The West is moving towards a new era. Far-Right and nationalist forces are steadily gaining support in Europe with Donald Trump as a poster-child for the movement. They are present in parliaments throughout Europe. They have already formed governments in Austria and Hungary. Far-Right elements have even begun to coordinate across boarders.
The United States and Europe, collectively known as ‘The West’, are built on a foundation of common values. Their way of life transcends other factors that unite nations like ethnicity or religion. In the aftermath of WWII, Europe learned the dangers of ‘hyper-nationalism’, which further encouraged it to rally behind a continental culture of Liberté, Equalité, and Fraternité instead.
But that was then and much has changed since. In America the liberal wave that finally gave African-Americans their civil rights and other reforms seems to have lost its momentum. Their magnanimous spirit that rebuilt war-torn Europe with the Marshal Plan and supported the creation of United Nations seems to have dwindled.
Europe itself set an unprecedented standard of diplomatic and economic cooperation by forming the European Union. For the first time in modern history multiple nations willingly adopted open boarders, a common currency, and collective institutions. Yet presently the union seems more like an imposition than an achievement.
What exactly that shift will look like remains to be seen. However, the process will be accelerated with the next global recession. A CNN poll showed most American CFO’s believe it will start within a year. Former Finance Minister Sartaj Aziz argues that “The West still has not recovered from the last recession of 2008.”
The West is currently at a philosophical crossroads. They believe in humanitarianism but when thousands of immigrants escaping catastrophic circumstances arrive at their gates they haves second thoughts. They champion privacy laws but fear of terrorism has them eavesdropping on citizens. They are ardent supporter of individual freedoms yet hate-crimes and xenophobia are rising. Even their commitment to democracy is being contradicted with their continued support for authoritarian leaders around the globe. Perhaps nothing exposes the withering of western “high moral ground” more than their half-hearted response to Journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
The truth is the West was never as liberal and morally evolved as they believed. There were always undercurrents of “unhealthy nationalism” and Far-Right tendencies beneath the splendor of progress and achievements. We forget it was less than a century ago that African Americans couldn’t vote. Belgium was committing war crimes in Congo, Britain was exploiting India, and Germany was annexing Europe. In fact, at the time, just about every western nation was earning its rightful place in history’s hall of shame.
So it mustn’t come as a surprise that the radical Right is making a comeback in the region. They have formed governments in Austria, Hungary and arguable The United States. Italy, Europe’s third largest economy, is likely to be next.
Far-Right elements have even begun coordinating globally. Nigel Farage, the British politician most credited with inflaming anti-EU hysteria that led to “Brexit”, was a guest in Donald Trump’s rally. Leader of Italy’s largest Far-Right party and current Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini just teamed up with Steve Bannon, a former Trump campaign mastermind. Bannon predicts that like The U.S., now Europe is “ripe for a tectonic shift.”
What exactly that shift will look like remains to be seen. However, the process will be accelerated with the next global recession. A CNN poll showed most American CFO’s believe it will start within a year. Former Finance Minister Sartaj Aziz argues that “The West still has not recovered from the last recession of 2008.” As a result, their ideological foundations are unhinged. So the next slump might be enough to tip the political atmosphere towards the Right.
During a recession unemployment rises and incomes reduce. Naturally, the frustrated population will want answers. That will be the perfect opportunity for hardliners like France’s Marie La Pen to criticize incumbent governments and offer their audiences the perfect scapegoats. Immigrants, minorities, and the Brussels-based bureaucracy of the EU are the usual suspects.
Far-Right governments have a tendency to break from international institutions that impede their agenda. Rules and regulations of organizations like the UN, NATO, and European Union could be seen as obstacles. Instead of collectivism they promote nationalism. Mr. Trump’s mantra of “Make America Great Again” and his constant contempt for the above-mentioned organizations is a typical sample of what’s to come.
The consequences of Mr. Trump’s presidency will be apparent in the long run. But it is clear that he is dividing America, empowering nationalists, and steering the country towards economic vulnerability and political instability. European Far-Right leaders, when given the chance, will most likely have a similarly turbulent rhetoric and policies.
But there is a silver lining. As the West becomes preoccupied with its internal matters, the developing world could find more autonomy to pursue their own goals. For example, this would be the ideal opportunity for Pakistan to increase economic cooperation with China, Iran, and Russia. For better or worst, the world as we know it is changing.
The writer can be reached at Skhanzada@ymail.com
Published in Daily Times, January 21st 2019.