Unless the continent changes course, Europe is likely to transform from a harbinger of prosperity and democracy into a far less hospitable and more dangerous place.
Czech police intercepted a group of Syrian asylum-seekers on a train headed for Germany. Upon being detained, the 200 or so refugees were marked with ink numbers on their forearms. While clearly a mishap, it was not the first time that Europeans were reminded of a period many would rather forget.
In July, a Polish member of the European Parliament, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, used the Nazi salute in a parliamentary debate. Two years earlier, members of the Greek Parliament for the far-right Golden Dawn party shouted “Heil Hitler” as their colleague Panagiotis Iliopoulos was being ejected from the chamber for unparliamentary language.
Historical parallels are always wrong or, at best, incomplete. But that does not mean there is nothing to be learned from juxtaposing the past and the present. Much like in the 1930s, today’s Europe has five distinct elements of a geopolitical disaster in the making.
1. A Dysfunctional Monetary System
Economists from Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz to Ben Bernanke concur that the Great Depression of the 1930s was largely a result of inept monetary policy. In the face of a large shock, central banks let Western economies contract and go through a painful period of downward price adjustments, instead of aggressively providing them with liquidity. One reason was their commitment to gold convertibility.
2. A Rising Revisionist Power
Vladimir Putin is not Adolf Hitler. For one, he does not seem to embrace a murderous ideology that would command him to try to take over the world or annihilate people of a specific ethnicity. However, much like Germany in the 1930s, today’s Russia is emerging as a belligerent, revisionist power. Similarly to Germany’s defeat in World War I, the collapse of the Soviet Union has left an imprint on the Russian psyche, which Putin has leveraged masterfully to strengthen his own hold on power.
3. A Lack of Leadership
International order in the interwar period proved to be fragile because of a lack of leadership by liberal democracies. Following World War I, the United Kingdom was too feeble to return to its role as a dominant world power. The United States, in turn, displayed little interest in events beyond its border.
4. A Crumbling System of International Cooperation
5. Losing the Battle of Ideas
In the 1930s, the defenders of democracy and free enterprise were on the defensive. Many Western intellectuals were convinced of the superiority of the Soviet system under Stalin’s rule, although some of them, such as André Gide or Arthur Koestler, sobered up after actually visiting the USSR. In the United Kingdom, Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists became a respectable political force. Incidentally, the publisher of the Daily Mail, Harold Harmsworth, happened to be a fan, too.
Full article: 5 Ways Europe Is Reviving The 1930s (The Federalist)