophobes—who sound the same—are winning support in countries with very different economic and political histories—from Poland and the Philippines to Brazil and the United States.
It's my contention that just as the printing press broke the monopoly of the monks and priests who controlled the written word in the 15th century, the Internet and social media have very quickly undermined not only the business model of the democratic political media that we've known for the last two centuries, but also the political institutions behind them.
Look at the democratic world. Everywhere, large newspapers and powerful broadcasters are disappearing. These old-fashioned news organizations might have been flawed, but many of them had as their founding principle at least a commitment in theory to objectivity, to fact checking and to the general public interest. More importantly, whatever you think about them, they also created the possibility of a national conversation and a single debate.
In some big European countries, well-funded public broadcasters who are obligated by law to be politically neutral still maintain that debate, but in many smaller European countries, independent media has become very weak or has disappeared. It has been replaced by very partisan media, which is either controlled directly by one party or via business groups connected to it. That means there is no broadcaster or newspaper that both sides of the spectrum consider to be neutral.
The result is polarization. People choose sides and move apart and the centre disappears. This has other side effects. In many democracies—and I would say the United States and Poland are two of the worst—there is now no common debate, let alone a common narrative. This is not just about different opinions or different biases; people actually don't have the same facts. One group thinks one set of things are true and the other believes in something quite different.
Social media accelerates and accentuates this phenomenon because it allows people, and indeed its algorithms, to sometimes force people to see only the news and opinion they want to hear. These algorithms reinforce narratives that have created homogenous clusters online. These are sometimes known as echo chambers. Members of an echo chamber share the same prevailing world view, and they interpret news through this common lens.
This polarization has numerous effects, and it is extremely detrimental to democracy. It creates distrust for what used to be considered apolitical, neutral democratic institutions, such as the civil service, the police, the judiciary and government-run bodies of all kinds. They can fall under suspicion because one side or the other, or maybe both, suspects that they have been captured by the opposing party.
It also has a lethal effect on traditional political parties, which were once based on real-life organizations, like trade unions or the church. Instead of looking to those real organizations, more and more people now identify with groups or organizations that they find online, or ideas and themes that they find in the virtual world. In many places, this phenomenon has also led to fragmentation and, again, increased partisanship.
It's very important that this new information network, with its divides and its suspicious plans, is also far more conducive than the old one was to the spread of false information and false rumours, either generated naturally or imposed from outside, as well as to campaigns of insider and outsider manipulation. To put it bluntly, and this has now been proved in several studies, people who live in highly partisan echo chambers are much more likely to believe false information.
We all now know that, famously, the Russian government was the first to understand the possibilities of this new information network and that it deployed trolling operations as well as fake websites and Facebook pages to increase polarization not only in the U.S., but also in the U.K., in Germany, in France, in Italy and across eastern Europe.
For an example, I took part in a data analysis project at the London School of Economics in the months before the last Bundestag election. We found that the messages of the AfD, the German far-right populist party, were being deliberately boosted on social media by pro-Russian media, as well as by trolls and artificially created botnets.
Some of them were originally created for commercial use and then repurposed for the election. They echo and repeat divisive messages—anti-immigration, anti-NATO, anti-Merkel, pro-Russia and pro-AfD.
Most of those who read mainstream media in Germany never even saw those messages, but the AfD's alternative echo chamber read them every day, and that was one of the factors that contributed to the surprisingly large support for the AfD in that election.
Although the Russians were the first to invest in these things, others are already following them—other governments, other political movements, private companies. It's important to remember that there's no big bar to entry in this game: it doesn't cost very much, doesn't take very much time, isn't particularly high tech, and requires no special equipment. It will happen—it surely has already happened—in Canada too. As I said, these are very simple and rather cheap methods to influence public debate, and everybody is now using them.
The most important point I want to make today is that at the moment there is no institution capable of stopping this kind of manipulation. Democratic governments don't censor the Internet. They aren't in the habit of funding independent media, and if they did, they would cease to be independent.
Militaries of NATO and international institutions are not set up to fight information wars either. Even counter-intelligence services are very queasy about taking part in political debates inside their own countries. It isn't their job to penetrate echo chambers, let alone to reinvigorate democratic newspapers.
Tech companies could help to solve this problem, but at the moment they have no incentive to do so. The new information network is also where Google and Facebook are making their money. Facebook and Twitter created the algorithms that spread shock and anger and conspiracy theory faster than truth—and these are of course the elements that contribute to the rise of populism—but censorship from Google or Facebook will not in the long term be any more acceptable or successful than censorship from a government. We may see some solutions from old media or from universities. There are journalists talking about reinventing what they do in order to create greater levels of public trust. There are media literacy campaigns and fact-checking websites.
If I were going to leave you with one thought today, however, I would say that there is also another precedent to remember for this historical moment. In the 1920s and the 1930s, democratic governments also found themselves challenged by radio and by new fascist movements across Europe whose early stars were all radio stars. Adolf Hitler and Stalin actually were excellent users of the radio. They understood it as a technology that could be used to provoke anger.
People began asking whether there was a way to marshal this technology for the purposes of democracy instead. One answer to that was the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, which was designed from the beginning to reach all parts of the country to “inform, educate and entertain”, in the famous phrase, and to join people together not in a single set of opinions but in a single national conversation that made democracy possible.
Another set of answers was found in the United States, where journalists accepted a regulatory framework, a set of rules about libel law, and a public process that determined who could get a radio licence.
The question now, I think, for Canada and for every other liberal democracy, is how to find the equivalent of those institutions in the world of social media. In other words, what regulatory or social or legal measures will make the technology work for democracy, for our society, and not just for Facebook shareholders?
This is not an argument in favour of censorship. It's an argument in favour of applying to the online world the same kinds of regulations that have been used in other spheres to set rules on transparency, privacy, data and competition. We can regulate Internet advertising just as we regulate broadcast advertising, insisting that people know when and why they are being targeted by political ads or indeed any ads. We can curb the anonymity of the Internet. Recent research shows that the number of fake accounts on Facebook may be far higher than what the company has stated in public. We could require them to eliminate those, because we have a right to know whether we are interacting with real people or bots.
In the long term there may be some more profound solutions. Think: What would a public interest algorithm look like or a form of social media that favoured constructive conversations over polarized ones.
Regulation is not a silver bullet; it's only part of the answer. The revival of democracy, which so long was dependent on reliable information in an era of unreliable information, is going to be a major civilizational project. It may take some time before long-term solutions to this problem are found.
I will stop there to let Mr. Pankowski continue.
Thank you very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your invitation. I am really honoured, and I am especially honoured to be invited alongside Anne Applebaum today.
During your discussions over the last weeks, there is one term that has come up, and for good reason. It's a powerful term that has been making a revival in both academic and non-academic discourses in the last couple of years, namely, fascism.
Some years ago, I wrote a book trying to propose my own definition, present my own understanding of the essence of fascist ideology. I would argue that fascism is the politics of total cultural homogeneity. Of course, Poland suffered enormously from fascism through the Nazi occupation, and the name of my civil society organization in Poland, “Never Again”, is not accidental, but it is good to mention that Poland also had its own fascist movement, which is now experiencing a kind of revival.
While historically Poland used to be one of the most diverse, multicultural societies, if not the most diverse society in the whole of Europe, today, due to those tragic events of the 20th century, Poland is one of the most mono-ethnic, homogeneous societies in the whole of Europe. There is a certain paradox in that, and I would say that a return to diversity, a return to multiculturalism in the case of Poland especially, would be a return to normality.
Unfortunately, what we witness is currently a move away from the appreciation of diversity as a value, a move away from the liberal democratic consensus. That worries me as a citizen of Poland, but I think it is not just Poland that is important here. Why Poland matters, and I hope it doesn't sound arrogant on my part, is that the democratic transformation of Poland in 1989 and in the 1990s was a watershed event, not just in Polish history but in global history. In a certain way, the democratic transformation of Poland symbolized the legitimacy of the post-Cold War international order based on the predominance of the idea of human rights and liberal democracy. In my view, the current crisis of the liberal democratic consensus in Poland symbolizes the much broader crisis of the post-Cold War international order.
Two main ideological drivers of this move away from the idea of diversity in Poland are known in other countries too: Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Islamophobia on that scale is a relatively new phenomenon in Poland. We can literally point to a moment in time when it skyrocketed. That was in the summer of 2015 during the so-called European refugee crisis. As we well know, it didn't really affect Poland in any meaningful, direct way, but it coincided with the electoral campaign in Poland where different right-wing and far-right groups competed amongst each other for who would present their group as more anti-migrant, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim.
I believe the repercussions of that wave of Islamophobia are still with us today, despite the fact that the Muslim community in Poland is very small. We are talking about maybe 20,000 or 30,000 people in a country of almost 40 million.
The second type of hateful discourse that is important here is anti-Semitism. That, of course, has a much longer history in Poland and the region of central and eastern Europe. Importantly, the language of hatred against the Jews is also, traditionally, the language of hatred against liberal democracy as such and against the very of idea of a diverse society.
On a personal note, I can tell you that I have dealt with the topic of anti-Semitism for almost 25 years now, so I knew it existed. In a way, it is really difficult to shock me in this field, but I didn't think I would live to see the kind of explosion of anti-Semitic discourse in the Polish media and politics on the scale we experienced in Poland last year, when anti-Semitic discourse really became very widespread, especially in the state-owned, state-controlled mass media, on a scale that didn't happen in many, many years in Poland.
The crisis of liberal democracy in Poland has many different dimensions. You are aware of many of them: the rule of law, media freedom, artistic freedom, etc. But what I think is possibly one of the most serious aspects of the crisis of liberal democracy in Poland is visible on the level of social values and the level of culture. Possibly the single most alarming aspect of this breakdown of liberal democratic values is the breakdown of democratic and humanist values among the younger generation.
There is another paradox here, because that goes against the perceived wisdom on the part of what you may call the liberal elite, which assumes that the new generation of people who are born and socialized in a new democratic society would automatically become more progressive, tolerant and open-minded than the generation of their parents and grandparents. What happened is actually something opposite. Radical nationalist and xenophobic ideologies were successfully transmitted to the younger generation.
As a social scientist, I can give you one or two figures showing this. For example, 82% of young people between 18 and 24 years of age are against accepting any non-European refugees in Poland—82%. The figure for the general population is 70%.
As another example, there is a new political bloc in Poland that is going to participate in the European Parliament election later this month. It is called Konfederacja—confederation. The ideology of this new bloc is summed up by one of its leaders officially. I quote, “We don't want Jews, homosexuals, abortion, taxes and the European Union.”
This new group got 31% of the vote among young men between 18 and 30 years old. Actually, it's the most popular electoral option among young men of this age. The next party is Law and Justice, the Polish ruling party, which is also right wing in many ways. It has 23% of the support among this group.
There are many more examples showing the explosion of xenophobic attitudes and far-right sympathies especially among the younger people in Poland. I think that tells us that we are going to have a much longer-term problem than is normally assumed or accepted.
Thank you very much, Professor Applebaum and Professor Pankowski for being here with us today.
Professor Applebaum, I have the pleasure of serving on the trilateral commission with David Sanger, and I think he was ahead of his time with The Perfect Weapon in regard to the evaluation of cybersecurity and cybercrime. I certainly know that he meant it more in regard to the destruction of infrastructure and the manipulation of data as opposed to more manipulation of data and fake news as we've seen today.
We are moving towards the 2019 federal election here. I'm in the opposition. I'm the shadow minister for democratic institutions, and of course, I'm very concerned about the integrity of our electoral processes and our 2019 election. I would say that we are in a position here where we can identify the players in terms of foreign nationals, hacktivists as identified in the Canadian security establishment document of 2017. We can identify their motivations in terms of global spheres of influence, natural resources, the environmental causes such as this, but the question of course remains how. I'm very interested in what you talked about today in regard to the tech companies having very little incentive to step forward.
I know the present government has had little if any success in terms of their self-regulation, even in applying similar standards which these social media platforms apply for themselves in other nations.
However, there is of course the delicate balance, as you mentioned, of freedom of speech with the integrity of democratic institutions, as well as electoral processes. I'm very interested in a few things that you mentioned. You listed some specific examples. I was wondering if you could summarize those again, please. As well, you talked about time to apply regulation from other spheres. What other historical industrial spheres serve as a good framework for this? I'll start with that.
I'm also very interested in this public interest algorithm. When we have members of CSIS and the RCMP in front of us, I certainly see their postings for positions online and I can't help but wonder if they shouldn't make a trip to San Jose or go to the head office of Fortnite to try to poach.
Perhaps I could have your comments first in regard to that list that you mentioned previously, and what other industrial spheres you can take from.
Finally, I'll mention that I was a member of the Canadian foreign service for 15 years so this, as well, is of very much interest to me.
Thank you, Professor Applebaum.
Think of it more like the way in which we regulated automobiles. At the very beginning, people just drove cars around and bumped into the horses on the street. Eventually somebody realized that no, we actually need traffic lights. Then they realized we need to paint lines on the road. Then people said that maybe the construction of the car itself is a problem and invented safer cars and eventually airbags and so on.
The whole long process of regulating cars and how they're used took a long time and evolved as the car technology itself evolved. I would think of it a little bit like that. We aren't going to come up with a single law that's going to fix this problem, but there are multiple things that governments can and should be doing. This ranges from media literacy education to teaching children—and not just children—how to use the Internet. We could also think about public service advertising in the way we used to, to get people to stop smoking with non-smoking campaigns. There could also be campaigns that teach people how to think about and use the Internet.
I do think that sooner or later we're going to need some kind of regulation of the social media companies and of the platforms. I would include Google in this. One thing that Canada might begin to think about is who the other countries are that it could work with toward this end. Obviously, individual country-by-country regulation is going to matter a lot less if we can pull together the EU, Canada, and in theory, the U.S., although the U.S. is going to be a difficult one. For Americans, these are native companies; they are “their” companies and it's somehow mentally harder, intellectually and psychologically harder, to regulate than it will be for Europeans and perhaps for Canadians.
In beginning to work with other countries, a lot of progress on thinking about regulation has been made in the U.K. Also, in France and Germany, there is a lot of public thinking and debate. I think it would be really important for Canada to be part of that conversation. There is also an EU-level conversation that you should be in.
When we begin thinking about regulation, we need to also move away from the idea that what we're regulating is content on the Internet, that somebody should sit in an office and say, “That's acceptable; that's not acceptable.” That's ultimately going to be very contested and we should begin thinking, instead, about what the rules are. What's creating the echo chambers on the Internet? What is it that the algorithms favour? Do we want to cut down, for example, or restrict the use of anonymity? Do we want to make it much harder for people to create bots and fake campaigns that artificially amplify some messages over others. That is something that is technically possible to do.
Professor Applebaum, first, let me congratulate you on having recently joined Johns Hopkins University as a senior fellow.
Professor, over the past decade we've seen what I call the Schroederization of key members of Europe's old-guard political elites. Politicians and ex-politicians corrupted by Russian billions act for the economic and geopolitical interests of Russia, as in the case of Nord Stream creating western hydrocarbon and economic dependencies.
Now we see an evolving new stage of this verse in Russian hydrocarbon money flows, and the nurturing and financing of enemies within—far right-wing, vast groups in central and western European countries that see liberal democracy in the EU itself as the enemy. It takes the form of significant loans to political parties, such as Le Pen's National Rally and material media support to candidates of Germany's AfD. In fact, in an article in January, you referenced Bundestag member Markus Frohnmaier, who the Kremlin called, in a leaked document, “our own absolutely controlled MP in the Bundestag”. Financing the staging of terrorist attacks in Europe against minorities, as happened in the fire bombing of a Hungarian cultural centre in Ukraine, has been exposed as having been done by Polish white supremacists paid by an AfD staffer in the German Bundestag using Kremlin money.
Recently, you and some of Europe's most important writers and intellectuals published an open letter in the Guardian sounding the alarm against the, and I'll quote it, “arsonists of soul and spirit who...want to make a bonfire of our freedoms”. The letter makes direct reference to May's European elections.
Can you tell us what's at stake in these upcoming elections?
Thank you for allowing me to have the chance to speak to you today. I'm sorry I can't be there in person.
Is liberal democracy in crisis in Europe? I want to begin today with two facts. As we all know, social scientists tend to disagree on a lot of things, but there are two pretty solid pieces of evidence they do agree on. First is that old democracies don't die; that is, the longer a democracy has been around, the probability that a democracy will break down decreases. The second fact is that rich democracies don't die. No democracy with $22,000 U.S. per capita income or more has ever broken down. So rich, old democracies don't die. This means Europe, especially the core of western Europe, should be safe. But something significant has changed in our lifetime. The way that democracies die has changed.
During the 20th century, democracies used to die at the hands of men with guns. During the Cold War, three out of every four democratic breakdowns took the form of a military coup. Today, most democracies die in much more subtle ways. They die not at the hands of generals, but at the hands of elected leaders. Presidents and prime ministers use the very institutions of democracy to subvert it: elections, plebiscites, acts of parliament, supreme court rulings. This is Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin, Erdogan in Turkey and Viktor Orban in Hungary, in the heart of Europe.
What's so dangerously insidious about this electoral road to autocracy is that it happens behind a facade of democracy. There are no tanks in the streets. The constitution remains intact. There are elections. Parliaments continue to function. As a result, many citizens often aren't fully aware of what's happening until it's too late. In 2011, which was 12 years into Hugo Chavez' presidency, a survey showed that a majority of Venezuelans still believed they were living under a democracy.
Could this really happen in Europe? As I have said, this has already happened on the eastern edges of the European Union, in Hungary, under Viktor Orban. In 2010, Orban's party came to power legally, constitutionally and democratically, but armed with a constitutional supermajority over the past nine years, it has followed a pattern that my co-author, Steve Levitsky, and I identify in our book How Democracies Die. Once in power, it captured the referees of the political game: the courts. It sidelined rivals and critics: the media and universities. It tilted the playing field to make it harder and harder for an incumbent to lose by altering electoral rules. This is a playbook that has also been repeated in Poland, with only a little less success.
What about the core of western Europe? Even though these democracies are richer and older, the fact that democracies now die at the ballot box means that perhaps we are in a new world and a new set of rules may apply. Indeed, in western Europe, in many countries for the first time since the end of World War II, illiberal anti-system radical right political parties are either in power, on the threshold of power or being elected to parliament for the first time. Most recently, just this week, Spain's Vox party made it into Spain's parliament, the first time a far-right party has made it into parliament since Franco. This is the Alternative for Germany, Sweden Democrats and Italy's Lega Nord, just to name a few.
If these parties single-handedly gain power without coalition partners, as they have in Poland and Hungary, would they inflict such serious damage on democracy as they have in Poland and Hungary? I believe the answer is yes. A core and underappreciated precondition of Europe's post-World War II order, and democratic order and democratic stabilization from post-Nazi Germany to post-Franco Spain has been not only a social democratic party of the left, but a robust and democratic centre right. As Franz-Josef Strauss, the Bavarian conservative, put it in the 1980s, for democracy to survive in Germany, there cannot be a party to the right of Germany's Christian Democrats. This condition held through the entire postwar period until 2017. It is no longer true. The biggest opposition party in the German parliament today is a radical right party to the right of the Christian Democratic Party and this has upended Germany's political equilibrium.
Given all of this, there are two important questions to consider.
First, how do we know these parties truly are a threat to democracy and not just expressing the disaffection of marginalized voices that can be integrated into stable, democratic political systems? To answer this question, we have to have a set of criteria to assess whether parties and politicians are genuine threats to democracy or not.
With this sort of question in mind, in my book with Steve Levitsky, we devised a kind of early warning system, what we call litmus tests, to identify politicians and parties before they get into office who might pose a threat to democracy once they are in office. This is critical, because if democracies die at the ballot box, it's important to be able to identify politicians ahead of time who might be threats to democracy once they are in office.
We propose four criteria. First, does a politician reject the rules of the game? For example, do they challenge the legitimacy of elections? Do they reject the legitimacy of the constitution? Do they endorse or support extra-constitutional means of changing government? Second, does a politician or party publicly deny the legitimacy of their opposition? For example, do they describe their rivals as subversives, traitors or criminals? Third, does a politician or party tolerate or encourage violence, or do they align with or fail to condemn supporters who use violence? Fourth, does a politician or party express a readiness to curtail the civil liberties of opponents, including the media?
If a politician or political party tests positive on a single one of those criteria before getting into office, we should be worried. In Europe, we have seen radical right parties at times passing some of these tests. When they do, and if they do, they are a threat to democracy.
The second question is: What has caused this rising tide of Europe's new illiberal radical parties? Analysts usually refer to two kinds of factors to explain the rise of Europe's illiberal radical right: first, economic factors, and second, cultural factors connected to immigration. For example, analysts often argue that slowing wage growth, increasing economic inequality and unemployment have all generated voter disaffection with democracy in Europe.
There's a lot to this, but it's not the whole story. It's striking that a country such as Poland, that has had uninterrupted economic growth since the early 2000s, and escaped the 2008 financial crisis essentially unscathed, not only has a strong and illiberal political party, but one that is currently in power. A country like Spain, which suffered some of the worst fallout of the 2008 financial crisis, with unemployment rates reaching over 26% at the high point, has until this year not had a populist radical right party in parliament. Economics matters, but it's not the whole story.
Others argue that the causes are cultural. The rise of the radical right has come as the percentage of national populations of immigrants in Europe has increased. The radical right has thrived in response to the refugee crisis, it is often thought, but there are puzzles here too. Cross-nationally, the places where the radical right has done best—Poland and Hungary—are precisely where there are the fewest foreign-born residents—less than 5%. Countries like Spain and Germany, where foreign-born residents reach over 10%—double—have experienced much more sporadic radical right movements.
Likewise, as in the United States, inside countries in Europe, it's precisely in those regions and provinces in a country like Germany, with not many foreign-born residents—eastern Germany—where radical right sentiment is highest. In urban areas where there are many immigrants, radical right sentiment is almost non-existent.
Again, it's not that immigration doesn't matter, but all of this suggests what I think of as a third factor that actually matters more than these other two. The success of Europe's radical right is rooted in failures of Europe's mainstream political parties.
Two failures are worth mentioning. First, there was the move to the ideological centre by social democratic parties and labour parties in Europe in the 1990s. Tony Blair's new labour and Gerhard Schroeder's neue mitte may have been smart and actually necessary electorally, but it came with a cost. It left many working-class voters with the view that they no longer had a choice. The centre-right and the centre-left were now virtually indistinguishable. The first failure on the part of the centre-left was a failure to offer something clearly different, leaving a potential pool of voters feeling abandoned, and available for the populist radical right.
There was also a second failure. Because the centre-left moved to the centre on economic questions, many parties and politicians on the centre-right—Christian Democrats and Conservatives—began to search for new cultural issues to run on, including by drawing a hard line on immigration. It was in the 1990s that many centre-right politicians in Germany, for example, began to talk about threats of immigration, adopting nativist and nationalist slogans that were even picked up in some instances by the small radical right.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, everyone, for the invitation to speak to you today on what I think is a remarkably important issue. It's very heartening to see you taking it with such seriousness.
I'm not going to go over some of the empirics, which many of you know inside out. I want to pick up on Professor Ziblatt's last point, because I want to suggest to you that to understand what is going on in Europe and in fact more broadly in the word, we have to understand that there is a new ideological struggle taking place. In other words, what is taking place right now is not simply a question of an ill-defined populism. It's not simply a question of economic dislocation. It is certainly not the re-rise of fascism.
What's taking place is much more complicated than that. In fact, it arises out of a series of intellectual, political and cultural strategies, which have been developing for more than two decades. It's the level of ideas, the level of ideologies, that we have to take more seriously if we're going to understand the way in which all of these things fit together.
It seems to me that one of the biggest problems we have in understanding the rise of what I call the radical right or radical conservatism is that we fall back on clichés, and our two favourite ones are populism and fascism. Populism is great, because it seems to identify something we just don't like. It's happening, and it's kind of the rise of the great unwashed. We're really not sure what's happening, but it's bad. The problem with it is precisely its ill-defined nature. Fascism really does not get at what is happening in contemporary Europe, or in fact more broadly, in the United States on the radical right.
What I want to suggest is that we can understand populism in a much more systematic way, which is in fact the way that ideologues of modern populist movements have understood it. We can understand it on a basis of two axes. The first is what we might call a vertical axis, which is the divide between the people and the elite. Almost all populist movements will make this divide. The people are defined in some way, and the elite are defined as their opponents—those who undermine or oppose the people. The second is what we might call a horizontal axis, that is, a divide between the people and those who are outside the people. What makes a populist movement really powerful is the way in which it is able to combine these two axes—the way in which the elite and the outside are fused in a very specific political rhetoric.
If we look at the contemporary far right in Europe, one of the most interesting things is the way that it's been able to do this with the primary adversary being defined as liberal globalization; that is, internally, these liberal elites who attack the interests of the people. Those liberal elites are explicitly globalist, globalized. They are the representatives of global capital. They are the representatives of international human rights. They reside in international NGOs. They come from abroad. They make linkages.
The ideology of contemporary radical right populism, then, revolves around this fusion of a vertical and a horizontal axis in opposition to liberal globalization. This is a strategy that one can trace back. It emerged—for those of you who are interested in these kinds of things—in France, in roughly 1968. It's been around for almost half a century. It has only really picked up power in the last 10 years.
This is not, therefore, simply an inchoate political spasm. It has to be understood as part of a political, ideological struggle. It's also an ideological struggle that these people understand as specifically cultural; that is, the attack on global liberal culture is an explicit part of its political orientation. National culture—local culture—is seen as that which is threatened, precisely by universal global values attached to liberalism.
In this way then, what the contemporary radical right seeks to do is to create an ideological movement within states but also across states. One of the most fascinating things about contemporary radical nationalism is that it is explicitly internationalist. It sees itself as forming a series of movements of movements, and it sees itself as doing so in a pan-European way and also, potentially, in a pan-western way.
This is, to some degree, a civilizational ideology. The best illustrations of this come from three people. One person you already mentioned, Matteo Salvini, makes this argument explicitly. He also makes it in alliance with Aleksandr Dugin, out of Russia. They both make it in alliance with somebody with whom I'm sure you're all very familiar, a rather dishevelled man by the name of Steve Bannon.
Steve Bannon just founded something called the Academy for the Judeo-Christian West. This is designed to be an intellectual and cultural training school for a cadre of radical conservative academics, policy-makers and bureaucrats. It is mirrored by the school that has been started in Lyon by Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. It has exactly the same agenda.
In other words, what we're seeing here is not simply chaos. What we're seeing is something that can be understood as an ideological and strategic political struggle.
It's a struggle that is also not simply explicitly illiberal. This is one of the biggest problems in countering it. It often manifests what we might paradoxically call “illiberal illiberalism”. If you look at the far right in northern Europe, for instance, one of its major political points is what it sees as a defence of liberal values—free speech, secularism—and the argument that the defence of these values requires illiberal measures, specifically against those civilizations they present as threatening to them. Islam is the one that usually comes to mind when we talk about the north European far right.
Within this coalition and these movements, there are massive tensions. There is no doubt about that. What we are seeing here is not a systematic bloc. What we are seeing is an attempt to build a cultural, political and ideological movement that understands what it is doing, that has a systematic and structured political rhetoric and that seeks systematically to attack liberal values and global values, doing so in ways that link up to local conditions. If one is thinking about how to confront it, the only way to do so is to take it seriously as an ideology as well as a set of social upheavals.
That's all I will say for now.
Well, I thought you were going to be here, so I brought it for you to sign. You can see that I've made notes and everything. Truly, this is a thrill.
Thank you to the clerk and staff for having Mr. Ziblatt here today.
Since I only have three minutes, I'm going to move into a concept.... I am a big fan of your evaluation of the four key indicators of authoritarian behaviour. Since I will not have enough time with three minutes, if given permission by the clerk, I will submit, in writing, a request for you to do an evaluation of the Canadian government. Recently, we have certainly seen a rejection and weakness of democratic rules of the game, a denial of legitimacy of political opponents, for sure—although more internally—and a readiness to curtail civil liberties. I will be asking, in writing, for you to do an evaluation on Canada.
I want to talk briefly about another concept, which you didn't really touch on in your opening remarks, but which I really appreciated seeing in your book. It is called “forbearance”, which is something else I am seeing significantly here in our Canadian system and our Canadian processes.
For example, we are seeing a significant use of time allocation by the present government to cut down debate. It is using the rules to do this. I'm not sure it would be fair to say that they have been historically abided by in this case.
There is something more disturbing to me. I am the vice-chair of the House procedure committee, and a case came before it that was clearly one of contempt of Parliament. However, the current government did not want to wear that it was contempt of Parliament, and therefore, the final report's wording was softened.
How do we eliminate forbearance?
Before we adjourn, I would like to say that, if you have written questions for our witnesses, from either the first or second panel, please send them to the clerk before noon on Friday.
I would like to thank both of our guests.
I'm sorry for the shortened version of this panel, but it was really interesting.
I have a few comments to make before we leave.
Don't forget the meeting of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure, which will be held on Monday, May 6, at 12:15 p.m.
The deadline for written questions to the witnesses from April 30 is today at 5 p.m. Please send them in writing to the clerk.
By tomorrow, could you also confirm with the clerk your attendance at the May 8 lunch with the official from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Republic of Latvia.
Thank you very much, everyone, including our witnesses.
The meeting is adjourned.