Cities are a great place for social experiments. Benjamin R. Barber

Austria Is Just the Beginning of a More Polarized World

The Alpine neighbor of Germany was prepared to swear in a far-right leaning President. What the heck?

election austria

Throughout the Western World, sympathies for right-wing strongmen are gaining strength. Societies are split down the middle on this. In the USA, the candidates Clinton and Trump are tied in the polls. In Austria, it came to a showdown between the Green candidate Alexander van der Bellen and the Right Nationalist Norbert Hofer. 50-50, half-half these societies are split. For Germany such results have long been the common, admittedly the society hasn’t fallen into radicalism, but this fact has passed over into a sobering parliamentary reality: in two or three previous and current legislatures, the Social Democrats and the Christian Conservatives are forced to govern together. This leads to a stalemate as well, since the most important issues of the future can not be addressed with such a deadlock. Compromises, the lifeblood of democracy, are always stretched to their max under such configurations, and sometimes they are overstretched.

This is probably why people are looking towards Austria with such apprehension: a sudden jump to the Right or the Left has never been good for Germany. And now the Alpine neighbor was prepared to swear in a far-right leaning President. In the end won the man from the Greens, the more moderate candidate, as an outsider can also observe. The Green Party has long been a refreshing normality for the European party-spectrum. The times when they were radical, simply because they had a different style and theme, are long over. But still Norbert Hofer got the second half of the vote in an election which, by the way, had a record turnout of over 72 percent. Has spurring on the radicalization of the political scene at the ends of the spectrum revitalized Democracy?

It seems discernable that democracy, liberal democracy to be precise, must be fought over. Throughout the Western World, neo-national, anti-Islamic, homophobic, gender-hostile political forces have been agitated. With record results they’re able to get out of the stands and into state parliaments, as is happening in Germany with the so-called Alternative for Germany (AfD). Next year there is the federal election, and it is already been calculated how the future German Parliament will be put together, and what role in it the AfD will play.

The fight for democracy is also being led on the Right; the same form and layout of this fight is being used by Marie Le Pen, Norbert Hofer, and Donald Trump. They argue for the purification of democracy from the evils being inflicted on it by certain minority groups. For them, democracy is the rule of the majority over the minority. Liberal democracies, on the other hand, as they have taken shape in the countries of the West, inversely derive their value, their functionality, and their legitimacy by how well they treat minorities.

The trend has for a while been facing the opposite direction. What’s being discussed is what it means to be French, what it means to be English, or what it means to be German. The majority has been ascertaining answers to these questions for a decade. In a globalized world, where all people are digitally connected to one another, questions of identity are crucial. The notion of homogeneous places are therefore being dreamed of outside the West: the expulsion of Christians from the Middle East is due to the homogeneity and superiority dreams of ISIS jihadists. The same goes for the Hindu national dream dreamt by the current government of India.

The election in Austria therefore is just an appetizer: for the Brexit referendum in England at the end of June, which right now neck and neck, for the vote in November in the USA, where the society appears likewise to be split down the middle. Austria is a small country and on today’s world political stage insignificant. Though anyone visiting the capital of Vienna notices immediately that it was once the seat of a huge empire. This applies similarly to Paris and London. A return to former greatness, as evoked by Donald Trump in the USA, can be heard also in France, England, and Austria with similar rhetorical fashion. Austria is perhaps just a precursor for more.

The text was published first at our partner The World Post

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