Europe faces a host of problems connected with mass immigration and globalization. Christopher Caldwell, senior editor for The Weekly Standard, says Americans can learn some valuable lessons from Europe’s current plight. Caldwell dissected Europe’s ongoing challenges during the 2016 John W. Pope Lecture at North Carolina State University. He shared themes from that lecture with Mitch Kokai for Carolina Journal Radio. (Click here to find recent CJ Radio episodes.)
Kokai: You wrote about some of these topics several years ago … in this  book about Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. But more of these issues are coming to a head. I guess you were prophetic about what Europe has been facing — that we’ve been seeing in the headlines recently.
Caldwell: Well, I wouldn’t say prophetic because I don’t like to make many predictions. But maybe for that reason, I don’t see much reason to revise anything that I wrote in the book. I think what’s going on now is you’re seeing some of the problems I noted in kind of a concentrated form. You have a very large immigration coming that started from the war zone in Syria and Iraq.
But that now has become sort of a lucrative, people-moving route. And once refugees discover how to move on it, people— guides, who take money from people to help them immigrate into Europe, and negotiate the bureaucracy and stuff — they can do it, too.
So you now have this massive movement of humanity along this road, leading out of Turkey, across the Ionian Sea, into Greece, and up through former Yugoslavia, and into Austria and Germany. And that route is being followed not just by Iranians and Syrians, but by Pakistanis and Iraqis and Bangladeshis and even Southeast Asians. So you’re getting the same immigration pressures but in a huge, concentrated, fast-moving form.
Kokai: One of the more interesting points you made in this Pope Lecture was the fact that this seems to be evidence of the impact of globalization, and how it’s really leading to two separate camps, and perhaps not the two camps people might think of off the top of their heads.
Caldwell: Yes. I’m glad you got that point. You know, we tend to divide things into the rich and the poor. And during the lecture, I was trying to relate Europe’s situation to America’s. And, you know, it’s tempting to say, “Well, the Republicans used to be the party of the elite. And now the Democrats are the party of the elite.” And I think that is, roughly speaking, true.
But the way I’d rather look at it is to say that the big divide in Europe, as in America, is between people who benefit from the global economy and people who don’t. And if you go to a big city — you know, a big, successful city that’s doing well under the global economy’s terms, like say, Paris — you will find that it’s inhabited by the masters of the universe, as Tom Wolfe used to call them, and immigrants. And so there’s not much room for a middle class in such places.
Kokai: And so, as you were discussing in that lecture, you’ve got, basically, the folks who are well off, and then the immigrants who come in and take the lower-level jobs. And then there’s, on the other side, everyone who gets left out.
Caldwell: That’s right. You’ve got half the city, … they mesh into the global economy very nicely. But the rest of the country doesn’t really. And so there’s been an awful lot of interesting, you know, work by sociologists done in France, trying to explain why the people, who are mostly in the countryside, but you could also say they’re in what you’d call the French equivalent of the exurbs, where their resentments come from, and why they feel left out of their society.
Kokai: You alluded to this earlier. You were tying what’s happening in Europe into what we’re seeing today in America. And especially in what we’re seeing in the way our politics are dividing people. You mentioned that there really is a clear sign that what Europe is facing seems to be having an impact here, as well.
Caldwell: I think that there are certain parallels. When you look at, let’s say for the last 10 or 15 years, there has been a growing minority in each European country, that’s kind of lost patience with the country’s mainstream politics. And in Europe, it’s taken the form of third parties. You’ve seen, in the countries where there were two big parties — you know, usually in France and Germany, you would have a roughly Christian Democratic Party and a roughly Social Democratic Party, and you have the Conservatives and Labour in Britain.
Those parties used to command close to half the allegiance of the electorate, like the Democrats and Republicans here. But now, only about one-third of the people like one of the two parties. So it’s 30 percent for left, 30 percent for the right, and 40 percent for the people who just don’t see themselves in the country’s politics at all.
So that 40 percent is a rich place to go hunting for votes. And it’s why in some of the elections, like the first round of last winter’s regional elections in France, you know, the National Front was the largest party in France. And very often in the polls, you see that this is the largest party in France. It’s what we would call a populist, anti-system, anti-immigrant party. And I see a great deal in common with our own, you know, [Donald] Trump movement, and perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, the [Bernie] Sanders movement.
Kokai: In seeing what has happened in Europe, and what’s continuing to happen, what sorts of lessons should we take here, in the U.S., about how the mainstream politicians ought to be addressing these folks’ concerns?
Caldwell: Here’s one lesson from Europe. … We’ve all been so enamored with globalization, and the free market, and our victory in the Cold War, and the unquestionable advantages it has brought for us, and the wonders it has wrought. I mean, you know, you look around you, if you’re in a big city, or in a university town, you see the things that you’ve gained by being able to hook into the global economy, and I don’t just mean gainful employment opportunities, but I mean, you know, lattes from Starbucks, and 50 different kinds of cheese at a gourmet restaurant, and things like that.
These are all wonderful things. But there’s a tendency for the people who don’t live in that world to become invisible to the people who do live in it. And that’s happened in Europe, and it’s a big crisis for these countries. And I think that there are signs that it’s a big crisis for us here.