Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

The workers, and native populations and those

Western world has seen a tidal wave of populist sentiment that has swept
through Europe and culminated in the shocking victory of Donald Trump in the
2016 US presidential election. What is most troubling about these political
movements is that they are led mainly by right-wing politicians who are intent
on seeding discord and fear to gain power. The question is: what is driving
this phenomenon, and why has right-wing populist ideology become a rallying
call for so many? Many economists
and scholars argue that the culprit is globalization.


is ‘commonly understood to describe the increasing flow of goods,
services, capital, technology, information, ideas and labour at the global
level, driven by liberalization policies and technological change’
(Annan, 2002). Over the last few decades, there has been an acceleration and
increasing scale and scope of this process. Events and decision-making in one
area of the world can have an immediate impact on economies, governments and
societies of nations and regions across the globe. This has driven a wedge in
society, sometimes between capital and labour, between skilled and unskilled
workers, and native populations and those who migrate from different cultures.

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economic and social disruptions that ensue as a result of globalization have
created optimal conditions for populist movements to take hold. Politicians are
exploiting the anger and frustration felt by people who feel left out of the
benefits of globalization, or whose identity is threatened as boundaries
disappear and cultures merge and clash as a result of increasing migration. Currently,
almost every country in the European Union has a populist party represented in
national or regional politics, and most are right-wing. These parties routinely
encourage xenophobia, intolerance, racism, nativism and anti-liberalism, and
their threat to liberal democracies and globalization is not going away any
time soon.   


paper will explore the conditions that led to the rise of right-wing populism
in Western societies, the danger right-wing populism poses to the global
community, and possible solutions for combatting this destructive political ideology.



II. Populism Defined

main challenge in defining populism is that the term has been used to ‘describe
political movements, parties, ideologies, and leaders across geographical,
historical, and ideological contexts’ (Gidron and Bonikowski, 2013). Furthermore,
many scholars agree that populism is ‘confrontational, chameleonic, culture-bound
and context-dependent’ (Arter, 2010). Nevertheless, one of the most widely
referenced definitions comes from political scientist Cas Mudde, who defines populism as ‘a form of politics predicated on the juxtaposition
of a corrupt elite with a morally virtuous people’ (2007). He later expanded
upon this definition to note that ‘populism is a thin-centered ideology that
separates society into two homogenous and antagonistic groups, “the pure
people” and “the corrupt elite”, and that holds that politics should be an
expression of the “general will” of the people’ (Mudde, 2016). Thin-centered
ideologies can be described as ones ‘that do not provide answers to all the
major socio-political questions, and could therefore be compatible with other,
more extensively developed political belief systems, such as socialism or
liberalism’ (Gidron and Bonikowski, 2013). Because populism is defined by Mudde
as a ‘thin-centered ideology’, this means it can be ‘found across ideological
cleavages, combined with either left or right-wing appeals and depend upon the
socio-political context within which the populist actors mobilize’ (Mudde and
Kaltwasser, 2011).


Simply put, populism is a ‘grassroots phenomenon oriented against the
establishment’, and driven by the ‘common people’ in which the ‘populist is a
follower of public opinion, not the shaper of it: a reflection, not a compass’ (McCarthy,


it is important to distinguish the different branches of populism before
delving into the causes and consequences of right-wing populism, which is
arguably more dangerous than left-wing populism. Both right-wing and left-wing
populism adhere to the same principle of motivating a group of people to rally
around the “us” versus “them” mentality against political and financial establishments
(Zabala, 2017). They are also both responses to perceived or actual economic,
social and political inequality. The driving forces of these groups are
radically different, however.


populism is more socially-minded in that it reflects social liberalism,
socialism or social democratic values. The ideology is pro-worker and tends to
be more inclusive than the right-wing populism narrative, and it seeks to break
down class barriers. In contemporary times, it has focused heavily on economic injustice
and reform, as evidenced by the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement, and 2016 US
presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ policy platform that focused on the
interests of poor and working-class Americans and, in his words, “breaking up
the big banks”.


populism takes a decidedly more exclusive approach, as it focuses heavily on
nativism, which Taggart defines as an ‘inherited entitlement to the common good
of society’ (2000), the re-establishment of national sovereignty, and an anti-immigration
and refugee platform. The narrative is more often than not xenophobic and
racist, and draws support by drumming up fear of the outsider, predominantly channelled
into Islamophobia, as well as anger at global institutions like the European
Union. This is evidenced by Donald Trump’s campaign pledges to build a wall on
the Mexican-American border to curb illegal immigration, and his executive
order to halt the resettlement of refugees and outright ban visa-holders from
predominantly-Muslim countries, as well as the results of the United Kingdom’s
Brexit referendum.  


keenly notes the major difference between the two wings of populism, and why
right-wing populism poses more of a threat to the world: right-wing populism
encapsulates the ‘fear of the foreigner’ that is ‘rooted in hatred and
indifference’, and the left a ‘hope for a better future’ that strives for
‘justice and equality’ (2017).  


In either case, Bonikowski
notes that while populism is considered to be an ideology, it does not offer a
worldview, but rather acts as a ‘simplistic critique of existing configurations
of power’ (2016). It therefore differs from liberalism or conservatism, which
are ‘well-articulated principles about the desirability of state intervention
in social and economic affairs and the appropriate balance between individual
freedom and the amelioration of social inequities’ (Bonikowski, 2016)

III. Globalization and

evaluating modern populism, globalization is ‘frequently
cited as the lightning
rod that links diverse populist strands’ (McCarthy, 2017). Why is this especially
the case in Western societies? Let us first look to the issue of global trade
and finance. The world has grown increasingly trade-intensive, and the greater
economic openness in the West has not benefited all of its citizens (Hamish,
2017). Prior to the recent global
financial crisis, globalization seemed to be a straight-forward and universally
beneficial process. Western corporations were able to increase their profit
margins and lower the costs of goods by outsourcing jobs and manufacturing
abroad, and falling prices allowed consumers to have more disposable income
that increased perceptions of prosperity and controlled inflation. During this
time, developing markets also experienced outstanding transformations in
standards of living. For example, in a single generation, ‘China all but wiped
out urban poverty, with per capita income growing from $200 in 1990 to $5000 in
2010′ (Neville, 2016).


Enthusiasm for globalization waned following the 2008
financial crisis. The near-collapse and subsequent US government bailout of
major financial institutions had a catastrophic effect on the US’ economy, and
due to the interconnectedness of global finance and markets, Europe was soon
experiencing its own debt crisis. Across developed nations people were losing
their jobs en masse,
living standards fell, key businesses failed, trillions of dollars in consumer
wealth were lost in the US alone, international trade decreased, and investors
lost faith in stock markets. This in turn led to the Great Recession, which
lasted from 2008-2012, and predominantly effected North America, Europe and


Following this period, Neville noted that ‘public
discontent was palpable, and politicians of all stripes sought to exploit it’
(2016). While anger was directed largely at the financial sectors that pushed
the world into this mess, public sentiment soon turned against globalization
because it revealed that not everyone was getting richer in the lead up to the
Great Recession. The working and middle classes in the US and Europe were the
biggest losers, and they soon became the ‘bedrock of populist movements’ (Neville,


impact on labour and trade practices has also negatively impacted the working
and middle classes. Companies have increasingly outsourced labour to lower-wage
economies to reduce costs and scale up profit and productivity, but in doing
so, ‘specific sector(s) get battered, and large swaths of unskilled and
semiskilled workers find themselves unemployed or underemployed’ (Zakaria, 2016).

This has created massive resentment that has caused many people to embrace
populist parties that give a platform to their discontent and demand trade and
labour reforms that promote national
employment opportunities and protect jobs.


is true that many recent trade deals have had a debilitating effect on
particular trades or industries, and it is indeed understandable for an
unemployed auto or steelworker in a single-industry town to blame trade
policies that assist companies in outsourcing labour to developing countries. Politicians
have capitalized upon the public resentment this results in, as noted by US
President Trump, who took particular relish in withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific
Partnership (TPP), a giant free trade agreement that he touted as a ‘job killer’
throughout the campaign trail. However, McCarthy notes that ‘contrary to
popular belief, American manufacturing is up. It is manufacturing employment
that has suffered. That is the fallout of robotics and other technological
innovation, not trade’ (2017). IE COUNTRIES NEED TO BE BETTER AT… Morever, Jansen stresses
that ‘status lost is one of the most important drivers for the emergence of
radical positions within the electorate’ (2015). Triggered by processes of globalization,
‘status loss’ and the fear of it, is what continues to beckon ‘increasingly
larger scales of populations, in particular, of male and working-class background,
to far-right populism’ (Vieten and Poynting, 2016)


Lastly, recognizing the tension caused by the movement
of people as a result of globalization and forced migration is critical in
understanding the accelerated rise of right-wing populism in contemporary
politics. Hamish argues that while the vast majority of society will tolerate
the free movement of goods, services and money, there is an increasing hostility
when the same globalization principles of free movement apply to people (2017).

Immigration has thus become an explosive issue that has come to embody the
right-wing populist movement.


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) notes in its annual

Trends report that ‘an unprecedented 65.6 million people were uprooted from
their homes by conflict and persecution by the end of 2016.’ Also noted in this
report, ‘Germany received the largest number of new asylum applications by far,
over 720,000 in 2016 alone. The US was the second largest receiving country for
asylum applications with 262,000, which was double what was received two years
ago.’ France also received a high number of asylum applications, as well as
Greece, Austria, and the United Kingdom (2016). It is no surprise that in each
of these countries, right-wing Populist parties like the Alternative for
Germany (AfD), the National Front in France (helmed by the inflammatory Marine Le
Pen) and the Austrian People’s Party (led by recently-elected Chancellor of
Austria, Sebastian Kurz) have turned the global migration crisis and influx of
immigrants into their countries as a political rallying tool.  


global displacement crisis was not caused by globalization, but by armed
conflict. However, some of the main principles of globalization have been
tested, namely, the goal of allowing both capital and labour to move freely
across national borders (Podobnik, 2017). Podobnik further adds that ‘a
volatile situation can arise when either the native population or the migrant
minority sense that their national, ethnic or religious identity is being
threatened’ (2017). Immigration and its supposed threat to national identity are
the standard issues that right-wing populist politicians exploit to unite
people to their cause. A clear example of this is in the shocking results of
the UK’s Brexit referendum, which was driven by nationalist sentiment. Zakaria
notes that:


is the final frontier of globalization. It is the most intrusive and disruptive
because as a result of it, people are dealing not with objects or abstractions;
instead, they come face to face with other human beings, ones who look, sound,
and feel different. And this can give rise to fear, xenophobia, and racism.




IV. The Dangers of
Right-Wing Populism  

2010, the former President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, declared
populism ‘the biggest danger to Europe’, and explicitly referred to the rise of
xenophobic right-wing parties in a number of European Union member states (Mudde
and Kaltwasser, 2012). Right-wing populism also shares some troubling parallels
with fascism. Vieten and Poynting argued that the global rise of right-wing
populism is largely due to ‘the insecurities and displacement of neoliberalism
in the context of the global financial crisis’, but that while the movements
are not the same as fascism, they share many of the same elements (2016). Mudde
supports this view, and notes that aspects of populism could be found within
communist and fascists movements in the past, ‘particularly during their
oppositional phases’ (2016). The difference between these ideologies and
populism is that they were elitist and did not encourage empowering the masses
(Mudde, 2016). It is interesting to consider that fascism itself originated
‘during a period of intense globalization’ in the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries as ‘capitalism dramatically reshaped Western societies,
destroyed traditional communities, professions and cultural norms’ (Berman,
2016). Berman is careful to note, however, that:


Current right-wing extremists are better characterized
as populists rather than fascists, since they claim to speak for everyday men
and women against corrupt, debased, and out of touch elites and institutions.

In other words, they are certainly anti-liberal, but they are not


Mudde echoes this view, stating that ‘although populism is not
necessarily antidemocratic, it is essentially illiberal, especially in its
disregard for minority rights, pluralism and the rule of law’ (2016). He also
warms that many observers fail to acknowledge the ‘durability of today’s
populist appeals and the likely staying power of the parties built around them’,
and that while in the past populist parties have often been unable to hold onto
power once they obtained it, today’s climate ‘favours
populists more than at any time since the end of WWII’ (Mudde 2016).


major danger of the proliferation of right-wing populism is its gleeful embrace
of intolerance, ‘which is a widespread social phenomenon that produces
conflicts and generates segregation’ (Podobnik, 2017). Furthermore, intolerance,
when combined with radicalization, is the main cause of violence and terrorism.

distressing, the rise of populist illiberalism is facing less and less
opposition from embattled mainstream parties, which have fallen silent or have
even applauded the trend.”
(Mudde 2016)


the backlash against free trade and globalization would have profound effects,
and ‘potentially disastrous for people and companies in every country around
the world’ (Neville, 2016). Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) and economic counsellor Maurice Obstfield also warned that ‘turning back
the clock on trade can only deepen and prolong the world economy’s
current doldrums’ (Neville, 2016). 


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