The question which keeps most of the political scientists perplexed is, “Whether right-wing nationalism is there to stay or liberal democracy will stage a comeback.” Both issues are related as cause and effect. Liberal democracy can bounce back only when right-wing nationalism is a spent force, and people fully realize its drawbacks. The surge of right-wing nationalism started in 2011 with the victory of Viktor Orban in Hungary. Since then, it caught the imagination of people and has percolated deep down, taking India, Turkey, and Brazil in quick succession. In many European countries as well, noted right-wing nationalist parties increased their vote bank. This tragic turn of events has almost put to rest the thesis of Fukuyama that liberal democracy is the final form of human government.
Liberal capitalist democracy had emerged and made steady progress after the cold war ended. The Soviet Union collapsed, and everything suggested that intervention-free economics could guarantee wealth creation with contended living. But the liberal capitalist economy brought in its wake some problems, such as profit swings and protection issues. Therefore, institutions such as the European Union (EU) came into being to take care of any economic friction between member countries.
Political scientists have mentioned many reasons for the growth of right-wing nationalism. It includes globalization, i.e., making economic borders too porous, directionless policy-making, and perceived cultural decadence of age-old native culture. Globalization helped poverty alleviation in many parts of the world but increased income disparities in wealthy nations. Thomas Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century lays stress on this point. Liberal democracy often becomes hostage to interest groups, which results in policy paralysis. The government often appears trying to appease everybody leading into ambiguous policy direction. A case exemplifying it is of India between 2012-2014. It often results in masses clamoring for a strong man who can get things done. This strong man often projects himself as the messiah, who can set things right and relieve masses of any efforts on their part. This desire for the rightist turn also gets amplified because of perceived cultural decadence. Mass immigration is often taken as a reason for this decadence. Resistance to the idea of the country being a cultural melting pot sets in masses. Large-scale migration is also considered as the cause of crime and the burden on welfare schemes. It is the main reason for most of the anti-immigration hardliners in Europe getting higher vote share. Anxiety about order traditionally pushes the voters towards the right-wing hardliners, who promise extraordinary economic growth and preserving a homogenous culture.
The big question now is whether the right-wing nationalism in many countries will be able to sustain itself or liberal democracy will stage a comeback. There is increasing feeling in informed circles that most of the right-wing governments are usually found lacking in governance and only survive on mass appeal. Remodeling of mass appeal is continually done by changing the narrative and setting newer plans for keeping the masses mesmerized.
Yashca Mounk, in his book “The People vs. Democracy,” states that right-wing nationalists everywhere are against every institution, be it judiciary, press, or election commission. Rendering institutions ineffective results in weakening, if not the abrogation of democracy itself. Right-wing nationalists claim they represent people, but they don’t want to leave democratic freedom for the same people by attacking the institutions which provide raft to masses when titanic democratic will gets hit by right-wing iceberg.
Issues like globalization induced economic inequality, perceived cultural loss, friction between ethnic groups have to be addressed by Liberal Democrats. This redressal will help them to bounce back in a big way. Improved economic situation helps in reducing support for right-wing nationalists. The best example is Greece. Often there are intraparty problems for right-wing nationalists. Ideologically driven party base takes top brass as compromise minded without thinking it as a requirement of governance. This trust deficit got developed in the right-wing party of Finland and resulted in internal discontent. Liberal democracy promotes institutions to take and safeguard the will of people. Hence, democracy appears more meaningful with Liberal Democrats. Another disadvantage with right-wing nationalists is that the elite of a particular ethnic group captures the power and ethnic minorities feel left out. The idea of self-rule for the minorities stands unrealized. Liberal Democrats can keep anti-immigration sentiments in check by readily integrating newcomers in the nation’s social fabric. The importance of everyone getting a fair deal is essential for all-round development of the country.
Right-wing nationalists display marked tendency even during crises towards promoting their agenda and centralization of powers. During the present COVID 19 crisis, right-wing nationalists in many countries have shown their inclination towards it. In fact, in Hungary, Orban has reportedly tried to use this opportunity to make things more centralized and have more control for himself. Hence it ultimately impedes the purpose of controlling the crisis itself.
In an acute national crisis, it will be advisable for liberal Democrats to form a coalition government with right-wingers, which eventually may make right-wing rabble-rousers to act reasonably. It will help in salvaging the situation.
Lastly, sooner the ordinary voters are made to realize the importance of liberalism. Better it will be for the masses. Optimism prevails that liberal democrats will stage a comeback.
Nadeem Khan is a writer based in Toronto. Email: email@example.com