The Populist Interviews: Thierry Baudet on Post-Covid Europe, Populism and the Future of the West
Thierry Baudet is a Dutch politician and the founder of Forum for Democracy (FVD), a conservative and right-wing populist and Eurosceptic party in the Netherlands. In 2019, FVD won more votes than any other party in the provincial and senate elections – a shocking result at the time, given that it had only been in existence for two years.
A young and prominent politician, Baudet’s background is unlike that of most populist leaders. Having attended his hometown’s prestigious Gymnasium, he went on to read history and law in Leiden. In 2012, he earned his PhD in Law with a thesis co-directed by Sir Roger Scruton. He’s also a concert pianist, likes to read in his free time, and has written several books, including two novels.
Since the pandemic broke out in 2020, he has been one of the most vocal European politicians against Covid restrictions and the regime of Lockdown, criticizing the elites and accusing his government of using the virus “as a pretext to train obedience.”
In an effort to understand the danger the regime and its new class of ‘experts’ pose to our way of life, the European Right’s weak response to lockdowns and mask mandates over the last eighteen months, and what future might lie ahead for the populist Right, we decided to reach out to Baudet for an exclusive interview.
What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation, recorded via Zoom on June 15, 2021.
“We stand here tonight … among the rubble of what was once the grandest and most beautiful civilization the world has ever known.”
— Thierry Baudet, addressing the crowd after the 2019 victorious election.
Mark Granza: The other week you delivered a speech in the Dutch Parliament (subsequently deleted by YouTube) in which you said that you “hope we soon realize [our reaction to the pandemic] was a case of collective psychosis.” How likely you think that is?
Thierry Baudet: Very. To start with, if you look at the mortality rate of Covid-19 you’ll find that is pretty much the same as that of a severe flu. It’s true that it does have a different effect on your body, and that a significant group of people is more at risk because of pre-existing conditions — I’m definitely not denying the existence of the virus. But it’s nowhere near lethal and dangerous enough to justify the global reaction we have witnessed. What we’re doing: stalling all our economies, radically changing our way of life, injecting people with experimental vaccinations of which we have no idea how effective they’ll be in the long run nor what the side effects are going to be, nor if it’s even useful for people not at risk of dying from Corona, it’s crazy.
Furthermore, and this is my worst fear, I don’t think we’re going to get out of this hysteria anytime soon. The mortality rate of Covid is between .15 and .25 percent, which is very similar to that of a severe flu. So we’re set to see a fifth wave or sixth wave of Covid, the flu, or say the Indonesian variety or Moroccan mutation or whatever, this autumn and winter already, and every year after that. Meanwhile, we’ve lost our freedoms, our economies have changed forever, small to medium-size businesses have gone bankrupt, our children are growing up in fear, and all of this is happening with the people’s consent. If that’s not a case of ‘collective psychosis’, I don’t know what is. I find what’s happening very odd.
Mark Granza: The declaration of a pandemic set in motion a series of events that have transformed our economies and systems of government in previously unthinkable ways. Lockdown is now an institution, and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere — certainly not by itself. What we have now is a permit to leave our house, not freedom, since permission can be taken from us at any moment. You also described this situation in your speech when you said that the hysteria surrounding Covid “has been a pretext to create an infrastructure that can be used again, at any moment, and due to any occurrence.” How else do you think this institution can be used again, and how can we stop it?
Thierry Baudet: That’s a great question. As you said, now there’s an infrastructure in place ready to be used again, whenever our ruling class decides to use it. In the Netherlands for example — and I’m sure it’s been discussed in other European countries as well — we’ve already had organizations proposing ‘climate lockdowns’! Let’s say we’re not managing to reach the desired carbon emission standard, or whatever: Well, maybe we should consider not allowing people to drive for a couple of weeks, you know, just to balance emission, or meet this made-up standard. I mean, wouldn’t the climate be better off if we quit driving every last couple of weeks of the year? Isn’t it clearly impractical for many people to choose their own diet? So this is a new policy paradigm. It’s just a matter of time before these unelected bureaucrats and the managerial class start coming up with more ‘rational’ ways of living, and justify more control over our social lives.
As to your second question: How can we stop this institution before it’s used again? Frankly, I’m not sure we even can. I think of 9/11, and all the excessive surveillance programs subsequently adopted by the State under the pretext of having to defeat Al-Quaeda and/or preventing the next terror attacks. That’s an infrastructure that never went away. Whatever you believe happened there, there’s no doubt that events were exploited to increase the State’s grip on people’s lives. And so we probably won’t get rid of this one either, because there’s always some pretext. All you have to do is buy it the first time — and we did. Once it’s created there’s an incentive for the people who did to use it again. Take also the first income tax: do you know it was first proposed two hundred years ago as a temporary measure to finance the wars against Napoleon? Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government measure! And so I’m very pessimistic about our chances to dismantle this institution, especially having seen how most conservative parties have simply bowed to Corona orthodoxy.
Mark Granza: Let’s talk about our populist parties’ response: The European Right and the Visegrad Group have been extremely submissive with regards to lockdowns and mask mandates. Given that the whole pandemic was clearly politicized from the beginning, that state authorities made crazy demands, and then elites turned around and enforced double standards, including permitting and even encouraging BLM protests while at the same time represing anti-lockdown protests, why didn’t the populist European Right take a harder stance against lockdowns? Wasn’t this the perfect opportunity to show people how hypocritical, incompetent, and corrupt our current elites are, and to show them an alternative?
Thierry Baudet: I suspect it was a number of factors. First, the Right has this self-image of being the ‘tough’ one, so to speak. So in the beginning, as the right didn’t want to look ‘soft’ on policies, they attempted to be as harsh as the left when tacking the pandemic, which probably contributed. The second possible reason is that many on the right still trust the institutions, and so they believed in the seriousness and danger of the virus as portrayed by the media. They got scared, and sided with the ‘scientific consensus’. The third possibility — and this is definitely what happened within my party, FVD — is that many feared marginalization and social exclusion. A significant number of members within my party thought that I was right, but believed the public wasn’t ready to accept the fact that the institutions they trusted for so long were wrong, and possibly ill-intentioned, too. And so they made a calculated choice to side with the ‘medical experts’ — who are basically the philosopher kings of our society — to avoid being marginalized.
Mark Granza: Were your colleagues wrong? Would the Dutch people have been ready to see the truth if politicians invested the right amount of time and energy fighting the narrative and exposing the hysteria?
Thierry Baudet: Hard to say. But it doesn’t matter, really. They should have tried. Because if we don’t do it, then who does?
Mark Granza: Many events in recent years suggest to us that if we’re not thinking conspiratorially, we’re not thinking at all. The reality is that we don’t even know how many conspiracies to theorize because there seems to be evidence for so many of them. Since the pandemic, like many of us, you have turned your attention to Klaus Schwab, the WEF, and the idea of a ‘Great Reset’. You also referred in particular to the Rockefeller Foundation’s 2010 report Lockstep. How much do you think of the events of the past eighteen months has been orchestrated, as opposed to just being exploited?
Thierry Baudet: The honest answer is that I don’t know, and I suspect that nobody else does either. I personally don’t have any inside information, but I do have a lot of questions. I certainly don’t blame people for listening to conspiracy theories, though. I myself follow a lot of those these days because they’ve suddenly started to make a lot more sense than the official narratives.
Mark Granza: Who do you think does have the inside information? Let’s say you can pick any ten people and lock them in a room with you, where would you start?
Thierry Baudet: I think I’d start with the ten richest people in the world. Definitely not with politicians, or any government officials. My experience as a politician in recent years has left me unimpressed with the amount of power and influence people in this profession actually possess. But no one has gained more from the shutting down of the economy than those who already controlled it, so I think that would be a good place to start.
Mark Granza: You’re usually described as Right, or even Far Right, but mostly as a populist, a label you rarely object to. What does the term mean to you?
Thierry Baudet: It depends. Personally, I see populism more as a strategy than an ideology, though I am now coming to question the effectiveness of this strategy. Growing up, I always thought things were wrong in society because the vast majority of people held the wrong ideas and beliefs. But that’s not my experience as a politician. Talking to regular folks made me realize that most of them actually agree with me on almost all issues (they’re against mass immigration, they do not like the EU, they’re for lower taxes, etc., etc.) Most people tend to be quite conservative, but we don’t see that reflected in election results. And so I was presented with this strange paradox: people vote against their interests. That’s when I started talking the language of the people (perhaps that’s what you mean by populism) to let them know I’m on their side and the people in charge don’t have their best interest in mind.
Mark Granza: Your background is unlike that of most populist politicians, though. You graduated from, and taught at prestigious universities. You wrote a book on classical music From Bach to Bernstein, Roger Scruton was a mentor to you. Have you ever had trouble reconciling your populist rhetoric with this kind of ‘elitist’ background?
Thierry Baudet: No, not really. As I said, I started talking the language of the people as I realized I had a lot more in common with them than I have with our current elites. That said, in any well-functioning society, you’re inevitably going to have an ‘oligarchy’, i.e. a small number of people at the top, making the decisions. That’s what Robert Michels calls the ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy‘. Now whether the oligarchy chooses to use its power to serve the people or to serve itself, that’s the question. Today, our current elites have no sense of noblesse oblige, and that’s why we should aim to replace them. So the problem is not that there is an oligarchy, but that the current one is selfish, incompetent, and weak.
Mark Granza: How do we go about replacing it?
Thierry Baudet: Well, I used to think voting was the best way, though lately I’ve become very skeptical of our capacity to achieve anything via democratic means. As someone who has won an election, I can testify to how little difference that can make. Donald Trump, and especially Boris Johnson, are of course even better examples. For all the former’s rhetoric and the latter’s promises, not much has changed since they got elected, and if anything, things got worse. I mean, Johnson even more than Trump. He seemed like he was one of us, and then all of a sudden, when he got into office, he flipped around entirely!
I don’t know why this is, but something seems to happen when people get into power. I’ve witnessed this firsthand, even within my party. It seems the establishment requires you to abandon your principles, in exchange for a seat at the table. For example, you shouldn’t say you’re in favor of Nexit, of the Netherlands really leaving the EU… No, no, you should say, “I’m for less EU,” in order to qualify for a seat. But at that point the power that comes with the seat is just an illusion, for you’ve given up on your principles. So I’m a pessimist when it comes to our chances of replacing and defeating the current regime.
Mark Granza: Do you think the problem might be that, ultimately, the modern Right lacks a vision of its own?
Thierry Baudet: No, I wouldn’t say the Right lacks a vision. I think the vision it’s pretty clear: It’s clear in terms of national sovereignty, the 19th-century view of international law rather than the 20th-century supernational one. It’s also clear in terms of establishing a coherent culture, as opposed to this hollow multiculturalism. It’s clear architectonically, certainly once you walk through the street of Paris, or Rome. We all know what is beautiful about those cities, and wonder why we’re not building like that anymore. I think what the Right lacks is not a vision, but the leaders to speak up for such vision, as well as the means, the self-confidence, and perhaps the will to actualize it.
Mark Granza: In 2021, the Right is debating with classical liberals and potential allies on the anti-Woke Left about the nature of our common enemy: Are things like Wokeness, CRT and ‘Political Correctness’ a natural evolution of Liberalism, or the result of its hijacking by Marxism, or post-modernism, or some combination of both? You have a background in philosophy. Where do you position yourself in this debate? Do you see Classical Liberalism as the source of many of our problems, or as the cure?
Thierry Baudet: I think the fundamental problem with Liberalism is that it forces us to think only in terms of individuals. If you understand life and society only in those terms, you end up missing out on its most important aspects: whether is family, or nation, or to some extent even religion, none of which are the result of individual choice.
I don’t think the principal doctrine of Liberalism has to be necessarily understood in terms of wokeness, or welfarism, but I do see the connection. It’s more of a logical consequence as people start thinking about how to fix the inequalities that society still produces even when you give people equal opportunities. How is it possible that we’re giving everyone the same opportunity in life, but not everyone grabs them? Well, the Left concludes, maybe it’s because it’s not enough to not be racist, maybe you need to be anti-racist!
Ideas like Equality, which came from the Enlightenment, have a totalitarian danger inherent in them. Because if you want to make any principle (such as equality) the absolute principle of your society, then there’s a logical conclusion that follows from there to do whatever it takes to bring that principle about. The only way to reject that, fundamentally, is to accept our limitations as human beings. We don’t have the capacity to make things equal for everyone, let alone to rule out every injustice and be the architects of a perfect world. That’s perhaps the single most important insight that I’ve learned studying the conservative tradition: We’re much more likely to create even more injustices when we’re trying to eliminate the ones we already have.
Mark Granza: You say you are a pessimist when it comes to our chances of defeating the regime. How much of a pessimist? Do you believe we’re are fighting a lost battle?
Thierry Baudet: We’re fighting a lost battle in territorial terms, not necessarily in spiritual terms. You and I are having this conversation, and we’re probably going to be able to buy a piece of land somewhere and raise a traditional family and live according to our own beliefs. That’s something which is still possible and worth fighting for. As for political battles, I can’t say the same. I’m very pessimistic about those indeed. I don’t think we’re going to succeed in stopping the Left from gaining more and more territory, and eventually destroying everything we hold dear. That’s why I like to call myself a separatist, or a secessionist.
Mark Granza: What’s next?
Thierry Baudet: I believe we’re going to experience the fall of the Roman Empire, and enter a new medieval era. We’re going to see a lot of violence, a lot of abuse from an increasingly power-hungry state that tries to control the disintegration of our society. We’re probably going to see a very powerful China and an increasingly self-conscious, and self-confident Islamic world in the coming decades. And, we’re probably going to lose the free Internet too, as many of us have seen coming for some time now. Western Civilization has been slowly committing suicide for over a hundred years now. And while I don’t really understand why, I see it happening every day. We’re entering the new dark ages, and as much as I’d like to say the opposite, I don’t see a movement big enough to stop that from happening.