Freedom vs Democracy: Budapest as Symbol of the Great Divide

Duns Scotus

Europe and America, the twin pillars of Western dominance in the global system, are rapidly diverging. This has been borne out by the recent experience of Richard Spencer and his attempt to hold an intellectual conference in Europe.

What is the nature of this divide between Europe and America? To reduce it to its most obvious characteristics: in Europe there is little freedom, but much democracy. In America there is much freedom but little democracy.

Freedom and democracy are words that are often uttered in the same breath, but they are essentially quite different. Freedom is related to the individual. Democracy is related to the social group.

In America there is still something called “Freedom of Speech.” You can still more or less say what you want to, no matter how offensive or threatening it is to others. A good example is the website The Daily Stormer, which has been the subject of a couple of excellent articles by Colin Liddell (“Stormer in a Teacup”). The Daily Stormer, or its proprietor Mr. Anglin, can say anything it wants about Jews, Blacks, and Muslims, no matter how crude, vulgar, or offensive this might seem to other Americans. Of course, in Europe someone like Anglin would soon be behind bars due to “hate laws” and thoughtcrime legislation. Who knows, he might even get into trouble next time he visits Europe.

In Europe, by contrast, there is democracy. Thanks to widespread proportional representation and a multi-party system, small political groupings can form and then start to gain representation in the political system, creating careers for their members, and growing as much as the public will support their views. Small radical parties, whether of the Left or Right, can get into the various national, regional, and EU parliaments in a way that must seem incredible to Americans. Even when they are demonized by the media.

In the case of Hungary, the government of which has banned the NPI conference, the second party is Jobbik, a rather offbeat but certainly radical grouping, which is anti-semitic, anti-gypsy, and which aspires to major border changes to unite Hungarian minorities in other countries with the homeland.


Why would a country where Jobbik is the second biggest party bother to ban the well-spoken folks of NPI?

Despite the media and economic power of big business, the structure of European politics means that Europeans always have a strong path towards collective representation. This was seen to great effect in the recent Scottish referendum on independence, where, despite intense media bias and extreme economic threats, the independence campaign achieved 45% of the vote (and a majority when non-Scots voters are excluded), and which may now achieve its ends by the SNP winning the majority of Scottish Westminster seats in next year’s UK general election.

How different from America, where you have even greater media and economic pressures, but also a political system that is merely the political wing of big business and big government. The two giant American political parties monopolize politics at every level and effortlessly stifle any third party, or subsume any partly independent populist tendency, like the Tea Party (not an actual party), thus preventing real democratic expression. America is essentially an anti-democratic system that prevents any “heretic” viewpoint, no matter how popular and integral to a particular demographic, from growing and being represented.

There is a logic in this divide between American Freedom and European Democracy: A country that lacks democracy needs freedom, and a country that has democracy is threatened by freedom.

With normal Americans unable to express their collective identities and interests below the most generic level, frustrations are frequent. Being able to shoot your mouth off and even play with your guns salves this sense of powerlessness.

In Europe by contrast, the fact that radical, extremist, and polarized ethnic groups can get into parliament raises certain dangers. A total freedom of language, with all of its abusive and inflammatory aspects, tied to organized representation for various groups, could lead to riots, chaos, and even mini-wars. The European solution: democracy and representation, but the curtailment of freedom. Mr. Spencer and NPI seem to have been a victim of the overzealous application of this principle.