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

In this second part of Pragya Rai’s blog on political globalisation and the populist radical right, Rai looks at the strengths and weaknesses of globalist and anti-globalist arguments – critically assessing the role of the latter in populist radical right ideology. You can find the first part here.

Discussion: Strengths and Weaknesses of Globalist and Anti-Globalist Arguments

To a certain extent, the arguments forwarded by critics on the impact political globalisation are correct. Globalisation has resulted in profound transformation in the nature, role and functions of the nation-state, global governance regimes have undermined state sovereignty in the traditional sense, and there are democratic challenges of global governance. However, their argument on how global governance debilitates democracy is based on the misconception that the only essential prerequisite of democracy is unfettered state sovereignty to formulate its own decisions regarding its law (Keohane, Macedo and Moravcsik, 2009). The primary obligation of the nation-state as a democratic political community is to achieve security and welfare for its citizens and this in the contemporary era, where global issues transcend national boundaries, is only possible by taking up binding international legal agreements which accord nation-states with reciprocal influence over each other’s policies. And so, some have argued, for a nation-state to refuse delegating some domestic authority to multilateral institutions for the sake of state sovereignty, only culminates in placing arbitrary and self-defeating restrictions on to the process of national democratic deliberation (Krasner, 1999).

Similarly, the claim that political globalisation undermines democracy rests on another unwarranted postulation that the extant domestic institutions continue to act in accordance with the highest democratic standards, and that mechanisms such as elections and other forms of political representation and deliberation within classically sovereign national democracies do not consist of any biases, inadequacies, or disadvantages. This is not to conclude that contemporary political globalisation does not have room for improvement, but far from categorically restricting democracy, it has, in effect, strengthened constitutional democracy by helping domestic institutions to ‘restrict the power of special interest factions, protect individual rights, and improve the quality of democratic deliberation, while also increasing capacities to achieve important public purposes’ (Keohane, Macedo and Moravcsik, 2009: 2).

It is not only the democracy-enhancing potential of multilateralism and global governance that the critics have overlooked in their attribution, but they have also bypassed the pragmatic benefits of political globalisation. In contrast to their analysis of political globalisation, exponents attest that the de-territorialisation of governance and politics diminishes the salience of national distinctions, and therefore, weakens the relevance of antagonisms fuelled by nationalist ardour, religious fanaticism and generations-old state-to-state enmity (Beck, 2006; Scholte, 2005). As the process of interaction and integration among individuals is intensified by globalisation, it reduces peoples’ perceived social distance with those who are geographically distant, which then strengthens cosmopolitan attitudes and increases the propensity of individuals to cooperate with one another. This increasing interconnectedness of people worldwide is considered to curb the “ingroup”–“outgroup” hostility of parochial national identities, extend the periphery of the group(s) within which individuals perceive they belong to, and foster a sense of common belonging simply by the virtue of being inhabitants of the same planet; so that “humankind in some respects becomes a ‘we’, facing problems and opportunities where there are no ‘others” (Giddens, 1991:27).

In the same way, adherents commend political globalisation for broadening political agency across the globe – by contesting the one-dimensionality of orthodox narratives that conceptualised world politics merely in connection with the balance of power between nation-states (Delanty and Romford, 2010). Although states still prevail, the global arena is now shared with a network of significant actors, such as intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) and international agencies and regimes, and the expansion of these new forms of global and regional governance provides an international deliberative forum for collective decision-making when approaching global, national and regional issues that require large-scale cooperation (Krasner, 1983). Scholars optimistic of globalisation’s impact affirm that consistent compliance to international agreements function as a catalyst for resolving conflicts within and between states, while multilateral state interdependencies promote peace and political stability (Ruggie, 1992).

Furthermore, participation of non-state actors, such as transnational pressure groups and social movements, in the global politics is welcomed by supporters of globalisation as they are in the opinion that it results in the decline of national governments to have dominance over the lives of their citizenry in a top-down, vertical approach. New, international systems of legal regulation demand states to fulfil more than just the criterion of sovereign territoriality to be recognised as legitimate, and as the precept of state legitimacy is reframed, where compliance to shared democratic values, such as protection of universal human rights, are imperative for nation-states to be acknowledged as legitimate, autonomy of civil society is protected against possible dictates of the nation-state (Crawford, 2013). With the help of new information and communication systems, and transnational movements, a new global civil society has revolutionised the scope and scale of citizens exchanging information, forming associations, and collectively influencing public policy reform (Bhagwati, 2004). While international law was principally founded on political and geopolitical matters within the Westphalian, state-based conception of international political order, international affairs is progressively concerned with resolving major economic, social, technological and ecological issues that determine the general welfare of all those within the wider international community.

Conclusion: Applying Anti-Globalist Arguments to the Populist Radical Right

The point to take from this section is that political globalisation is a multifaceted process with differential consequences but similar to the critics, the populist radical rights’ characterisation is based on their refusal to acknowledge all positive impacts of political globalisation and the democracy-enhancing potential of multilateralism, while fixating trenchantly on the concomitant setbacks of the globalisation process. These parties draw strength to their discourse through the gross and biased exaggeration of defects within the process of political globalisation. However, they are not demanding further refinement. Instead, PRRPs advocate correcting the shortcomings through extreme solutions – by, for example, complete abandonment of multilateralism and arguing for the complete obsolescence of global governance.

These parties may ‘talk the democratic talk’ by opposing the democratic deficit found in political globalisation and by reiterating the principles of popular sovereignty and democracy with respect to the exercise of majoritarian power. But hidden behind all that rhetoric of protecting and promoting the ‘will of the people’ is ‘an illiberal democratic response’ (Mudde, 2015) that, in fact, rejects constitutionalism and liberal protections for individuals and minority groups. By capitalising on the discernment of citizens to have lost control, contemporary PRRP are determined to transform the established political system into institutions of ‘illiberal democracy’, à la Viktor Orban and PiS, instead of promoting democratic values of freedom and equality that they find so lacking under regimes of political globalisation.

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 here 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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