Just How Dangerous Is Europe’s Rising Far Right?

In Italy, Ms. Meloni has proposed a constitutional change that would automatically give the party with the highest number of votes (right now her Brothers of Italy) 55 percent of the seats in Parliament. She says it would make Italian governments more stable, but her opponents fear that it could also create opportunities for a future autocrat.

Following the Orban playbook would face strong constitutional pushback in France, with its fierce attachment to freedom and human rights as embodied in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. But if the National Rally controlled the presidency and Parliament, all bets would be off.

“The normalization of the right does not necessarily make it less extreme,” said Ms. Tocci, the Italian political scientist. “If constraints loosen, perhaps with the return of Trump as president in November, Meloni will be more than happy to show her true face. If Trump and Orban agree to force Ukraine to surrender, she will not think twice.”

That said, the right’s ascendancy is not universal, uniform or assured. Poland, through a protest movement, led the liberation of Europe from the Soviet imperium, culminating with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Last year, in a November election, Poland ousted its nationalist governing party, Law and Justice, which had led an assault on the rule of law. The party had also propagated xenophobic hatred, portrayed the country as eternal victim and distanced Poland from the European Union.

“Poles said, ‘We have a more positive vision to put in the place of a dark view of human and national life,’” Mr. Bagger, the German state secretary, said. “They pulled themselves back from the brink.”

Underestimating the resourcefulness and resilience of democracies is always dangerous. But so, too, is discounting the unimaginable. As Mr. Bardella’s beloved Victor Hugo wrote, “Nothing is more imminent than the impossible.”

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