Looking at Europe today Karl Marx might well have said that “a spectre is hanging over Europe, the spectre of the Far Right”. And the reason is that in France, the Right wing National Rally (RN) received 31 per cent of the vote in the June 9 election to the European Parliament. In Germany, the far Right Alternative for Germany came second. In Austria, the anti-immigrant Freedom Party won for the first time. In Italy the Right won 28 per cent. And so on. It’s an unmistakable trend.

So why is Europe shifting to the Right? After all, for the last 60 years much of it has prided itself on having politics that placed a premium on rejecting aggressive nationalism, embracing Christian compassion and being socially responsible for the welfare of the world. These values led it to adopt policies that are loosely labelled as Left and liberal whose hallmark was benignity. This stance happened because Europeans, after the excesses of the Nazis between 1933 and 1945, their own colonial excesses and the looming malignant shadow of the USSR developed a deep yearning for a more humane society. To their credit, they succeeded in creating one. Europe became a haven for both ideas and people. Tolerance has been the defining feature.

Broadly, this worldview earned the name ‘social democracy’ because governments ruled with a light touch, and because of wholehearted cooperation from the people. But that has been changing for about 15 years now. The people are refusing to cooperate with liberal ideas and governments are adopting an increasingly heavy hand. It’s hard to say exactly why but the proximate reason is immigrants from strife-torn north African countries, West Asia, the Ukraine war and the overall distress in the economy. Europe is sliding downward and it’s natural for it to direct the blame outwards. This shift of voter preferences is now large enough to eventually cause major political changes. Indeed, such has been the impact of this that the French president has called for snap election. Others may follow.

There have also been wounded and panicky calls by the Left to “take the Right wing bull by the horns”. Many of them fear that they may already have lost the battle which was joined in earnest a couple of years ago. An entire way of life now seems in danger. All the things that are dear to the Left — immigration, green policies and welfare — now appear to be at risk, not least because of the defensive strategy of the Centrists copying the Right. This has happened recently in many countries, including India where both BJP and the Congress have been imitating each other. The hope is that both the far Right and the far Left will move to the centre. But as it often happens the centre also moves. Or as the English poet William Butler Yeats wrote in 1918: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”