In recent years, an endless succession of authors has predicted the demise of social democracy.
They were right, in part: the apogee of Social Democracy will never return. But they were also partly wrong: other bus parties, like the Christian Democrats, are also heading for the trash of history.
In the postwar period, social democratic parties won a large share of the vote in virtually all European countries, parts of Latin America and countries ranging from Australia to Israel. They were one of the two main “Volksparteien”, or “popular parties”, in France, Germany and the United Kingdom. They dominated politics in the Scandinavian countries.
They have seen periods of power in the UK, Australia and much of Latin America. At the turn of the century, it still seemed likely that they would play a crucial role in the 21st century.
Since then, the social democratic parties have weakened considerably in almost all of the major democracies. In some of them, they seem to be on the verge of disappearing altogether.
In France, the Socialist Party has been reduced to 25 seats in the National Assembly and barely has a chance to participate in the second round of presidential elections next year. In Germany, the share of votes given to the SPD has halved in 20 years. In the UK, Tony Blair is still the only Labor politician in more than half a century to win a government mandate, and the Labor Party is now being eviscerated on its traditional base in the proletarian northeast of the country.
In Scandinavia, the Social Democrats have long ceased to be the naturally ruling party. And from Peru to Israel, the traditional center-left parties have been gutted.
There are specific reasons behind the death throes of social democracy. The proletariat is no longer a cohesive social context. As British Labor politician Douglas Alexander observed after the last British election: “We are offering voters a tour of the local mining museum. They wanted to go to EuroDisney ”.
As a result, center-right parties, such as the British Conservatives, or far-right parties, such as the Rassemblement national français, today receive the majority of working class votes.
Broad predictions have come true: social democracy is dead. But, as we will find out, the Social Democrats were only the vanguard of a much larger trend: the decline and fall of the 20th century bus parties of all ideological currents.
On a longer timescale, the Christian Democrats have experienced a similar decline. The French Republicans do only slightly better than the Socialist Party.
The German Christian Democrats have fallen to 23% in the current polls, behind the Greens. In Italy, the far-right Lega, which has separatist roots, is today the main right-wing party, followed by the Brothers of Italy, the far right, which has fascist roots. And from Brazil to the United States, traditional center-right parties have been captured or defeated by far-right populists.
The reasons for this go hand in hand with the reason for the fall of the Social Democrats. Just as there are few proletarians left in the 21st century (and those who exist tend to be culturally on the right), there are too few bourgeois left in the 21st century (and those who do exist tend to be culturally left).
But it’s not just that the two traditional environments of the main European party families are disappearing – it’s that the questions they answer are no longer at the epicenter of politics.
Four or five decades ago, a simple question would allow you to guess who voted for a person in France or Sweden, Peru or Australia: “Do you prefer a bigger welfare state and paying more taxes or a welfare state? and pay less tax? “.
Those who opted for the higher welfare state – predominantly but by no means exclusively proletarian – were likely to vote for the Social Democrats. Those who opted for lower taxes – mostly but by no means exclusively bourgeois – probably voted for conservative or Christian Democrats.
Today, the main political battleground has shifted from economic issues to cultural issues.
Questions of tax rates and the welfare state are less critical to policy than they were in the past. Therefore, if you want to know if a voter identifies as left or right, you will likely need to ask them cultural questions about immigration, patriotism, or possibly trust in elite institutions.
Because their traditional constituencies have divergent views on these cultural issues, traditional bus parties find it very difficult to develop a clear profile on these issues. And so, at least in rich countries, they are quickly replaced by movements that were created to answer cultural questions, not economic ones.
21st century politics are much more likely to have the face of Emmanuel Macron’s battle with Marine Le Pen, or the German Green Party against the radical right-wing Alternative for Germany, than it seems. act out of a dispute between Social Democrats and Christian Democrats.
Whether you love it or hate it, 20th century politics are behind you. Attempts to resuscitate him will inevitably end in failure.
LINK PRESENT: Did you like this column? The subscriber can release five free accesses from any link per day. Just click on the blue F below.