Across the West, restless voters and mainstream parties are reinforcing one another in a mutual race to the fringes, hollowing out the political center and threatening the basic canons of our post-war liberal order – the human values, diplomatic alliances and economic relationships that have generally served us well.
The middle-class struggles economically, fears the next terrorist attack and feels abandoned by political and economic elites who decide their futures in stately rooms, often behind closed doors. Frustrated and angry, voters are increasingly disgusted by traditional candidates and tempted by outlandish alternatives.
The parties, meanwhile, are driven to the fringes by their most activist elements who provide the enthusiasm, resources and voluntarism that helps to elevate those outlandish candidates to the role of party standard-bearers.
To push back, we need mainstream leaders with the credibility and courage to educate Western voters about what’s at stake if we loosen our alliances, leave a global vacuum for China, Russia and other authoritarian powers to fill, and wall ourselves off economically. At the same time, we need such leaders to craft policies that help address the legitimate anxieties that many voters express.
The latest dagger to the heart of the liberal order comes via Britain. Though his Labour Party fell short of victory, Jeremy Corbyn’s rise in Britain’s elections inserts anti-Zionism (and tolerance for anti-Semitism), anti-Westernism, far-left collectivism and mindless pacifism more forcefully into the mainstream of a nation that was once led by the likes of Churchill, Thatcher and Disraeli.
Corbyn is morally challenged and ideologically misguided – all of which helps elevate him in the eyes of middle-class voters who want to lash out at traditional politics, and of young voters who lack the historical perspective to fully understand the benefits and fragility of freedom and democracy.
Asked once whether he could envision any circumstance for deploying British military force, Corbyn replied, “I’m sure there are some but I can’t think of them at the moment.” He can’t because, when it comes to the West, he aligns himself much more closely with its enemies than its defenders.
Close to home, Corbyn displayed an enduring fondness for the Irish Republican Army and Sinn Fein, so much so that MI-5, Britain’s counter-intelligence agency, opened a file on him because they feared that his IRA links could pose a security threat. He protested the trials of IRA members, invited convicted IRA members to Westminster, and, The Sunday Times reported, was involved in more than 72 events connected with Sinn Fein or similar groups during the IRA’s paramilitary campaign.
In Europe, Corbyn wants to pull Britain out of NATO, which he has called a “danger to world peace”; blames the West for provoking Russia into attacking Ukraine; and relies for advice on one of Britain’s leading apologists for Vladimir Putin. Over the years, he has opposed Britain’s membership in the European Communities (the precursor to the European Union); and he opposed the 1993 Maastricht Treaty to spur European integration and the 2007 Lisbon Treaty to spur it along further.
In Latin America, Corbyn backed Cuba’s Marxist revolution and Venezuela’s socialist revolution, opposed the U.S. embargo against Cuba and, after Fidel Castro’s death, praised him lavishly despite his horrific human rights record, calling him a “huge figure of modern history” and “champion of social justice.”
In the Middle East, Corbyn is famously hostile to Israel, the region’s lone democracy. He’s a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which labels Israel an “apartheid” state; invited “friends” from the terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah to a Parliament event; criticized London’s labeling of Hamas as a terrorist organization; and called for decommissioning Israel’s nuclear weapons. He also appeared in a promotional video for a pro-Palestinian charity last year that funded a festival where Palestinian kids in Gaza pretended to slash Israelis with knives or kill them with machine guns.
Corbyn was paid for appearing on Press TV, which is run by Iran’s brutal theocratic regime – once even after Britain’s communications regulator revoked its British broadcasting license because it filmed an Iranian journalist’s detention and torture. He also opposed military action against Islamic State targets in Syria.
This would all be merely silly or odd for a nation that once ruled the world and remains a key Western power – if, that is, it wasn’t so dangerous, coming at a time of other threats to the liberal order.
Now is the time for all good leaders to defend the liberal order, not sit back and idly witness its demise.
Lawrence J. Haas, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, is the author of, most recently, Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World.