In Times of Extremism, Populism Becomes an Alternative to Democracy
In Times of Extremism, Populism Becomes an Alternative to Democracy
“MPs of all parties must unite to rein in this reckless, divisive government”.
These words were not uttered by a columnist or a Leftist activist, but by John Major, the former British Conservative Prime Minister who governed between late 1990 and mid-1997.
Major believes that the present government, ruling under the name of the Conservative Party, which has already suspended several former senior ministers and current MPs – including the grandson of Winston Churchill – is dividing the country by its extremism, stubbornness, and populism.
“At the moment – Major added – our country is more unsettled, more divided than I can ever recall. Ministers assure us they are moving towards a deal. The European Union tells us they are not – because the British government has put forward no new or viable proposals. The Prime Minister tells us he wishes to have a deal with Europe but we don’t see him sitting down in Brussels to hammer out an agreement.
Major went on to say that “Lip service is paid to the unanimous judgment of the supreme court that it was ‘unlawful’ to prorogue parliament for five weeks, while the prime minister tells us the court was wrong and he was right. Meanwhile, ministers continue to offer fantasy outcomes of what a post-Brexit future holds for people in every corner of our United Kingdom…”.
Well, in respectable democracies, in normal circumstances, a former Prime Minister would expect a proper reply; but the two right wing pro-Conservative newspapers the Telegraph and the Mail, which are also staunchly pro-Brexit, have had a different response. As if by pure coincidence, just after Major’s speech, both papers uncovered his ‘conspiracy’ against his predecessor Margaret Thatcher, in a fashion familiar only in Third World ‘police states’’ propaganda organs, when they resort to character assassinations against political foes.
The UK, however, is not alone in going the way of ‘If you are not with me, then you are against me!’; Donald Trump’s USA, too, has been going this way in a polarization previously unknown in America’s peacetime history. As Trump has succeeded in ‘subjugating’ the Republican Party to his extreme Right current, he has engendered across the political divide a Leftist counter-current within the Democratic Party that not only takes pride in liberalism, but some of its members are now also proudly describing themselves as ‘socialists’!
Given this frightening polarization, there are no more taboos. The supporters of President Trump and the extreme Right are ready to defend his every action, including the alleged Russian meddling in the US presidential election, and later his alleged request from the Ukrainian government to give him information about the business dealings of the son of Joe Biden, his leading Democratic adversary. On the other side, the Democrats have decided that the ‘Ukranian Incident’ rendered any kind of coexistence with Trump impossible, so they have started their campaign to impeach him.
Back in Europe, hours before voting started, opinion polls in Austria prior to its general elections showed former chancellor Sebastian Kurz, of the conservative People’s Party, on his way to returning to power. This would be achieved again by resurrecting his former coalition with the Freedom Party from extreme Right.
What is important about the relationship between Kurz and his party with the extreme Right is that it is no more an isolated case in Europe. The European extremists have left the fringe, for the first time since the defeat of Nazism and Fascism, and forced themselves on the mainstream in the leading post - Cold War democracies.
Before Kurz and his keenness to rehabilitate Austria’s extreme Right, we recently witnessed a political ‘honeymoon’ in Italy between the extreme Right’s Matteo Salvini and his ‘League’ and their government coalition the anti-establishment populists of ‘The Five Star Movement’. In France, the extremist ‘National Rally’ (former ‘National Front’) has become a leading force, and in Germany as well as other countries, the extreme Right is now an effective ‘player’. While Rightists are already governing Hungary and Poland, the anti-European populist Brexit Party led the British parties in the last European Parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, outside Europe and the USA, the extreme Right now governs two of the world’s biggest democracies, India and Brazil; and in the Muslim world, under the cloak of religion it rules Iran and Turkey.
How are we to read such a reality? How can we explain it?
I believe that we are living a crisis of concepts and beliefs. As people born and bred in the so-called ‘Third World’ countries, we have been worried that our ‘wounded’ original homelands were still a long way away from the Western ‘value system’ that we admire and desire. However, we are now even more worried because our new homelands to which we escaped from the ailments of the old ones are steadily overthrowing the much-admired values.
The dream of ‘Western Democracy’, which one day we hoped to be fulfilled in our original homelands, is collapsing before us and is fast becoming an illusion. The culture of ‘broad consensus’ that prevents marginalization, apartheid, and exclusion is shrinking at a dangerous pace, leaving the arena to extremists, racists, adventurists, and corrupt populists.
The word ‘democracy’ that implies programs, institutions, devolution of power, and acceptance of the others’ viewpoints is receding before self-aggrandizement, inventing animosities, and inciting hatred and grudges against dissent. All this is happening, ironically, in the name of democracy!
The ‘new despots’ are peddling lies to the masses and making them – in the name of this fake democracy – false witnesses to their cheap populism and disinformation. Those masses are being used as brain-washed tools who vote in elections driven by instinct rather than genuine, rational political agendas that present facts and data.
Thus, we are facing a true phenomenon that we can no longer interpret as occasional protest votes, or temporary tiredness of the traditional political parties. Indeed, this a new ‘political culture’ that may continue and even spread further, unless its venom is drained.
Obviously, there are two significant factors behind this phenomenon: First, is the huge technological progress and the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) which are going to minimize the dependence on human labor; hence, increasing unemployment. Secondly, is globalization that is uncovering the structural weakness in capitalism, which, ideally speaking, is based on competitiveness, and the free movement of capital, services, and labor.
The two factors above have awakened the ‘anathemas’ of populism, racism, and Right and Left extremism that all threaten today’s world.