Eurofascism, lite

Posted: Jul 17, 2003 12:00 AM

Fascism, n.: A political philosophy, movement or regime ... that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation and forcible suppression of opposition.

This week, Laila Daavoey, Norway's minister of children and family affairs, made a remarkable proposal: The 600 largest private corporations must appoint boards composed of 40 percent women, or the government will decertify their boards. This announcement follows hard on the heels of the announcement that the European commissioner for employment and social affairs (Anna Diamantopoulou) was drafting legislation that would ban sexual discrimination in advertising and editorial content as well as tax policy, education, pension calculations and insurance costs, according to The New York Times.

"It's about equality and democracy," intoned Ms. Daavoey. "The only way for them to do it in Norway now is if they have to do it."

Yes, Europe is the birthplace of democracy and republican ideals. But how committed is Europe these days to freedom? I know it is fashionable (at least among conservatives) to think that there is something called Western Civilization. And lately, with the war on terrorism, there are a lot of nostalgic references to standing shoulder-to-shoulder as we did against those other threats to freedom (also European-born): communism, fascism and national socialism (aka Nazism). But to any thinking American who understands the basis of free government, the cultural developments in Europe are alarming to say the least.

In Europe, it appears that in the name of democracy, elites are pursuing an autocratic, centralized power, seeking economic control and social regimentation. They seem to have no hesitation about using the law to forcibly suppress opposition. Call it Eurofascism, lite. Only they call it democracy.

The European Union, which is not directly responsible to voters, provides an irresistible opportunity for European elites to seize power in order to impose their own vision on a newly socially regimented Europe. Opposition has apparently forced the European commissioners to tone down the proposal to punish people who advertise or editorialize or make public policy in ways they believe constitutes sexual discrimination. But the very fact that a European statesman could make such a proposal reflects a frightening retreat from individual liberty and democratic forms of government (which depend on the right of voters to think, speak and write freely on political matters).

Democratic forms of government are vulnerable to mass prejudice, the so-called tyranny of the majority. But they are also vulnerable to manipulation by elites. When governments become large, voters cannot exercise close oversight, otherwise known as political power. A given election can be about only one or two or at most four or five big things. This means that in any democracy (including ours), political elites tend to repackage controversial policies as values items. Under the flag of equality and democracy, Eurocrats are proposing to create speech codes. After a brief fling with democracy, many in Europe seem determined to reconstitute a kind of bureaucratic aristocracy, which reduces citizens to well-fed peasants.

Democracy survives not only because people vote, but because most citizens (including most especially well-educated elites) really do believe in the values that undergird it. Will Europe's tactics fly in America? I hope not. Speech codes may make women more equally oppressed, but they cannot possibly set us free.