For many, the brutal geopolitical awakening caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and China threatening to invade Taiwan – means freedom is back on the political agenda. They argue that the battle of liberal democracies versus dictatorial autocracies will define the time ahead of us. As we focus on protecting freedom elsewhere and strengthening European borders, we lower our guard when it comes to another and perhaps equally important purpose of the liberal democracy: preserving safety and stability for its domestic citizens. These endeavors don’t necessarily have to conflict with each other, but tensions are always lurking.
In the years ahead of us, themes such as inflation, rising energy bills, climate disasters and (climate) immigrants will determine elections. Populist and rightwing parties are often masters at framing and appropriating these themes. Rightwing parties in Sweden have won the election by making a case against the recent surge in domestic crime and linking it to immigrants, claiming in their victory speech they plan to restore safety within national borders. In France, hardliner Marine Le Pen came closer than five years ago, Trump is back in town and won his election with “law and order” rhetoric, and far-right leader Giorgia Meloni won Italy’s 2022 elections. Their parties revolve for a great deal around providing safety and stability to working class people that suffer from the destabilizing effects of globalization.
It might seem a provocative statement at a time when a European country is literally fighting for its freedom, but in most European countries, the biggest enemy of the liberal democracy (still) comes from within.