TCS Daily

Fortuyn's Legacy

By Henry Sturman - May 12, 2004 12:00 AM

Two years ago, on May 6 2002, the flamboyant and openly gay Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was murdered by an animal rights activist. It was the first political assassination in Holland since 1584. The event happened only nine days before the parliamentary elections and shocked the country. By that time Fortuyn and his party had risen from nothing to being a huge political movement. In one of the latest polls before his death Fortuyn's party was predicted to get 38 out of 150 seats, which would have made it the biggest party and which would have made Fortuyn prime minister. But with their leader gone, the party got only 26 seats and the Christian Democrats became the biggest party with 43 seats.

Fortuyn's party, the LPF (List Pim Fortuyn), did become part of the government coalition after the election. But without their charismatic leader the new and inexperienced party quickly fell into chaos and the government collapsed within several months. After the new election the LPF was left with only eight seats. But while his party has dwindled in power, many of Fortuyn's ideas have survived. What has Fortuyn's influence on the current political situation in The Netherlands been and what might have been different had Fortuyn had not been assassinated?

Fortuyn's two main controversial points were his warnings about the danger of the rise of Islamic influence in The Netherlands (he once called Islam a backward culture) and the associated proposal of severely limiting foreign immigration, particularly from Muslim countries. Some thought there was a contradiction between his intolerance for radical Islam and his expecting tolerance and acceptance as a homosexual. But for Fortuyn there was no inconsistency, as he saw fundamentalist Islam as being in conflict with tolerance for homosexuality, women's rights, freedom of speech and other Western ideas.

Fortuyn also severely criticized many failed government policies and he was critical of the parliamentary culture of making decisions in "back rooms" by commissions outside of the open debate. When criticizing health care policy Fortuyn once claimed that the number of deaths created by waiting lists in health care was larger than the number of deaths caused by Bin Laden. Even though this was probably a factually true statement, Fortuyn succeeded in outraging many by saying this.

While Fortuyn's party has pretty much collapsed, his ideas have survived and are now even being implemented by established parties. Ironically, while he was demonized at the time and called extremely right-wing, unfairly compared to the Nazis even by some of his political opponents, in hindsight he is seen as a decent politician.

Many politicians are now calling for severe limits on immigration, which was Fortuyn's main proposal. But there is also something of a backlash -- with policy being proposed that is at odds with individual freedom, such as limiting freedom of education (making the establishment of Muslim schools more difficult), forced language and civil courses for foreigners (even for those who've lived in The Netherlands for decades) and forced "spreading policy" (preventing low income families from moving into certain city areas to prevent the forming of black/poor ghettos). Ironically, while the popularity of Fortuyn's ideas inspired other politicians to follow suit, mainstream politicians may now be more radical in implementing those ideas than Fortuyn himself would have been. Another irony is that these are often the same politicians who chastised Fortuyn for being too extreme two years ago.

The Fortuyn assassination dramatically showed that violence can silence those with unwanted opinions. Unfortunately there are still similar threats to freedom of speech. Politicians critical of Islam, in particular Ayaan Hirsi Ali, need bodyguards now. And columnist Paul Cliteur, another Islam critic, stopped participating in the political debate and gave as one of his reasons the fact that he felt threatened.

The adoption of Fortuyn's ideas has also resulted in proposals to limit freedom speech by law. For example, some are calling for new laws that would make Islamic books advocating the persecution of homosexuals and women illegal. With that logic one could also call for making the Koran illegal. But nobody has proposed that yet, probably because that would still be considered an infringement of freedom of religion. Also, some politicians are calling for the expulsion of radical Islamic "hate preachers". Fortuyn probably would have been against these proposals, because he was a strong proponent of free speech. He once said that Muslims had the perfect right to say that being a homosexual made him lower than a pig, as long as they did not use violence. In an interview, which created quite a stir, he once proposed removing the anti-discrimination article from the Dutch constitution, because he considered that to be at odds with freedom of speech.

Before the rise of Fortuyn, political debate in Holland was ruled by political correctness. Though he was not the first to try, Fortuyn was the first person to gain widespread attention with certain politically incorrect opinions. Thanks to Fortuyn, the market of ideas is much more open, and the press much more diverse. The left no longer has a monopoly on opinion. Political correctness is in decline. For example, it is quite acceptable now to say that, on average, young Moroccan men are much more prone to crime than others. It used to be very politically incorrect to say such things.

Would Holland have done better under Fortuyn? Probably not, although politics would certainly have been a lot more interesting with Fortuyn. For one thing, Fortuyn lived long enough to have a lasting influence on policies. So his death did not prevent his policies from being implemented. His proposal to severely limit immigration will probably be implemented soon. And as for his warnings about the dangers of Islam, as mentioned, policies are already being proposed in that area which are probably more radical that Fortuyn himself would have wanted.

But what about his ideas in other areas? Fortuyn was very good at criticizing established policies, pointing to problems in health care, the economy, education and other areas. However, he hardly offered any solutions. He had no clear ideology, though he had some free market leanings. For example, he did want to reduce bureaucracy in health care, but he did not propose privatization of health care. He did not see the real solution to most of these problems: radical free market policy. His emphasis was on "better" regulation rather than on deregulation.

Fortuyn did a great thing by stirring up political debate, but he was not a real reformer, such as Thomas Jefferson. However, criticism of the problems caused by government policy is increasing thanks to Fortuyn, which is a good start. Hopefully a real free market party will appear soon to provide real solutions to the problems caused by the regulatory state.


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