Conrad Black: Why the Rise of Conservative Leaders Unsettles the Left-of-Centre in the Democratic World

Conrad Black: Why the Rise of Conservative Leaders Unsettles the Left-of-Centre in the Democratic World
Argentine president-elect Javier Milei addresses supporters after winning Argentina's runoff presidential election, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Nov. 19, 2023. (Agustin Marcarian/Reuters)
Conrad Black

The election in Argentina of Javier Milei, a flamboyant but coherent supply-side economist who draws his principal inspiration from Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, has excited considerable anxiety in international soft left circles. Many commentators put it together with other recent or anticipated electoral fluctuations in Western democracies and purport to find a reactionary trend.

The rise of Donald Trump in the polls to a point-13 percent better than his position comparative to Joe Biden four years ago, and at the head of all announced candidates seeking the presidency, has naturally flabbergasted his numerous and, in the media, almost omnipresent critics. Trump’s political obsequies have been constantly celebrated and the bells of celebration of his demise were rung threadbare years ago. The clear implications of these polls, now less than a year from the election, are that whatever these upcoming trials may produce as verdicts, more Americans object to the apparent politicization of the powers of prosecution than to Trump himself. And on its record, the Biden administration has almost no chance of re-election.

The moderate shift to the right in the Swedish elections last year; the rise from fourth to second position in the polls of the Alternative Party in Germany, whose policy positions are conservative but whose leaders sometimes utter reflections that are disturbing; the leadership of the polls in France by the National Front (now National Rally) of Marine Le Pen; the election a year ago of Italian conservative Georgia Meloni; last week’s breakthrough by Dutch anti-Islamist Geert Wilders; and the re-election of Hungarian conservative and somewhat authoritarian premier Viktor Orban, as well as some trends in Spain, Canada, and elsewhere, have all contributed to unease on the left-of-centre everywhere in the democratic world. They are right to be uneasy; they have generally failed. These countries all have distinguishable circumstances.

In the United States, the Biden administration has been unsuccessful by any measurement: economic, immigration, crime, national security, energy, and the president seeking re-election is of evidently questionable physical and intellectual capacity to execute such a great and challenging office for another four years. There have been many historical figures who have served with distinction in high offices in their 80s; the real issue is not Mr. Biden’s age but his cognitive condition.

These factors are naturally advantageous to Donald Trump as the continuing official leader of the Republican Party as well as the announced candidate for the Republican presidential nomination commanding an overwhelming majority in the polls. And while Mr. Trump is notoriously unpopular with tens of millions of his countrymen, he is also at the head of scores of millions of ardent supporters who are not alone in recalling that they were better off when he was president and the country was in better condition, and who believe that he is being illegally persecuted by a profoundly corrupt administration. At this point his return to office is somewhat probable, though certainly not inevitable, but this does not constitute a primitive or reactionary convulsion in the American electorate, anymore than his administration was repressive or reactionary.

Argentina has suffered from 75 years of misrule. Prior to World War I, its standard of living was higher than that of France or Germany. At the end of World War II, its standard of living was almost identical to Canada’s. Now, 40 percent of its people are in a state of poverty, nine times the percentage in Canada (which has not benefited from uninterruptedly inspired government itself these 75 years), and inflation has been steadily over 100 percent annually for some years.

Apart from a couple of interludes of military government, Argentina has been dominated since 1950 by the personality and the variously remembered and re-enacted legacy of the ultimate officers’ club, political general, and glamorously married balcony demagogue Juan Peron. Almost all of the succeeding civilian governments have claimed to be imbued with some sort of Peronism. Military juntas are almost always incompetent, especially in Latin America. Some generals make great statesmen, like George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, and Charles de Gaulle, but government by the military is almost always a disaster and the last bout of it in Argentina led to the humiliating fiasco of the Falklands War in 1981.

Javier Milei has promised to abolish the central bank (and hammered a pinata of it in election meetings) and to adopt the U.S. dollar as the country’s currency, thus assuring a comparatively sober management of the money supply. El Salvador and Ecuador are already doing this and it may be part of the ultimate salvation of Latin America, despite the current prevalence of the singular fatuity of the anti-gringo Latin American left. Milei has promised to shrink the government (and wielded a chainsaw at election meetings), abolish many ministries, including anything to do with gender, diversity, and women’s issues, and replace all of it with a declaration of equal rights for everybody.

Germany is inching towards fulfilling its role as the most powerful country in Europe, dragging behind it more than a century of history in which whenever it did fulfill that role, it was disastrously and ultimately criminally incompetent at it. After nearly 70 years at the heart of the Western Alliance and the various European associations, its progress towards the resumption of that role should be steady and un-frightening, but the precedents roil and disturb the German consciousness yet.

In France, except for the communists, the political parties never last long so the currents of political opinion are not so easily read. In her long tenure as head of the National Front, Marine LePen has steadily moved to the centre, not least by expelling the founder, her own father, from the party. She now seems to have picked up much of the old Gaullist right, and if victorious on her third try for the presidency, for which there is also some precedent (Francois Mitterand, Jacques Chirac), she will take office as a moderate conservative.

Ms. Meloni was an eminently comprehensible response by an Italian electorate enervated beyond expression by 70 years of revolving-door and/or ludicrous governments. She took office as an orthodox traditional conservative, in politics if not in her personal life, and has governed as such. Efforts to represent her as a fascist hold no more water than the recent sprouting up of comparisons of Donald Trump with Hitler.

These are measures of the desperation of tired centre-left of Western politics, which has latterly mismanaged almost everything, although French President Emmanuel Macron has had some success. What is occurring is not a building up of extremism, but a marginal move from the left of the centre to the near right of the centre. What may seem next year to be an exception to the trend will be the likely victory of the British Labour Party, but that is because the Conservatives produced five unsuccessful prime ministers in six years and none of them governed as conservatives. Tony Blair is the only British Labour Party leader in history who won consecutive full terms, and the Labour Party likely to be elected next year will not replicate that feat and will be followed by an authentic conservative government.

What we are witnessing is in no sense a triumph of extremism, and the sour grapes of the dishonest media and the decayed legions of Saul Alinsky will not contrive to prolong the exhausted incumbency of the soft, inert left, personified by Joe Biden, or even to sell its overdue demise as a matter of concern or regret.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Conrad Black has been one of Canada’s most prominent financiers for 40 years and was one of the leading newspaper publishers in the world. He’s the author of authoritative biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, and, most recently, “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other,” which has been republished in updated form. Follow Conrad Black with Bill Bennett and Victor Davis Hanson on their podcast Scholars and Sense.
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