Political Globalisation and the Populist Radical Right Parties in Western Europe (Part I)

Marine Le Pen sings the French national anthem at the FN conference in Fréjus. Photograph: Franck Pennant/AFP/Getty Images


Back in 2016, Marine Le Pen announced that the time of the nation state had returned and that the prospects of walls being built across the world showed that it was “the time of borders”. The aversion of the Populist Radical Right Parties (PRRPs) towards the process of political globalisation is centred on the conviction that the increasing trend towards multilateralism unequivocally threatens the independence and purity of the nation-state (Mudde, 2007). Although the term ‘political globalisation’ itself is sparsely used in the manifestos of PRRPs, the vast majority of these parties perceive the involvement of international organisations and agencies, such as the European Union (EU), as an infringement of – or a threat to – the sovereignty and autonomy of the nation-state. They also espouse the notion of global and regional governance operating with a ‘democratic deficit’ to justify the most radical solutions derived from the nativist core of their party ideologies.

It is not only the open challenge of the PRRPs that connects them to the process of political globalisation, but also the issues highlighted, such as the incapacity of the elected governments to represent the ‘will of the people’ (Salzburg, 2019). These have been separately identified by a variety of academics focusing on debates concerning the implications of global governance. For example, despite variations in the stances and the underlying rationales between the PRRP and anti-globalisation intellectuals (e.g. Bolton, 2000; Bradley and Goldsmith, 1997; Rabkin, 1999), they both express a commonplace understanding of how democracy as ‘rule by the people’ has been undermined by political globalisation in the contemporary era. However, before deriving the impact of the interconnected global order as a causality of the rise in PRRP, it is important to clarify the key impacts of political globalisation on sovereignty, state autonomy and democracy.

Context: Globalisation & its Impacts

 Arguably, globalisation is most commonly linked with a notional ‘crisis of the territorial nation-state’ (McGrew, 1992). The general consensus is that as international, regional and global power structures prompt the extension of political power and political activity across the territorial parameters of the nation-state, the traditional distinctions between the domestic and international are obscured, and as such, the conventional Westphalian sovereignty claimed by the nation-state is systematically eroded (Held and McGrew, 2003). By the same token, as national legislation and legal processes increasingly incorporate international legal standards, globalisation entails a situation whereby the nation-state loses its autonomy to independently formulate and achieve policy goals within its national jurisdictions. Although, in practice, sovereign rights of nations and states have always been limited by various factors, the unprecedented level of overlapping networks of governance in the contemporary era has eclipsed the internal role of the nation-state to protect and promote its citizens’ interests, as well as its external role to function as the primary actor in the global arena.

This view has been extended by prominent group of conservative anti-internationalist scholars, the so-called ‘new sovereigntists’ (Spiro, 2000), who align with populist radical right politics and consider global governance as intrinsically undemocratic because it contravenes popular sovereignty and subverts constitutional government by delegating legislative authority to entities who are not elected, nor accountable (Goodhart and Taninchev, 2011). They argue that in place of embodying the political rights and interests of citizens at a supranational level, the process of political globalisation increases the distance and direct relations between citizens and their political representatives, making democracy irrelevant as a means of asserting the popular will (Nef, 2002). Having maintained that global governance allows political representation, which are not based on the immediate mechanism of election and explicit democratic delegation, the new sovereigntists insist that global commitments are incompatible with popular sovereignty. Going further, they contend that for national governments to operate under the stipulation of transnational institutions is to invalidate the very essence of democracy (Rabkin, 2005).

It is not only the school of ‘new sovereigntists’ that have diagnosed the effect of globalisation on democracy. Other prominent theorists with cosmopolitan democratic proposals for global governance, such as Anthony McGrew (2010), have also suggested that political globalisation has a ‘double democratic deficit’. Firstly, because democratic national governments are perceived to be incapacitated in managing transnational forces in accordance with the pronounced preferences of their citizens, and secondly, because global political institutions are regarded to favour the interests of global elites at the expense of the wider international community (McGrew, 2010). This scarcity of democratic credentials in global politics is thereby supposed to incite the ‘crisis of legitimacy’, in which widespread distrust and lack of confidence by national citizens are manifested vis-à-vis established political leaders, political parties and the institutions of representative democracy (Reus-Smit, 2007). And, in the wake of this legitimation crisis, where people discern their agency through the nation to be increasingly disconnected from the global mechanisms of political decision-making (such as is the case with some supporters of the populist radical right), while being further embedded within the modes of international regulations, their claim for greater autonomy and democratic control assumes the form of a resistance identity or ‘indignation’, in lieu of their political identity as citizens (Castells, 2004).

Furthermore, critics of political globalisation, such as Benedict Kingsbury (1999), argue that international regimes and institutions might have been successful in assuming various economic and legal roles previously fulfilled by the nation-state in the traditional sovereignty system but they are still incapable of displacing the nation-state as a locus of identity for the citizens and other political actors. The combination of the two predicaments – where the ‘national forms of identity’ are circumscribed and the inability of ‘common civic identity’ to effectively supersede these national forms of identity (as expected by the accounts of Deudney and Ikenberry (1993) – leaves identity and loyalty of citizens to be conditioned by forces such on ethnicity, race and religion (Sheehan, 2011). Or, as Gorenburg (2000) has emphasised, individuals who strongly identify with their national community will perceive the weakening of the nation-state’s autonomy as a loss and will strive to revive nationalism and its exclusionary norms to assert all remaining influence before the nation-state, as it exists in their imagination, is eroded beyond repair. Overall, the critics of political globalisation within the literature argue that the very objective of political globalisation as stated by the proponents of the process, to stimulate interdependence and cosmopolitan orientation by diffusing political authority of the nation-state, is disserved by the unintended consequences of its own mechanism – thus causing a popular backlash that can be mobilised by PRRPs.

Ms Pragya Rai is a Digital Content Editor at CARR and an MA student at Richmond, the American International University in London. You can find her profile here:

© Pragya Rai. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).


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