Following the first round of the French Presidential election voting, two surprising candidates emerged to contest the second run-off. On the one hand, there was En Marche candidate and a man who has never held public office and worked as investment banker for most of his life, Emmanuel Macron. And on the other hand, is the populist Marine Le Pen who, till a few days ago, led the Front National.
This election is significant for many reasons. Firstly, this is the first time that a mainland European nation has been confronted with two directly opposite options and where it’s position both within and with respect to the European Union has been called into open question. The Netherlands and Austria did also have elections with similar circumstances but unlike France, their elections were not expected to have significant impacts on the EU. Secondly, this was the first time that neither the Socialists nor the Republicans, the two major parties in France made the final run-off.
According to pollsters, Le Pen is still expected to lose heavily to Macron when the second round of voting takes place on 7th May. But what cannot be ignored here- especially in the larger, broader umbrella which also consists of the Brexit vote and the Donald Trump election- is the definite rise of right wing politics.
In some ways, right wing, nationalist politics has been on the rise for a while. China has been trying to increase its own presence in areas like Africa to propagate its own self-interest – not to mention it’s continual incursions into the South China Sea, India switched to party with clear rightist leanings during the 2014 general election, Europe has seen a rise in right wing policies and even centrist parties are incorporating more rightist views and finally Donald Trump being elected President of the United States.
Right wing politics is here to stay. Of that there is no question. But why did it suddenly start to gain traction amongst the people and even amongst the political classes across many regions of the world?
The answer to that lies in the concept of globalisation and the flawed implementation of the concept. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in the early nineties, the world became a unipolar system- with the United States of America being the spearhead of this world. Either directly or through various worldwide institutions like the World Bank, the Security Council and so on, the USA was the pole in the unipolar world. With the advent and growth of the internet and with free trade and global migration patterns developing, globalisation was taking a much bigger shape than was originally envisioned.
However, as time went on, the drawbacks of globalisation began to show up. The main forms of this, in recent times especially were the problems associated with migration, terrorism and the debt crises. The 9/11 bombings were the biggest reminder that globalisation had its negatives. The Eurozone debt crisis which has plunged Greece and certain other countries into bankruptcy and debt has called into question whether a common European market benefits everybody- especially for countries like France and Germany. Migration of people from various countries into more developed ones has forced one to rethink various aspects of modern-day issues. Are migrant workers taking away jobs meant for the local population? Are home-grown terrorists a bigger issue than foreign-born terrorists? France, with its large migrant population- especially from countries like Algeria- has had many a protest against immigration.
The United States too has had its part to play in this mess. By waging a costly war in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, it has not only undermined its credibility as a guardian of liberal principles, it has also tried to overplay its hand as the leading power of the world. The decisions taken by America have not been of any large-scale benefit to say the least. This, coupled with the rise of Russia, India, China and Brazil (BRICS), has led to a world where the United States wants to preserve its place as a superpower without compromising to these rising nations while the rising nations, in turn, are refusing in some aspects to accept a world where the USA is the dominant power.
So, all these factors together have contributed to a climate of mistrust between nations. Political realism has, for most of history, been the dominant theory of international politics. But with the increasing plurality of disadvantages that come with globalisation, political realism is being supplemented by governments who are only too happy to be realist. In the past, the greater good of a multitude of countries has been the driving force and set in the background of globalisation, it seemed appropriate. Hence, the European Union, the African Union, ASEAN and so on. However, in the current scenario, considerations of national interest are starting to rise over the potential benefits of globalisation- which is turning into more of a smokescreen for developed nations to dominate over others. And the right wing is the face of these considerations.
But the right wing will never be the dominant force in international politics because of two reasons. Such a world will have an uneasy peace at best and all-out chaos at worst. Second, the last time the world had one megalomaniac right wing leader, he sat in Berlin and led the world into a second world war. Of course, with the advent of nuclear weaponry, such a war seems unlikely today. Nevertheless, it is a risk nobody wants to take. Furthermore, any idea that has such a blemish in its history is unlikely to take deep roots in society because of an inherent fear among people.
But what right wing politics does have going for it, is that a lot of people do agree with some of their ideas. In a world of globalisation, there are arguments that countries and societies are losing their culture. The right wing wants to preserve that culture by limiting the process and effects of globalisation. Brexit was a step by British right wingers to do that. Of course, Britain has always been a little icier to the continent than other countries but still. Marine Le Pen wants France to pull out of the EU for the same reason while calls have been growing in Germany to limit immigration- especially from countries like Syria.
While extreme forms of right wing politics like Islamophobia are downright despicable, some of the more moderate ideas do resonate with the population. And many political parties, across countries and across spectrums, are taking this into account. The general trend today is that people are not against globalisation. What people do not want is over-globalisation where the tangible benefits of globalisation become too few and globalisation becomes a liability than an asset. The idea is that over time, national identity and national interest has been bogged down by a so called “larger benefit” or “greater good”. And many populations and political players have begun questioning whether such collective interest is really always better than self-interest. This, in turn has led to the rise of the right. While right wing politics still has some way to go before they end up in the mainstream of a country, there is no question that it has been on the rise for some time and may very well continue to be so.