20 December 2019

Illiberalism in Europe book launch


At a time when hard-won progress can seem under threat, CapX is proud to present a groundbreaking collection of essays on the theme of Illiberalism in Europe.

This book explores the different challenges to liberal economies and societies across the continent, from populism to protectionism, from the threats to free speech to the scourge of corruption.

Taken together, these essays provide a road map to the continent’s current challenges – and how, with a little imagination and focus, we might overcome them.

To read the volume, click here.

In our first essay, Hans Kundnani explains why the idea of a simple split between ‘liberalism’ and ‘illiberalism’ may be false. Equally, ‘populism’ exists in numerous guises and cannot be reduced to a single movement or phenomenon. Britain’s vote to leave the EU perfectly encapsulates this complexity – on the one hand a cri de coeur from the post-industrial heartlands, on the other a project of hyper-liberal neo-Thatcherites who want to see a tax-cutting, deregulated economy unshackled from Brussels’ monolithic approach. Things are rarely as simple as they seem.

The scene set, we dive into the detail. The EU’s cack-handed approach to regulation and subsidies is the subject of Kai Weiss’ essay on the Common Agricultural Policy, in which he details how trade has been distorted, billions of taxpayers’ money wasted, and how a more liberal approach has worked far better elsewhere.

But Europe is more than the EU, and the future of the continent rests just as much on its eastern borders. CapX editor John Ashmore travelled to Ukraine to find out how the government of former comedian Volodymyr Zelensky is trying to turn a creaking, post-Soviet shambles of an economy into a dynamic, free-trading beacon – and the obstacles standing in his way.

It’s not just in Europe’s poorest country where people are suffering from bad public policy. In his essay, German MP Oliver Luksic sets out how a hopelessly misguided energy policy is undermining the livelihood of German carmakers and threatening to puncture the country’s entire economy.

But Illiberalism is not just about economics, of course. Stand-up comedian Konstantin Kisin knows only too well that policing people’s speech has become all too prevalent. Born in the Soviet Union, Kisin brings both historical perspective and insight rooted in personal experience to explore the rise of ‘wokeness’ and how it threatens free speech.

Emmanuel Macron was once hailed as the saviour of liberalism not just in France, but across the continent. French commentator Anne-Elisabeth Moutet says the Macron project has fallen well-short of those hopes, with the president’s top-down, bureaucratic approach proving anything but revolutionary.

If Macron is the posterboy of liberalism, the opposite is true of Viktor Orban. As Dalibor Rohac argues, too many on the right have been willing to give authoritarians such as Orban or Poland’s PiS the benefit of the doubt, even though their policies are inimical to both freedom of speech and economic freedom.

Returning to the powerhouse of Europe’s economy, Germany, author and academic Rainer Zitelmann explains how a centrally planned, statist approach to housing has pushed up prices, undermined the market and threatens to rekindle the very worst policies of the old GDR.

John Hulsman then offers an exposition of the way Europe’s political elite has fostered and fomented an illiberal climate by failing to respond to voters’ concerns. A combination of perpetual low growth in the major Western European economies and a ham-fisted approach to the migration crisis have discredited the liberal cause – opening a space for an illiberal alternative, which, thankfully, has yet to truly assert itself.

Even one of Europe’s most successful economies has been pulling the wool over voters’ eyes, argues Swedish academic Nima Sanandaji in his thought-provoking essay. By obscuring the true nature of its taxation and welfare policies, Swedish governments have misled voters as to how their country really works – and now they are starting to wise up.

Voters are also growing sick of having their personal habits policed by an elite who have little understanding of their lives, argues author and lawyer Helen Dale. The nanny statism typified by Denmark’s fat tax or Britain’s attempted Porn Laws is bringing liberalism into disrepute because it’s the type of pettifogging technocracy that hits people at home.

Let’s not despair too much though, says Eszter Szucs in the final piece of our series. In Eastern Europe, Generation Z activists who have little memory of the communist past are taking the fight to intolerant populists, defending minority rights and making their voice heard for a more open, liberal future.

Things may be under threat – but the best way to counter those threats is firstly to recognise them for what they are, and then to apply the best of contemporary thinking to tackle them, tempered by a knowledge of the past. The lights aren’t going out over Europe yet.

To read the volume, click here.

We would like to thank The Atlas Network, without whose generous support this project would not have been possible.

John Ashmore is the Editor of CapX