To state that a book is important may seem a cliché, but Frank Furedi's Populism and the European Culture Wars is undoubtedly so. Using Hungary as a case study, no writer has more clearly described the predicament of national culture and identity, set against the progressive EU goal of a borderless, multicultural continent. Yet the message is unlikely to be read by the political masters who have created the conditions for popular revolt.
Emeritus professor of sociology at University of Essex, Furedi is a tireless campaigner for free speech. He is a regular contributor to Spiked website, originally a Marxist magazine that takes aim at the censorial and anti-democratic institutions that govern us.Raised in Britain, Furedi is of Hungarian background, and is a keen observer of the conflict between the supposedly liberal EU and his allegedly racist homeland.
For Furedi, Hungary's leader Viktor Orbán is no angel, but he is the product of the democratic will of the people. Orbán has seen the damage that Europe has brought on itself through subversive identity politics and mass immigration, and unlike polite Western society he states bluntly his pledge to preserve a Christian country of birthright. Like its neighbours in eastern Europe, Hungary finds that its national autonomy regained after decades of Soviet rule is being threatened again by the EU. For daring to stand up for its own culture, Hungary is being treated as a pariah state led by an authoritarian demagogue.
For all its scapegoating by the EU, Hungary is not alone. So-called 'populists' are rising against the political establishment. The multitudes crossing the Mediterranean from Africa, and Angela Merkel's reckless invitation that brought over a million to Germany in one year, is tipping the balance of public opinion away from global idealism to a resurgence of nativism. Wasn't the EU meant for Europeans, rather than marauding economic migrants?
Clearly Europe is heading for a crisis, and Orbán wants to avert this at home. While parties urging immigration control are a long way from winning a governing majority in countries such as the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, Fidesz recently consolidated its position in the Hungarian election, and Orbán is more popular than ever. As a conservative communitarian, some regard him as not only the saviour of his own land, but possibly Europe too.
The EU still believes it is on the right side of history, as do the intelligentsia and mainstream media in its willing constituencies. Last week BBC news presenter Emily Maitlis challenged Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjárto on his government's description of 'Muslim invaders'. Taking his interviewer's stance as an insult, Szijjárto asserted Hungary's right to stop illegal immigrants. Most ordinary people seeing this exchange would see which side was speaking sense. Vilification is failing.
Furedi describes the moral devaluation of nationhood by the EU, which 'regards people's identification with their nation as a regrettable prejudice'. It thrives on the unashamed anti-patriotism of the educated class noted by George Orwell, although as Furedi explains, 'the hostility of liberals towards national loyalties is a relatively recent development. The emergence of the modern world and of liberal Enlightenment ideals coincided with the rise of nation states'. Fundamentally, the EU is a project designed to replace such proud nations with a supranational European entity.
As rational argument cannot penetrate deeply embedded cultural beliefs, emotional persuasion is used to morally devalue nationhood. The past, according to the federalists' propaganda, was war, fascism and social injustice. The EU, by contrast, is a paragon of virtue: peace, tolerance and unity. Nostalgia is at best ignorance, at worst xenophobic. Creation myths of the old tribes must be discarded in favour of the continental narrative, a contrived teleology displayed at the House of European History in Brussels. Just as the Union Jack is associated with imperialism, for the progressive mentality Hungarian nationalism is an existential threat to European 'values'.
These values are imposed with righteous zeal. But the emotionalist approach has a fatal flaw in the hypocrisy of liberal sanctimony. The EU and its supporters throughout the political and cultural establishments of western Europe are not really liberal, and are becoming less so as their world-view is confronted by reality. However, as Furedi asserts, they lack insight: 'the critics of populism and of Hungarian conservative nationalism are simply not aware of their own illiberal attitudes and assumptions'. To illustrate the double-standards, consider the over-reaction to a Hungarian law in 2012 to regulate the media. Guy Verhofstadt demanded an urgent EU enquiry, yet the Brussels autocracy has shown its own enthusiasm to suppress debate through internet control, while the British parliament very nearly passed a draconian act that would have effectively made newspapers an arm of the state (for the Daily Mail, read Pravda).
It is not the populists who are the problem, but their out-of-touch, technocratic opponents who only want to engage with the hoi polloi on their own terms. The EU, like every Utopian authority in history, wants apathy in the masses. But it is impossible to mask the process and outcomes of the dangerously destructive policy of an open door. We are told that those boatloads of young men from Muslim lands are a vital remedy for our ageing population. We are told that despite the terror and rape gangs, our culture is being enriched. But the people are not blind.
Furedi's text is succinct, but nonetheless some omissions are surprising: nothing on George Soros (apart from a passing reference to the Soros Foundation) or cultural Marxism (although the anti-nationalism of Jürgen Habermas is featured); there is only one index entry for Islam. But the implications are clear.
Back in 1996, Christopher Lasch warned in his Revolt of the Elites: the Betrayal of Democracy that a coming culture clash would dominate Western politics. It is here now, and the longer that the ruling class holds on to power, the worse it will be. Hungary is merely the tip of an iceberg that will hole the EU's once-unsinkable liner, and submerge the liberal schema in a sea of rage. If you're not swayed by populism, batten down the hatches.