Liberalism on the Back Foot
The liberal world order that emerged as an aftermath of World War II is slowly in retreat. It aspired to create an international system based on the rule of law and human rights. The populist ideology, be it right or left, has always existed, but the recent events of the Brexit referendum and elections in Europe and the United States have caused a resurgence in the right-wing populist movement across the globe. Populism is growing, and political parties with extreme ideologies are coming into power in many established democracies.
Conservative groups have been gaining influence and empowering right-wing leaders across the world, and conservative civic activism has been gaining traction with both the older and younger generations.
Civil society for years took a supportive stance for human rights and reforms that further democratic and minority rights. But there is a visible shift in society itself, away from liberal values and towards a more conservative political approach.
Growing Popularity of Protectionism
There is a palpable shift in leadership styles, which are inclined towards establishing a new order based on exclusiveness and protectionism. Populist sentiments are widespread in the West, thriving on perceptions of betrayal, neglect and exploitation. Issues such as the dwindling economy, stagnating incomes, job loss, unemployment due to new technology, and immigrants have fuelled this disquiet. If there is a crisis, economic or otherwise, these beliefs come to fore and give rise to extreme/radical ideologies. For example, the financial crisis was blamed on the elites who messed things up, and the spiralling effect was borne at the grass root level.
Similarly, the refugee crisis raised questions on opening of borders on humanitarian grounds at the cost of citizens’ welfare and safety. These same sentiments are being capitalised upon by right-wing parties when they seek to curb globalisation.
The rationale of how to deal with the influx of migrants is usually overlooked, and the focus shifts towards the problems of allowing them entry. The torchbearers that once valued a liberal international order are steering themselves away as a result of the changing trends. The people of the United States, elected President Donald Trump, who is vocal about his dislike for global organisations and immigration. French President Emmanuel Macron is fighting a wave of popular dissent against his liberal policies. Angela Merkel is facing a populist resurgence in Germany, and this can be seen in the rest of Europe as well. The dilution of the very ideals of globalisation, freedom and security once championed by the West to the rest of the world--seems to be the root cause of this sudden resurgence.
The Shifting Political Narrative
This shift permeates through all forms of political systems. China, Russia and Turkey have become more insular in their political outlook. Leaders in countries like Turkey, Brazil and India have used a political narrative based on extreme nationalism to gain electoral victory and then are obliged to implement their manifestos to satisfy their constituencies. Feeling cheated and abandoned by mainstream liberal political parties, voters are swayed by the lure of the alternative. It is, therefore, not surprising that political landscapes around the world, in the rich as also in the poor quarters, resonates with a larger right-wing audience who seek fulfilment of their aspirations through the nationalists in power.
The media--print, television, radio and social--is playing a seminal role in this changing world. The narratives created by political parties are carried to every household day and night in a sustained blitz of information deluge--and altering perceptions of reality. It has the power to tone down as well as fuel protests. The coverage of Brexit, U.S. Elections, the Citizenship Amendment Act in India, Australian and Amazon fires are some of the examples of the impact and correlation between media and politics.
The socio-political impact of the changing trends in the political sphere from left to right varies from country to country. The well-established West itself seems to be in a predicament and, therefore, the political, economic and security fundamentals remain a question of convenience over consensus in most countries today.
Populism is becoming a phenomenon that is affecting countries globally. It is not possible to keep track of how a populist trend or ideology starts. However, it can be managed and reduced significantly through awareness and positive action.
While there is a resurgence in right-wing leaders forming governments across the globe, the addition of conservative civil societies actively taking part in influencing policies may or may not have a positive impact on society.
With Western countries alienating themselves from the liberal order, the rest of the world either lacks interest in or the ability to sustain it. The result of this would be a world with closed borders, abandonment of multilateral values, and differing ideas of security.
Image Courtesy: Pardot