Significantly, proportional representation (PR) is the electoral system used in all the countries that Burman highlights as facing imminent danger from the far right (Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Sweden). Most people are unaware of how PR has, historically, functioned when facing the kinds of political and economic stress the world is now witnessing.
The election of Donald Trump, the tariff wars, the dismantling of a united Europe (initiated by Brexit), the migrant crisis, and the appearance of “strong-man” leadership in Russia, Turkey and Hungary, all suggest the Western world is moving into uncharted territory.
The inter-war period, between 1918 and 1939, in Europe has some chilling parallels to what is happening now, and can teach us something about how PR does under such conditions.
The rise of Naziism in Hitler’s Germany was the most significant political disaster of those times, but it was not the only one. Norman Davies’s comprehensive History of Europe, lists 15 European democracies that fell to dictatorship during the period. They were, in chronological order, Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, Spain, Albania, Poland, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Romania, Germany, Austria, Estonia, Latvia and Greece.
Davies points out that the dictators came from all sides of the political spectrum, including fascists, communists, monarchists, anti-monarchists, militarists and even a religious cleric, and concludes that “the only thing they shared was the conviction that Western democracy was not for them.”
In fact, there was something else that those 15 dictators had in common, which Davies fails to mention. They each rose to power in a country that used PR to elect its legislature. No democracy that used first past the post fell to dictatorship during the period.
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