By Justin Schellenberg, December 5 2017 —
David Frum, a senior editor for The Atlantic and a speechwriter for the former United States president George W. Bush, delivered a keynote speech at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy’s 13th James S. Palmer Lecture Series on Dec. 4.
Frum spoke about the fate of democratic institutions in the Western world, saying he believes western countries should fight off a growing trend of right-wing authoritarian movements. He attributed the rising popularity of far-right groups to factors such as the aging of the general population and increasing ethnic diversity.
“As middle-eastern immigration in Europe has quickened over the past generation, parties of the far-right have gained strength,” Frum said. “Ethnic transition is destabilizing.”
Frum spent a majority of his speech relating the current global state of affairs to that of 1930s Germany, straining the comparison between today’s far-right groups and Adolf Hitler.
“It took a freakish sequence of events to bring Hitler to power in an advanced bureaucratic state. That freakish sequence of events is extremely, if not vanishingly, unlikely to occur,” Frum said.
Frum added that developed countries need to restore childbearing and childrearing to the top of their policy agendas in order to combat far-right movements. Using a food analogy, he said that immigration was not a substitute for such policies. U of C president Elizabeth Cannon also spoke at the event.
“Immigration is to native population increase as wine is to food — a good compliment, a bad substitute,” he said.
Frum also expressed that those on the left side of the political spectrum should curtail and moderate their views in an effort to prevent the far-right from growing into a stronger group.
“At the moment when the centre most needs strengthening, the firmament of politics across the English-speaking world seems to be bubbling further and further to the left,” Frum said. “The left is dangerous because it intensifies the radicalization of the right, especially of the formally responsible right, the business right.”
“If the Elizabeth Warrens of this world want to constrain organized wealth in the United States, they have to have the broadest possible coalition and the most achievable possible list of demands,” he added.
Frum also said he believed that western countries were at the mercy of the wealthy elite, specifically wealthy republicans who fear losing their status and power.
“Whenever established democracies have been overthrown from within, they are most often toppled not by their have-nots, but by their haves,” Frum said. “Not because the poor want to pillage the rich, but because the rich fear they might be pillaged by the poor.”
While most of the near 500 attendees appeared to support Frum’s ideas, often applauding, not everyone agreed with his arguments.
Fourth-year health sciences student Laurie Lee-Glodei said she was disappointed in Frum’s take on how to combat far-right ideology.
“Some of what he said is a bit discouraging because it’s not about changing our society’s perception,” Lee-Glodei said. “Instead it seems to be more about accepting it and having to move forward from that.”
At the end of his lecture, in response to a question asking what would be so wrong about an increase in immigration and diversity, Frum said that the only reason people care about the environment and the future state of the world is because they care about their own children and grandchildren.
“We are all selfish enough. We care about our generation, our children, our grandchildren. That’s why we worry about the deficit and the debt, because we are worried about our children because we love them,” Frum said. “We like other peoples’ kids just fine, but we love ours.”
Frum is most notable for coining the term “axis of evil” to refer to Iran, Iraq and North Korea in a speech by Bush following 9/11. His legacy from the Bush administration also includes vocal support for the Iraq war and for Israel.