The resurgence of authoritarian populists and democracy fatigue

The rise of right has created a totally new political situation, leaving opportunities for a more radical political left.

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People begin to think only when the fault lines occur and they think deeply when the world order breaks down. The politics of today is changing significantly; the jolts are deep as those from earthquakes.
The triumph of Donald Trump, a self-confessed sexual predator and racist or the electorate apotheosis in India and Philippines bear witness to the trend. Ashish Nandy referred Modi as a “textbook case of a fascist and a prospective killer”. Mass murder accused Rodrigo Duterte rises the political foray; while there is mass acclaim for pitiless despot and imperialist like Putin in Russia.
These populist authoritarian leaders and scurrilous demagogues are gaining ground in different countries of the world. Even though the secessions of our time, for instance from ISIS to Brexit have several unique causes. For one, ethical constraints have weakened everywhere, often under the pressure of public opinion.
The apparent ‘Muslim Rage’ identified with mobs of brown-skinned men with bushy beards has now taken different faces, from saffron- robed Buddhist ethnic-cleansers in Myanmar to blonde white nationalists in Germany.
Freud wrote, the ‘primitive, savage and evil impulses of mankind have not vanished’ but continue to exist in a ‘repressed state’, waiting for ‘opportunities to display their activity.’ The liberal world order is crumbling. Slavoz zizek says, “the trump victory is the final blow to Fukuyama dream, and the final defeat of liberal democracy”. It would be, however, a mistake to forget that the initial signs of reactionary movements already were visible in Europe 15 years ago, when Jorg Haider’s FPO came second place in the 1999 Austrian parliamentary elections, prompting a right-wing coalition government under Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel.
In 2002; Jean marine le pen made it to second round of the French presidential elections, where he lost to Jaques Chirac. These leaders who have risen in the new populist movements are typically Xenophobic, Misogynist and Authoritarian in their functioning. Their followers usually share many of these tendencies but they are also fearful, angry and resentful of what their societies have done for them over the years.
In the Neo-liberal world order, Economic sovereignty, as a basis for national sovereignty was always a dubious principle. Today, it is increasingly irrelevant. In the absence of any national economy that modern states can claim to protect and develop, these nations in many populist movements perform their national sovereignty by turning towards cultural majoritarianism, ethno-nationalism and stifling intellectual and cultural dissent. In other words, the loss of economic sovereignty everywhere produces a shift towards emphasizing cultural sovereignty.
Vox populi (Thought process of the followers) has been brilliantly showed In the book ‘The Great Regression’, by Arjun Appadadurai. The author talks about various ways in which today’s widespread feeling of being fed up with the democracy itself have a distinctive logic and context.
Firstly, the extension of Internet and Social media to growing sectors of population led to web-based mobilisation, easy propaganda, identity building and peer seeking; and these have created the dangerous illusion that we can all find peers, allies, friends, collaborators, coverts and colleagues; whoever we are and whatever we want.
Secondly, the fact that every single nation-state has lost ground in its efforts to maintain any semblance of economic sovereignty. When we add to these factors; the worldwide deepening of economic inequality, the global erosion of social welfare, and the planetary penetration of financial industries that thrive on circulating the idea that we are all at risk of financial disaster, impatience with the slow temporalities of democracy; It is compounded by a constant climate of economic panic. The same populist leaders who promise prosperity for all often deliberately concoct this sort of panic, for instance, the Demonetisation exercise in India to root out black money by illegalising 500 &1000 rupee notes. These currency notes were a vital part of everyday life for poor and middle class workers, consumers, and petty commercial operators.
The leaders and their follower have bonhomie on some ground like The leaders hate democracy because it is an obstacle to their monomaniacal pursuit of power. The followers are victims of democracy fatigue who see electoral politics as the best way to exit democracy itself. This hatred and this exhaustion find their mutual ground in the space of cultural sovereignty, enacted in scripts of racial victory for resentful majorities, national ethnic purity and global resurgence. This is precisely the fact that Neo-liberal world is the incubator of authoritarianism in today’s time. Zizek argues, “In a nice Hegelian move, when capitalism won its external enemy and united the world, the division returned”. Pankaj Mishra says, “The liberal world made the human beings subordinate to the market, replacing social-bonds with market relations and santifying greed. It propagated an ethos of individual autonomy and personal responsibility, while the exigencies of the market made it impossible for people to save and plan for future”.
Where does the “Left” stand in all this charade?
Right-wing populism thrives because the world of the working classes has been destroyed by corporate capitalism and has been further developed by cultural progressive elites, who from the 1980 onwards, focused their intellectual and political energy on sexual and cultural minorities, generating fierce cultural wars. The main theoretical proponent of leftist populism is Chantal Mouffe.
According to Mouffe the main reason for the failure of the left is its non-combative stance of rational argumentation and lifeless universalism. Since this post-political third way is no match for the agnostic logic of right, they successfully mobilised anti-immigrant populist like Marine le pen, the only way to combat as left think is by recourse to a leftist populism. The left populism also moves beyond the old working class, anti- capitalists, and bringing together a multiplicity of struggles from ecology to feminism. Zizek says, the rise of new right is second phenomenon; the crucial thing is the disintegration of state concept of centre-left.
The new organic corporate intellect like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates say that capitalism is in present form will not survive and that the discourse needs to be changed. The left should focus from the Big Bad Wolf of populism to true problems. The left has no choice but to re-emerge with the moral world of lives and those which have been torn asunder brazenly by the rippling effects of capitalism. A revitalized left could lay the foundation for a powerful new coalition committed to fight for justice for all. The left alternatives should be a programme of new and different international agreements- agreements which would establish control of banks, enforce ecological standards, secure workers’ rights, healthcare services, the protection of sexual and ethnic minorities etc.
The rise of right has created a totally new political situation, leaving opportunities for a more radical political left. Now is the time for the Left to do the hard work; Or to quote Mao: “There is disorder under heaven; the situation is excellent.”

~ The writer is an undergraduate student in the dept. of Political Science, Jamia Milia Islamia University, New Delhi.

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