The other day, I posted about how the world seems to be lurching to the right. Today, I am going to look into why this might be happening.
If this is indeed the case, then why so? I have a few ideas, though these are predominantly from my own thinking as opposed to being derived from data and evidence out there, and then put here. Some have featured in previous writings. I would be interested in your comments on these and whether you agree.
Centre Takes on Aspects of Far Right to Compete with It
As I said previously, under mounting pressure from a more extreme threat further to the right, centre-right parties have felt compelled to adjust by shifting toward populist policies and rhetoric. This works like a snowball effect that allows the far right into mainstream politics. One could argue that this has been happening over the decades with the left. However, I would hardly say that environmental issues are those of the far left, for example. They should be pretty universal.
Again, as I have written about before, shifts to the right coincide with rises in unemployment and all the challenges that this and economic downturns bring. I wrote the piece “Racism and xenophobia in economic downturns” and I suggest you read that for more detail. It includes:
Such a connection between recession and racism has been evident to no greater extent than in Greece, the “Achilles Heel of the Eurozone” in terms of being hit by the recession the hardest, and creating tension within the corridors of power in the EU. This paper looks at the connection of racism to recession in Greece recently (think of the rise of the Golden Dawn, a neo-nazi movement which gained huge popularity in Greece as a result of the crisis). This happened with the Mexican Repatriation Act during the Great Depression, and has been evident across Europe. As Jayati Ghosh says in “Racism and Recession in Europe” in 2010:
As the economic crisis bites deeper, and as the “austerity measures” enforced by governments cause more unemployment and more failure of small family-run businesses, bitterness and anger among the population will inevitably grow. The danger is that it will be directed not at powerful financial organizations, or even against governments that seem to bend like willows to every dictate of the market, but against vulnerable targets that can be more easily attacked. The most obvious targets, of course, are the migrants, who often stand out because of perceived racial differences.
As I mention there, things are complex and good data is hard to come by. We have had 10 years of austerity in this country (UK) since the financial crash and the shift to the right and social cohesion issues have coincided rather blatantly.
I suspect that this sort of scenario causes humans to psychologically regress down Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs so that we become more obsessed with being physiologically safe, and are therefore more heightened and sensitive to threat. We retreat back to in-group, perhaps due to evolutionary priming.
Economics is not the be all and end all, though. Poland, for example, has enjoyed faster growth rate in Europe between 1989 and 2015, and yet has still shifted to the right.
Social Upheaval and Immigration
It should be apparent that this connected to the previous one, and so those points hold. We have had those years of austerity, as mentioned, which have acted to raise resentment of immigrants, and immigrants have hit many of these countries more overtly than at any other time in living memory, for many. In Europe, mass migration happened within the EU itself, and from without (due to crises near the EU borders). Interestingly, most EU countries appear not to care too much about free movement of EU citizens as much as the UK. This is more a sticking point for our island nation than it is for others. It’s the same with the States and the immigrants coming over the Mexican border.
In her book Europe’s Fault Lines: Racism and the Rise of the Right, Liz Fekete “does not diagnose this upsurge of right-wing activity as a working-class reaction to worsening economic opportunities and weakened support from the state. Rather, she argues, it is an ugly mishmash of old prejudices re-inflamed by the war on terror, giving racism a new platform in European in the name of security.” [source] She also argues “from a socialist perspective, she convincingly asserts that the dismantling of the welfare state has put a strain on all Europeans and, instead of questioning the policies that brought this about, they have joined rightwing politicians in blaming people they see as ‘scroungers.'”
Here is part of a report from the 2009 European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) report “Protecting fundamental rights during the economic crisis”.
Racism and xenophobia
Economic crises can lead to increased racism and xenophobia against minority groups, particularly foreign nationals. This may be due to the perception that migrants may take away jobs or scarce welfare benefits; and extremist groups may seize on such fears. For example, research based on an analysis of Eurobarometer surveys showed that anti‐foreigner sentiment is higher among those who are unemployed. These findings were supported by a statistical analysis conducted by FRA’s predecessor, the European Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), of Eurobarometer and European Social Survey data over the period 1997‐2003, which included data from all then EU Member States and three of the candidate countries (Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey) of the time. This study found that “the higher the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in a country, the lower in general the level of support for ethnic intolerance”.
More recent research analysed the impact of economic growth on the level of political support for political extremism over the period 1970‐2002 in 16 EU Member States confirming that economic downturns do tend to raise the level of support for political extremism, although the magnitude of the effect is relatively small. There are no EU wide comparative studies which look specifically at the impact of economic circumstances on racist crime or violence due largely to the lack of relevant comprehensive and comparable official data across the EU. Case‐study evidence, however, exists for individual EU Member States, as well as other OECD countries. In Germany, for example, there was a “disturbing escalation” of violent crimes against foreigners (in particular, those not perceived as ethnic German) between 1990 and 1992 in the first years following unification. This was attributed, at least in part, to “a sense of social disintegration and fear of perpetual unemployment”.
What has been prevalent in the UK, in terms of Brexit, is that the most anti-immigrant areas have been those areas with the fewest immigrants, and areas of high immigration have been far more accepting of immigrants and well-integrated. This indicates that the perception of immigration is stronger and more distorted than the actual effects.
I think in times of economic stability and boom, the effects of large-scale immigration are less keenly felt. The time is rife for inflation of perceptions of danger and threat, and this helps drive the agenda of many powerful mouthpieces. More on this later.
Growing Middle Class
In times of old-school left and redistribution of income, the have-nots resented the haves. The enemy for those working class people were the rich and exploitatively powerful. Now, with a burgeoning middle class, those who threaten the now-haves are… outsiders. This links in with immigration in that respect. Here, in “The right is rising and social democracy is dying across Europe – but why?”,
Where once a proud Socialist International bestrode the global stage now it is the Populist International stretching from the Pacific to the Baltic Sea. What happened?
Historically, social democrats rose to power in tandem with a rising working class. Now, this once mighty force is shrinking along with manufacturing as a share of GDP. In the past 50 years, that portion has roughly dropped from 35% to 15% throughout the west. To put it brutally, the reformist left is losing its customer base, and it shows in all recent elections.
It is also losing its unique selling point, which is redistribution and the all-providing state. Take Martin Schulz, the SPD’s hapless candidate for chancellor. His message was “social justice” – taking from the rich to help the poor through taxes and benefits. But today’s German workers are middle class, and the highest tax bracket bites at €50,000 – the salary of an upper-level teacher or skilled worker.
These folks do not look forward to more taxation – not in a country where the government takes in almost half of GDP. Income inequality, as measured by the Gini index, is lower than in France, Italy or Britain. So the SPD must find another selling point. Yet the SPD is trapped by its traditions. It cannot switch to Trumpist nationalism, protectionism and border closures, not when Germany lives off exports in a way no other western nation does. Nor can it drop gender and minority advocacy, which is part of its modern DNA. The same holds true for the SPD’s western counterparts.
This appears to go against the economic downturn and unemployment argument. in different places in the world, different variables are often in effect. Indeed, one can start the ball rolling, before changes take place, and the ball gathers momentum for other reasons.
Boredom and Long-term Comfort
Here is an idea I have toyed with but haven’t found the data on 0- I would be interested in your opinions on this. I have a gut feeling, and this links to previous ideas and the later one on our cyclical nature, that when we get comfortable, we are far more susceptible to change and challenging the status quo. We take the comfort for granted. Take the EU – fifty odd years of widespread peace – the largest and longest in history, arguably. Broadly, massive financial security and comparative comfort. It’s as if it is a breeding ground for boredom and wanting to swing back to change and conflict. Perhaps we secretly enjoy conflict in some weird way.
People with ADHD, for example, have difficulty tolerating boredom. Perhaps, as a world or society or community, we just get restless and cannot tolerate long-term social “boredom” and comfort.
Misinformation and Manipulation
Murdoch, Rothermere, Desmond and all the other right-wing press barons have their agendas and appear to be fuelling the shift with swathes of misinformation and manipulation. I have written extensively on this here and here. It is at times insidious, at others, massively explicit.
This is linked to the boredom/comfort paradigm and economics. Humans are pretty cyclic. We get used to one way of doing things, and then get itchy feet. In the UK, as with elsewhere, we swing in a two-party system regularly from left to right. Is this a more global manifestation of this?
If the right is more predominantly male, could this be a response by many to the idea that they may be undergoing some kind of demasculinisation? If this is the case, though, it is not so much that it is happening but their inadequate reponse to it. As the Financial Times states:
Traditional gender roles are under challenge, leading many men to fear a loss of power and status. That fear is visible in the misogynistic tone of populist movements in the US, Brazil, the Philippines, Italy and elsewhere.
The male backlash finds expression not just in relatively civilised debates about women in the workplace or gender roles at home. As the Kavanaugh hearings highlighted, it quickly moves on to the rawest and most emotive topic of all — sexual violence.
Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, and Jair Bolsonaro, the frontrunner in this month’s Brazilian presidential election, have incorporated gibes about rape into their political rhetoric. Matteo Salvini, the dominant figure in the Italian government, has used sexual slurs to demean female politicians.
As we see a rise in more female politicians, we might expect a backlash from the established male enclave, and this might manifest itself in right-wing rhetoric and politics, where conservatism is more interested in tradition, purity and the in-group. In this context, the in-group will be the patriarchal organisations and institutions of political tradition. The FT continues:
Mr Trump’s period in office has coincided with the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment — which has ended the careers of some prominent men in Hollywood, the media, business and politics.
But the rise of #MeToo may also have stoked the male reaction that feeds populism. Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Mr Kavanaugh’s most vociferous supporters, certainly embraced the language of victimhood when he said during the judge’s confirmation hearing: “I’m a single white man from South Carolina and I’m told I should shut up. But I will not shut up, if that’s OK.”
Many Democrats are now taking some comfort from the thought that even if Mr Kavanaugh is confirmed, the controversy will backfire on the Republicans in the midterm elections. A recent poll suggested that white women now tilt towards the Democrats by a margin of 12 points.
But some Republicans believe that the Kavanaugh hearings could work for them, by mobilising male voters. James Robbins, a former official in the George W Bush administration, warned men that if the “Democrats win on Kavanaugh . . . any man could find himself facing unprovable accusations automatically taken as fact.”
My opinion is that whilst some of the above might be more causally effective than others, it is probably a perfect storm of all of these and no doubt more. In different places, different variables will be more prevalent (as some seem prima facie contradictory).
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