“The Global Rise of Nativism and Illiberalism: A Conversation on the Contemporary Political Pathology”. Part One – The Radical Right in the Headlines.

On November 27, 2018, I was invited to a panel discussion at Amherst College entitled “The Global Rise of Nativism and Illiberalism: A Conversation on the Contemporary Political Pathology”. Based on my talk and remarks at that panel, I will write three blog entries. The first below discusses my thoughts on the media’s treatment of the radical right.

The radical right is certainly back in the headlines globally. Jair Bolsonaro, a radical right leader that has praised dictatorships and argued that Brazil should have tortured less and killed more during its military dictatorship, is the new President of Brazil. While Donald Trump is not per se radical right, the President of the USA has been praised by white nationalists and the Alt Right. His anti-immigrant rhetoric, Muslim ban, and use of the army against refugees would not be foreign to the radical right across the Atlantic.

In France, Marine Le Pen gained 33.9% of the popular vote (10,638,475 votes) in the second round of the 2017 French presidential election. Stephen Bannon, the White House Chief Strategist in the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump for merely seven months, spoke at an FN rally and told its supporters that when they call you a racist, “wear it as a badge of honor.”

In 2018 elections, the anti-immigrant Italian Northern League (LN) emerged with a plurality of seats in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate (Interestingly the LN emerges from an anti-fascist tradition, but it is anti-immigrant). The anti-immigrant Freedom Party was invited into the Conservative-led coalition government in Austria in 2017. Like another Hungarian party named Jobbik, Pytlas insists that Orban’s government is radical right. In 2015, he called for internment camps for illegal immigrants. The UKIP was crucial for the Brexit vote and it is rabidly anti-immigrant. The third largest party in Germany after the 2017 federal election, gaining 94 seats in the Bundestag. This is the first time they won any seats in the Bundestag.

We can add Putin in Russia, Erdoğan in Turkey, and Duterte to the list of the radical right. And certainly, Netanyahu in Israel has been influenced by the radical right, although, like Bolsonaro, the two leaders combining nativist ideals with support for neo-liberalism. And those two ideals are, in theory, incompatible.

Yet, the rise of the radical right is not new. The Front National (FN) already attained electoral breakthroughs from 1983-1988. During the 1984 European elections, the French FN used the slogan “Two million immigrants are the cause of two million French people out of work.” In 1986 legislative elections it gained nearly 10 per cent of the popular vote and 35 seats in the NA. Mainstream parties might co-opt their anti-immigrant rhetoric, but it is always more satisfying to vote for the original rather than a copy. The very presence of the radical right in parliaments throughout Europe means that the radical right influences the mainstream parties on issues related to immigration, citizenship, national identity, and issues of national sovereignty (including possibly leaving the EU).

Cas Mudde argues that sometimes there are more “dangers” to the health of democracies from the mainstream than from the radical right. Tim Bale insists that the mainstream right is more responsible than the radical right for a rising anti-immigrant tide, suggesting that they adopted stricter immigration policies in some countries. This is the case with the ruling Fidesz party in Hungary, which has become a “prisoner” to the “illiberal” rhetoric of the radical right. De Lange (2012: 173, 192) highlights how in the 1990s and the new millennium these parties joined coalition governments in Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. Matt Golder notes that “far right parties have participated in coalition governments in Austria, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, and Switzerland, and they have supported minority governments in Bulgaria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway.”

In short, these radical right parties have gone from being taboo in the aftermath of the post-World War Two period to key players in Europe’s political system. In the next blog, I tackle key definitions, including what we mean by the radical right, populism, nativism, and illiberalism.

Professor Tamir Bar-On is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Professor-Researcher at School of Social Sciences and Government, Tec de Monterrey. His profile can be found here:

© Tamir Bar-On. 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).