Resurgence of Right Wing Politics

May 19, 2016

Austria’s Election Is a Warning to the West–Resurgence of Right Wing Politics

by Sylvie Kauffmann

PARIS — On Monday, the Western world may well wake up to the news that, for the first time since the defeat of Nazism, a European country has democratically elected a far-right head of state. Norbert Hofer, of the Austrian Freedom Party, claimed 35 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election on April 24. Now he is heading into the second round on Sunday with the two mainstream parties having been eliminated from the runoff and the Social Democratic chancellor, Werner Faymann, having resigned.

One month later, Europeans may wake up to the news that British voters have decided, in their June 23 referendum, that their country should become the first member state to leave the European Union. Many observers fear that would be fatal to the European project itself.

And on April 24, 2017, exactly a year after Mr. Hofer’s first-round victory, the French may well wake up to the news that Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, has come out on top in the first round of France’s presidential election. That is what polls say we could expect if the election were held today.

In the meantime, it is not impossible that Donald J. Trump, however low his odds seem now, will have moved into the White House. These are not Orwellian scenarios. Signs of defiance toward the old democratic order are so numerous that the news of Mr. Hofer’s first-round victory hardly reached the front pages of European newspapers.

Remember when the election of President Kurt Waldheim in the 1980s, or the antics by the Freedom Party leader Jörg Haider in the 1990s were considered deeply disturbing? That was last century. Today, Austria’s weird politics are no longer isolated. They are part of a solid trend across Europe.

And not just Europe. The trend reaches across the Atlantic, too, with Trumpism threatening to split or take over the Republican Party.

Norbert Hofer, center, of the Austrian Freedom Party, took 35 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election. CreditChristian Bruna/European Pressphoto Agency

Far-right populist movements have joined governing coalitions in Finland and Norway. They influence the political agenda in Denmark and the Netherlands. In Germany, which seemed immune from that disease, the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany recently scored 12 percent to 24 percent of the vote in three state elections. In Croatia, the minister of culture is trying to rehabilitate the fascist ideas of the Ustashe.

Those developments have generally been seen as negative but marginal — the center was still holding. Then the “illiberal wave” swept Central Europe, following the model of the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban. Poland and Slovakia are now also ruled by populist, anti-immigration, euroskeptic parties. The election of a far-right Austrian president would add a new dimension, extending the phenomenon beyond the post-Communist space where populist governments could be seen as a transitional stage for young democracies. Austria is not new Europe. It is old Europe.

We struggle to explain the rise of the far right in its various guises. Immigration is important, but the dynamics predated the refugee crisis. The euro crisis has not helped. High unemployment is crucial in France and Austria, but not an issue in Britain. Chaos in the Arab world, following the fiasco of the American-led invasion of Iraq, fuels new Middle East wars and terrorist attacks in Europe, adding to feelings of insecurity. Globalization, the loss of middle-class jobs, the rise of inequality and anxiety over the European social model have left immense frustration. Everywhere, anger toward ruling elites and mainstream institutions is patent.

Sound familiar? Yes, this is a trans-Atlantic phenomenon. Here and there, surfing on this anger, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson or Marine Le Pen utter statements that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. By accepting daily verbal assaults on immigrants (“They bring disease”), the European Union (“like Hitler,” it wants to impose one authority over Europe), Islam (not part of Europe; Muslims should not be allowed into the United States), torture (bring it back), we are legitimizing a public discourse that may, one day, translate into political decisions.

Like most European center-right or center-left leaders, President Obama understands this. On the day after the first round of Austria’s election, he warned in a speech in Hanover, Germany, against “the creeping emergence of the kind of politics that the European project was founded to reject: an us-versus-them mentality that tries to blame our problems on the other.” “Our progress,” he pointed out, “is not inevitable.”


As multiple forces rip apart the liberal order, what is lacking from Washington, though, is an acknowledgment of the global and historic dimension of this phenomenon. This is not only about Europe. The symptoms that characterize the rise of Trumpism are the same as those of “the creeping emergence” Mr. Obama described. Recently, Pope Francis urged leaders to “update the idea of Europe.” Well, the broader idea of the West also badly needs an update.

On August 14, 1941, with Europe engulfed by war, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met aboard the American cruiser Augusta and drafted the Atlantic Charter. This brief statement established eight common principles on which the two leaders based “their hopes for a better future of the world.” For decades, those principles, among them “freedom from fear and want” and “improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security,” would be seen as the inspiration of the free world. These were brave, progressive goals then. Now they deserve an update.

President Obama, we are told, is working on his legacy; visits to Cuba and Hiroshima are certainly appropriate. But there is another mission to embark on with Europeans. Or the man celebrated in 2008 as the first black American to be elected president will risk going down in history as the last American leader to preside over a Western democratic order.

8 thoughts on “Resurgence of Right Wing Politics

  1. Voters in Europe and The United States are tired of liberalism. They want leaders who are tough on terrorism, radical Islam and can protect their jobs. –Din Merican

  2. For Malaysia, the sooner we move toward conservative positions that are not sexy but durable, the better we would be in the future: Merdeka, traditions, and treat everyone fairly. Merdeka means taking personal responsibility and rejecting interference from whole-sale foreign culture and foreign political pressure. Tradition means to affirm what we have now and move forward only based on what we have — no sea change or revolution. Treating everyone fairly means sticking to the Constitution’s Article 8, which requires laws to treat everyone equally; a corollary of Article 8 is that government’s scope is limited so that it deals with only areas it can treat everyone equally and abstains from the rest.

    Political thoughts that are proven wrong in the past or not yet proven mostly true should be thrown into the dustbin of history: social democracy and Islamism.

    As to the corruption that is the hot topic nowadays, we could tame corruption to lesser degree once we have put in place the conservative positions.

    Note that had the opposition agreed to the above conservative positions as the first priority of their political goals, they would not have been hypnotized by Dr. Mahathir and Anwar would not have to lament from jail about mindless support for Citizen’s Declaration.

  3. Several years ago, i was discussing the ‘Death of Multiculturalism’ with my eldest son who had just completed his Masters in Conflict Resolution and Arbitration. We had a robust debate as to what it all meant, but we finally agreed that it will lead to an increasingly illiberal form of governance in the Western Hemisphere. We didn’t bother about ’emerging economies’, and laughed at terms like BRICS.

    We also discussed (over some excellent ‘haram’ post-dinner wine) about the levels of tolerance that ‘typical’ secular western cultures – steeped in Greco-Christian traditions (even sans the religious aspects), will allow – before reacting negatively to the ‘blunderbuss’ approach and moral relativism of the ultra-Liberal agenda.

    I think it’s a misnomer to label the Far Right as the progenitors of the conflict or a bogeyman. Just take a good look at the humongous problems that were swept under the carpet by Accepting the Unacceptable. Sensitivity gone awry. Legalistic Enforcement in place of Compassion.

    It is easy to point at the West’s culpability in messing things up in the rest of the world – but it is also a fact that the Third World bear a significant proportion of the blame by misgovernance, corruption, wastage, political carnage, monumental environmental mishaps and self imposed economic rapine-ruin.

    I don’t wanna to delve into the very complex issues of the aforementioned meltdown, and i think this link would be a worthy read:

    I am no means “Right or Left”, and neither am i a “Centrist” – for all these terms are inadequate and idiotic. Ambidextrous should be the Operative word, okay?

    What is more important is to understand the Dignity of Difference and work towards achievable goals, to reduce class disparity as much as possible and to work on realistic economic opportunities. All these in an incremental fashion, for the streets are not paved in Gold, nor the Human Psyche reducible into mechanical stereotypes and conflated abstractions.

    I would rather a Brexit, than a Monolithic Europe full of unattainable fake ‘Ideals’.

  4. It’s scary if Malaysia ever ends up under the control of the extreme right wing people. Almost everything, in particular, policies and laws, will be set in disfavour of the majority and soon after that dictatorship will follow. Let’s pray that such a situation will never ever happen in this country.

  5. “It’s scary if Malaysia ever ends up under the control of the extreme right wing people…”

    Um actually , extreme right wing people already control Malaysia and Harry’s Paradise. See the difference between the two ?

    We are actually doing this ?

    One of the reasons I hate American politics made worse during election seasons is because we get this whole Left/Right fear mongering. You should hear these old Indian uncles ejaculate their love for Trump their disdain for Obama and how the left is destroying America and the world by coddling Islam.

    Comparatively there is very little difference between the DNC and GOP. Their main points of departure is the so called Culture War that dumb Americans think is some existential threat to their liberty and freedom. This is reflected in the DNC and GOP. Like Chomsky said, these political parties are like two Mafia families.

    Conservative and liberal positions are reflected in the DNC and GOP positions but it is not hardwired in any sense of the word. Which is why some of Trump’s foreign policy ideas are conservative but something liberals could support and Hillary’s are supposed to be liberal but find favour with conservatives.

    There is no Right/Left politics in America only Establishment politics. Which is why we have so called conservative think tanks and opinion makers sniffing around Hillary and left wing mouth pieces conflicted about Trump.

    Which is also why Trump gets all this love from racists , fascists and misogynists who think he’s going to build a wall, empower the police and fuck the feminists – this last part one assumes figuratively not literally but one can never tell with these men’s rights types.

    These same folks don’t think of his other policy ideas which is the stuff of a liberal’s wet dream. Those ideas of his which appeals to the nationalistic, white power types are not going to stop making immigrant communities more hard working, socially mobile or income generating with exception of those Muslims in Europe who seems immune to the American dream which their brethren in the US seem enamoured with, which is why they are the more successful Muslim émigrés in the world.

    Building a wall will not suddenly create interest in jobs that some white American males have no interest in. Neither will it stop rape. You think Apple or any other Big Corp is going to keep jobs in a country where “most privileged” could be applied to its working class or move to country where cheap labour is plentiful and the population is amenable to the seductions of Evangelism ?

    Likewise disenfranchised white people in Europe and lets face facts its mostly disenfranchised white people who think that winning the culture war is going to make them more competitive or stop crime or stop the CRAZY political correctness.

    Well it may be effective in stopping political correctness but they are going to find out that their problems go beyond some loud mouthed Muslims in their country, there, because of the foreign policies that their leaders endorse or the systemic inequalities that they mistakenly assume are “conservative” (sic) positions.

    What does this mean ? It means most folks do not understand or care to discover what American conservatism really means esp not Americans …and oh Europeans aren’t as smart as they think they are.

    The so-called rise of right wing (sic) leaders is not a sign that liberalism or multiculturalism has failed but rather that hegemonic interests are under threat from the very figures they nurture. It is merely the System adjusting itself unless, real Systemic policies supplant the entrenched ones.

  6. The Far Right is already in power in Hungary, with dire consequences for its
    Roma (“Gypsy”) minority.
    In WW2, Hungary had a strong fascist movement, the Arrow Cross, and fought on the Eastern Front on the side of Nazi Germany.

  7. Thousand upon thousands of immigrants and refugees, radical Muslims, job losses etc. are the RESULT of policies and not the CAUSE of the sorry state of Europe.

    The rise of the far right in this article is only the beginning… when the first one appeared in Greece (Golden Dawn?) they came on with all cylinders firing, vowing to put their country right… but like so many before them, they chose to put emotion before reason and lost their focus. Let’s see if these new ones are any better.

    Europe will self-destruct unless its people tackle the causes of the madness initiated by their elected representatives.

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