In an interview with German newspaper Die Weltwoche on March 25 in Amsterdam, Urs Gehriger spoke with Millennial leader Thierry Baudet who rose to victory in Dutch regional elections last week.
36-year-old Thierry Baudet is the founder and political leader of the “Forum for Democracy” (FVD, Forum voor Democratie). In the general elections of 2017 his newly founded party won two seats in the House of Representatives, with Mr. Baudet being one of the elected. In the provincial elections on March, held on March 20, 2019, FVD became the strongest party in the Netherlands. Mr. Baudet holds a Ph.D. degree in Law and has authored ten books, among them “The Significance of Borders” (2012), two novels, an introduction into Classical Music, and several collections of essays.
The Interview, Translated
Die Weltwoche: Thierry Baudet, you and your “Forum for Democracy” scored a great victory in the Dutch regional elections. Many media and politicians across Europe were taken by suprise. Did you expect that?
Thierry Baudet: Yes, absolutely! (laughs) I've always known that we were going to win!
DW: Were you expecting to win that big?
Baudet: Yes. I've always had faith in the Dutch people. I'm not surprised!
DW: What were the indications you would end up as the strongest political force?
Baudet: Well, we have of course maintained a leading position in the polls for a year and a half. We were basically already projected to win significantly. With a multiparty system, obviously, the success is always dependent on what the other parties do. You can either have one big competitor or several smaller ones. But to me, fundamentally, it doesn't really matter because I consider all the established parties as representatives of the same ideology.
DW: I don't see a fundamental difference between the classical Liberal Party (or whatever they call themselves), the Christian Democratic Party, the Labor Party, the Socialist Party and the Green Left Party. To me, all are basically the same. They are all representatives of the "liberal" or "liberalist" philosophy where emancipation of the individual is the ultimate aim. Maximum equality, maximum individual liberty. So, in one sense, we won. We're now the largest party. But if you add all the numbers of votes that all the other parties received, we're not largest, yet.
DW: Your party joined regional elections for the first time, and you won 13 seats.
Baudet: Yes. We've got 15%, now. But that's not the majority.
DW: Premier Mark Rutte needs to form a new coalition. Does he try everything to exclude you from the government?
Baudet: We don't know that, yet. I think they might try to encapsulate us, to control us by offering us some favors, some positions. And I think what they hope to do is gradually soften our viewpoints, our fundamentally different approach. That is at least what we're probably going to see in the coming weeks and months.
DW: Are you willing, under certain conditions, for a merger?
Baudet: We are willing to compromise for influence. We are very aware that we have a majoritarian system with proportional representation which demands a certain willingness to compromise. We've always said that we are willing to do so. But our position with regards to all the major questions of our time is not gradually different. It's fundamentally different. We represent a political philosophy that is fundamentally different. We want things that are contradictory to the political spectrum that has dominated the West since the French Revolution.
DW: Most of the media portrays you as the shooting star of populism, as a poster boy of right-wing extremism. What can you say about the program that you are promoting?
Baudet: We further what one can call an ‘Australian’ immigration model. By that we mean a fundamentally different approach to immigration. No longer are we going to look at how needy possible immigrants are of our support; we are going to ask ourselves if they are likely to contribute in a positive way to our country. We are very willing in terms of aid programs to support refugee shelters wherever in the world. We're very happy to help them there. But when it comes to immigration, to handing out passports to people, that is something that we're no longer going to make dependent on whether or not the person in question comes from a terrible situation at home, but from the answer to the question what he or she is going to bring to us. We have a fundamentally different approach to immigration from what was dominant in the West for the past several decades. We value the nation, our national identity, as a very important and very positive value that we need to protect.
DW: How do you want to implement this new immigration policy while you're a member of the EU?
Baudet: Well, that's why we want to leave the EU.
DW: After the elections, you said you won a battle. What does it mean for you to win the war?
Baudet: There's much more to it. I believe that aesthetically, for example, we've chosen the entirely wrong direction in the West. We've left tonal music behind. We've left realist or mimetic painting behind. We've left traditional architecture behind. I'm deeply opposed to the fundamental philosophical principles of modern architecture. I think it's fundamentally wrong.
DW: You want to turn the clock back?
DW: When did this train fall off the rail?
Baudet: I think one has to go back to the principles of the French Revolution which are equality, liberty, and fraternity. They have led to the two major emancipation movements — socialism and liberalism — and both are fundamentally flawed. The derailment, in turn, has come in waves. Modernism, a renewal of the radical elements in the French Revolution, which kicked in right after the First World War, set in motion yet another wave of mistakes. And then came the '60s. So, there have been several moments in the past two centuries.
DW: Socialism, liberalism... Where do you see conservatism in play?
Baudet: It’s the philosophy that starts from the understanding that we are paradoxical beings. We want to be free and, at the same time, we want to be embedded. We want to be individuals, but we also want to be members of a group. In a proper society, there's an equilibrium there, a delicate balance that has culminated in what we might call “the individual properly understood.” This reached its apex, I believe, in the eighteenth century, and was venerated in that great “swan song of aristocracy”, the nineteenth century. But now the individual has, of course, been “liberated” to an extent that we feel deeply atomized and unhappy. We don't know how to get back to the community anymore.
DW: The topic that shaped your world view is “oikophobia.” It is a term coined by your mentor, the conservative philosopher Roger Scruton: denying or hating your own culture. Is this what ‘oikophobia’ means?
Baudet: Yes. I think that under the influence of cultural Marxism, which started in the 1920s and became dominant in the 60s, intellectuals, politicians, artists, academics, journalists and, as such, the entire elite of our society have been bewitched by that idea. They came to believe that what stands in the way of utopia — whether a communist utopia or a liberal utopia — is bourgeois society, bourgeois traditions, the bourgeois way of life of ordinary people. That is why Le Corbusier wanted to destroy the entire Rive Droite of Paris. That is why all who opposed mass-immigration where denounced in the most vile ways. And that is why national identities had to be resolved into a “European Union.” Because, if you remember the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels considered those to be part of a bourgeois reality that hindered the formation of “true” loyalties between the laborers all around the world.
DW: “Oikophobia”: Is that a scientific term? Is there scientific research it is based on?
Baudet: It's a sociological term. I don't think that quantitative empirical research is very meaningful in the social sciences.
DW: You call yourself “the leading intellectual in the Netherlands”.
Baudet: (Laughs) I've said that many times!
DW: You're fighting the elite, and, at the same time, you are a crown jewel of the elite?
DW: How do you break a sophisticated philosophical content down to the common people, your electors, your voters? Do they understand what you mean to say?
Baudet: I think they understand that.
DW: They understand what you just said? That is pretty sophisticated.
Baudet: Yes. I think they instinctively understand that.
DW: When you speak to the people, how do you bring your message across?
Baudet: The same way that I'm now bringing it across to you. Of course, the exact wording and focus depends on the kind of audience that I have in front of me and on the kind of questions they ask. But I think, in general, people are very capable to get the point that someone is trying to make. And I don't think that all the misunderstandings that the newspapers fabricate resonate very strongly with the general people. Theirs is a kind of scholasticism. In the 13th century, monks would debate for years on end how many angels would fit on a needlepoint. These scholastic debates, that's what we have in the newspapers today. Like, “Is the speech that Mr. Baudet gave an echo of Italian fascism, or is it more like Francoism, or is it rather Germany in the 30s?” That kind of thing. The general public is like, "What?" They understand that all such comparisons are just ridiculous. They're making it up to show their fellow journalists how ‘righteous’ they are. The general people, they see someone who cares about their country, who has the intellectual inventory to fight the people currently in power.
DW: Before the interview, you said that you gave a speech in November 2016 praising Donald Trump.
Baudet: Yes. That was two and a half years ago. I met my fiancée on that day. It was just a week after he was elected.
DW: Donald Trump is known for very sharp and abrupt rhetoric. He's very repetitive. He's hitting the nail several times. When I listen to you, you are pretty much the opposite the way you are talking, the way you are expressing yourself.
Baudet: Despite that, I hope I'll be successful too. (Laughs)
DW: Well, you just have been amazingly successful.
Baudet: But I have been very repetitive too, my friend. Don't overestimate me. On our campaign trail I've been saying pretty much the same things, and I’ve been using the same examples over and over again for more than a year and a half now.
DW: Which are?
Baudet: The main themes of our campaign for the past elections were stopping uncontrolled immigration, fighting climate mysticism, and restoring purchasing power. Of course, we're going to have slightly different topics for the upcoming European elections. But, again, the main philosophy, and the main arguments, will remain the same.
DW: How did you succeed against this current hype of green environment politics?
Baudet: By just speaking the truth. I don't know how to answer this question in any other way. I simply declared I didn't believe in it. The green faith, in my view, is a heresy, it's a classical heresy, an immanent political theology. Mind you, it all comes down basically to a retelling of the Ark of Noah with an upcoming flood because of our sins, which we can then prevent by repenting. I believe that around the year 1000 we were caught up in similar fantasies.
DW: In general, conservative parties don't dare to say this. They go with the green wave.
Baudet: They are dhimmis. They submit to the parameters the left has set for acceptable discussion, for acceptable opinion. They succumb to the 'grand narrative' of their opponents. That's never a very smart thing to do. We, on the contrary, openly say that we are fundamentally opposed not just to their policy proposals, but also to their underlying assumptions. That's also why I don't say I want EU reform. and by the way I believe such reform to be impossible in the first place - David Cameron has clearly shown that. But we are not just against this or that aspect of the EU, this or that directive, we think the very philosophy that underlies it is wrong. The very idea that we should go beyond national identities and have some kind of “European” bureaucracy that manages our lives. Everything that is pertaining to the EU must therefore, in the end, be unraveled. The euro, the open borders, the common policies regarding fishing. The same is true for the whole climate change thing.
DW: You mean that the climate change is man-made, for instance?
Baudet: Yes. The whole thing is wrong. The whole thing about immigration is wrong, too. The parameters of the current political debate are fundamentally wrong.
DW: What exactly is wrong with immigration?
Baudet: The idea that we're all travelers, that we're all migrants, that we all come from Africa in the end and that therefore it doesn’t really matter how many of people we are now letting in to our countries. Or, take the idea that we have to admit people on the basis of some UN Refugee Treaty. That's just wrong. The whole idea is wrong. Someone obtains a right to be my fellow citizen because he or she is in a bad situation somewhere? I don’t feel that. I don’t think it’s true. I don’t want it.
DW: I've observed from the distance that you are on the offensive with a tremendous amount of energy and will. Where do you take your energy from?
Baudet: Classical music.
DW: Which one?
Baudet: Quite simply the entire classical tradition, from Bach and Mozart and Beethoven all the way to Brahms and Strauss and Wagner.
DW: Is there a certain type of music you listen to when you go in a debate?
Baudet: No, not particularly. But classical music has shaped my identity in a decisive way. It has shaped my aesthetic sensibilities, my philosophical outlook. I don't think it's possible to understand Europe and to understand the intimacies, the incredibly subtleties of the European spirit, without a deep understanding of European art. It's exemplary of the wickedness of the left and of the European Union, of liberal philosophy and globalist views, that they are so supportive of modern art and modern architecture, that they listen to pop music and propagate 'ghetto' lifestyles.
DW: You don't listen to pop music?
Baudet: Of course not. (laughs) It's impossible to listen to it!
DW: Not even Rolling Stones or Beatles?
Baudet: Well, I make an exception for the Beatles, but not for the Rolling Stones. The Beatles are the best fast food we have, let's say. But, still, it’s like a McDonald's burger compared to an actual meal.
DW: Aren't you fighting windmills with this attitude?
Baudet: Absolutely. I'm very much against windmills. I want all the windmills out of the Netherlands. Except for the old ones, of course. (laughs).
DW: But more to the point…
Baudet: Well, it's obviously true that the general public has always had folklore, and I don't expect 17 million people in the Netherlands to be able to reproduce the finer harmonic intricacies of Schumann's Piano Concerto. But society needs an elite that leads the way.
DW: Can you tell me what is at stake right now?
DW: Western, Judeo Christian civilization?
Baudet: I'm not sure it's very relevant to add the adjective “western.” It's just civilization we’re fighting for. The good, the true, and the beautiful.
DW: But what are the pillars of civilization?
Baudet: Well, I think ultimately the aesthetic is the highest criterion. Our movement, like every political movement, is therefore also an aesthetic one. And true beauty, in my view, recognizes both the uniqueness of the individual, of every single individual in his or her individual life story, yet it also offers a language, a musical language or a grammatical language, or indeed a visual language, that implies a common frame of reference. So the problem of embeddedness, the problem of the modern world, you could say, is implied in the approach one takes to the arts.
The point of the several arts and crafts movements that arose in response to the industrialization in the second part of the 19th century, was that despite mass-production, and mass-society, and urbanization, and so on, we still need to feel embedded. That is why ornaments and facades, as well as the use of natural materials, were considered so important: they helped engender a proper sense of home for the spiritually homeless. The problem with modern architecture is that it emphasizes the ordinariness in such a way that it completely atomizes people. You can’t tell the difference between the modernist buildings in Brussels from those in Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang. Nor can you spot a difference between the individual apartments or offices in each of those buildings: they are all completely interchangeable and that makes people very unhappy, I believe, because they become completely interchangeable individuals in their mass apartment blocks. People want to have a house that is theirs. Even though such a house may not be very specific, or very grand, it is still their house, their place on earth, ideally with a little piece of land around it, with a neighbourhood they connect with — in short, something that makes them feel that they belong somewhere, that they have a certain place of origin and are part of a certain destiny.
DW: How were you brought up?
Baudet: I grew up in an entirely 19th century manner. I grew up in a very old fashioned family.
DW: Normally, teenagers will rebel against their parents. Have you ever gone through that rebellious phase?
Baudet: No. And I don't agree that that's normal. I simply don't think it's true. All this “rebellion” has been a very specific historical phenomenon that occurred in the '60s and '70s and was induced by teachers from a very specific philosophical school — the Frankfurt School that disseminated Cultural Marxism — and I think it will be regarded by future generation with great suspicion. In my view, it is entirely normal for children to love their parents, to be excited at the prospect of taking up responsibilities and to have pride in being part of a long chain of ancestry and offspring. So, I don't think it's normal for youngsters to be “rebels without a cause” and listen to Bob Marley while cursing their parents. And what I think has happened is that the current generation — i.e. my generation — has copied (entirely in line with my view) their parent’s ideas, in this case, their flawed ideas about the necessity to rebel. But finding nothing to rebel against they ended up with nihilistic pursuits. Wanting to be loyal to their parents by rebelling they just started smoking marijuana.
DW: Can I perhaps raise a topic you haven't mentioned? I think there’s something your readers want to hear about.
DW: We are witnessing now, throughout the West, so not just in Europe but also in the United States, the development of a new vocabulary of political discourse. The names or the labels that people are trying to find for it are populism, or conservatism, or nationalism, or whatever.
Baudet: In each country we see politicians and writers and pundits that are trying to develop a new approach to politics and society which includes the cultural narrative, which includes the national traditions and recognizes the shared heritage of our shared civilization, our shared Western world.
And the great thing about this is that the people are so happy about these new leaders who are speaking about completely different values, who are forcing the establishment to have a debate on completely different terms. That's what Donald Trump did by bringing up issues a pollster would say, “Don't go there. Don't go there.” And that’s what we did in the Netherlands by making opposition to climate policies our main electoral theme. The winning ticket is bluntly to say that we don't believe in their stuff anymore. That we want something completely different.
DW: It's a paradigm shift.
Baudet: Exactly. A paradigm shift. That's what's we’re in for. Whether we are going to win these elections or the next, we see it everywhere in Europe now and that's very encouraging. Also, that is why I am looking forward so much to cooperating with other European parties. I think there's a movement going on across European countries, across individual party-lines. Rather like Romanticism, or the Reformation. A proper European movement.
DW: What is it called?
Baudet: If someone would have told Voltaire that he was considered a leading figure of the Enlightenment, he would have laughed. He would have said, “Enlightenment? What are you talking about?”
DW: Can you define that movement a little bit?
Baudet: I have proposed to call it Renaissancism. That's the label that I sometimes use in the Netherlands. It's the belief in a reawakening of the European spirit.
DW: But what is the common ground of us in Switzerland, you in the Netherlands, and for example the Swedes. What are the elements that bind us together?
Baudet: Well, that's a very interesting question, of course. Is our behavior explained by nature or nurture? It’s an ongoing debate between social scientists and biologists. Is it because of genetic material or is it because of culture that we tend to respond to the outside world in our typical manner? The last word has not been said about this. What explains behavior? It's an interesting question, but I'm not a Nobel Laureate.
DW: What I'm looking for is a common source. Is it a way of looking at life? Is it an outlook? Is it a source that we all drink from? Is it an ancient culture?
Baudet: You seem to be looking for a simple answer, like saying it must be the Bible, or, it must be Plato, or, it must be Beethoven.”
DW: That's too simple for you?
Baudet: I know that a certain way of life has developed somewhere and I wish to protect it.
DW: Finally, let’s focus on the May elections. Will you change anything in your agenda and your campaign?
Baudet: I think the most important thing for the upcoming elections is to formulate our position as a positive one. We’re not merely against the EU; we are also for European values, European culture, and European cooperation.
DW: The European elections are about sending members to the European parliament. Why do you try to get elected to a parliament that you are actually against? Shouldn’t you boycott the elections altogether?
Baudet: Yes. [Laughs and looks to his assistant.] What should we answer to that question? (Then serious again:) What I like about the thing that's going on right now is this: because a new political discourse is emerging, we see radical changes in the political establishment in almost every European country. I feel deeply European, but not supportive of the EU. So, I see the EU platform, now, as a meeting ground for allies. I'm very excited that we are going to work together with people from France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, et cetera.
DW: Have you already made contact?
Baudet: Yes. I've been in touch with people from those countries for years. It's not that we're anti-cooperation or anti-European. It's just that we don't think that we need a continental bureaucracy to manage our lives in every detail. And one of the most exciting and hopeful developments that I've witnessed in my entire life is this European spring that's going on. There's something new emerging and it's broader than just Europe. It's the West. We also see it in America, in Brazil, in Australia.
That's what I call a renaissance, or an awakening, or a gathering. Whatever term historians may find for it, I believe that we are part of a movement in the entire Western world that is going to change the direction that all our countries are going to take in the coming two generations.
DW: What makes you so sure about that?
Baudet: It's a hope.
DW: How do you get the maximum attention? Is there a strategy?
Baudet: No. I'm just being myself. I speak the truth, or even better: we are honest in our search for the truth. Our electorate understands that. We have identified a direction. We're pretty clear about certain parameters of it. We're very convinced that continental governance from Brussels is not the way forward. That mass immigration from Africa is not the way to improve our societies. And when it comes to something you asked about — what the defining characteristics of European aesthetics are, for example — we are happy to enter into an open discussion with others.
I think movements that have attempted to pin down aesthetic principles and have tried to force them on the outside world — like Fascism, for example — have totally failed. I mean, fascist architecture, to me, is very obviously missing the point, right? It shows that fascism is, at heart, a modernist movement. It's an oikophobic futurism, not a traditionalism. But all of this can be part of a conversation. And I think our voters feel that we are willing to enter into that conversation with them. To make a final point about Switzerland, what I admire about Switzerland is that, through the referendum system, it has maintained an ongoing conversation between the elites and the people. And that’s just great. That’s what I want for my country, too.