How Radical Right Authoritarians Are Targeting Western Democracy

Radical right movements around the globe contribute to the authoritarian hybrid warfare in an effort to undermine the foundations of liberal democracy.
Top from left: President Trump shakes Russian President Putin’s hand in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018 (AP). Bottom from left: Attorney General William Barr and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Source: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)

Top from left: President Trump shakes Russian President Putin’s hand in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018 (AP). Bottom from left: Attorney General William Barr and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Source: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)

Dr. Chamila Liyanage is a Policy and Practitioner Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR) and a Researcher/Content Developer at Radical-R: Radicalisation Research, UK.

The passage of history seems to have taken an interesting trajectory. The Cold War ended almost three decades ago, anointing the United States as the world’s only remaining superpower. Yet it faced ethno-separatist conflicts that threatened to boil over, and the future of liberalism looked bleak. Ethnic conflicts in places such as former Yugoslavia, Georgia, East Timor, South Sudan, Moldova, and Azerbaijan revealed that ethno-cultural identities are easy to manipulate and provoke, causing intractable divisions and discord.

As this period of ethno-separatism ran its course, another identity movement – this time with a more religious flavor – emerged in the form of Islamic extremism, creating havoc in the post-9/11 world. This fourth wave of terrorism too may run its course, but identity movements in the form of right-wing populist nationalism are on the rise: President Trump’s own brand of populist nationalism in the United States, populist Brexit nationalism in the United Kingdom, the BJP’s Hindu nationalism in India and, in more extreme cases, Bolsonaro’s far-right populism in Brazil, Viktor Orbán’s far-right nationalism in Hungary, and Erdogan’s ultranationalist authoritarianism in Turkey.

If you take a closer look, what lies deep within recurring identity turmoil is not ethno-cultural or religious discord, but ideologues, demagogues, and their movements that hijack people’s wedge issues to create division. Divisive ideologies are based on a sense of insecurity that leads to scapegoating, advocating protectionism, and envisioning an idealistic utopia. This line of thinking and storytelling is deeply ingrained in many extremist movements.

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For example, Islamic jihadi extremism blames Western ‘infidels’ (unbelievers), creating a myth where the world’s 1.9 billion Muslims are under threat, and it offers a vision of a utopian Islamic caliphate as the solution. The radical right also seems to follow the same line of false reasoning: blaming sections of society or larger entities (migrants, political elites, economic partnerships, and political alliances), fabricating threats to culture and identity, and envisioning a utopian ethno-state that would preserve the so-called endangered native in-group.

This blog assesses the metapolitical strategy of the contemporary radical right in a context of authoritarian hybrid warfare, which is aimed at weakening the foundational values of democracy. The radical right proposes that politically correct and inclusive ideologies, such as neo-liberalism, are at odds with traditional ethno-cultures and, therefore, ethnic identities need divisive ideologies such as chauvinistic ethno-nationalism to save themselves from impending demographic annihilation in an increasingly globalized world.

Their ultimate aim is securing ethno-states. The radical right have adopted a metapolitical strategy to cultivate their worldviews in people rooted in a neo-liberal capitalist world and its way of life. The metapolitical strategy aims at weakening neo-liberal cultural dominance by undertaking a long-term ideological onslaught on its values. This onslaught is silently underway on countless message boards, chat rooms, forums, and even on chat apps for video gamers such as Discord.

The populist movements that have hijacked conservative politics in the United States and United Kingdom, the far-right regimes in Hungary and Brazil, Hindu nationalism in India, the appeal of the strongman leaders such as the newly elected president Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka – all these developments have been made possible by a revolt against liberal values that is boiling over at the grassroots level. Global radical right movements such as the alt-right, the Identitarian ideology, and radical traditionalism – an ideology promoted by fascist thinker, Julius Evola – represent the depth and breadth of the ideological currents deployed against liberal democracy. These active ideological movements are actively trying to turn the tide against the ‘politically correct’ liberals, egalitarians, and moderates, by undermining the basis of liberal democracy.

Metapolitics And Hybrid Warfare

The global rise of the radical right is closely related to our current epoch of global geopolitics, which started to take shape at the end of the Cold War and then took a rather precarious turn in the post-9/11 world. Once met with old-fashioned religious extremism, the West barrelled into many regime-change interventions in places such as Iraq, Libya, and Syria that don’t align with Western liberal values. Former geopolitical competitors, such as Russia, and rising challengers, such as China, were dragged into geopolitical undercurrents created by these regime-change interventions.

Faced with crippling Western economic sanctions, these powers were pushed into survival mode, and were positioned against the political hegemony of neo-liberalism and the power of the capitalist economic, political, and military alliances that help spearhead this new phase of globalization. The survival of these illiberal regimes depends on struggling against the global dominance of the Western economic and political order. Geopolitical power struggles that are rapidly taking shape in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Yemen, and in the South and East China sea, to mention a few, indicate counter currents against the Western-led world order. In fact, if the rise of the radical right amidst the current wave of populist nationalism is the tip of the iceberg, the entire iceberg is the contemporary global geopolitics, or the contest between the West and its authoritarian counterparts.

How does radical right metapolitics, on a deeper level, facilitate the geopolitical interests of illiberal regimes? Well, metapolitics – aims to corrode liberal democracies from within, reversing the socio-political culture in favor of illiberal, isolationist, and chauvinistic causes that would tear apart post-World War II Western economic and political alliances. The metapolitical strategy of the radical right goes hand-in-hand with hybrid warfare through cyberattacks, subversion and espionage, evidently employed by authoritarian regimes targeting Western liberal democracies. Both radical right metapolitics and authoritarian hybrid warfare share the same goal of weakening liberal democracies.

The ultimate metapolitical victory of weakening the socio-political basis of a democracy would, therefore, be the ultimate victory of authoritarian hybrid warfare itself. Illiberal regimes that are in a survival struggle against Western political and economic dominance seem to find a perfect partner in radical right metapolitics. In fact, radical right metapolitics ends up serving the aims of authoritarian hybrid warfare, contributing to declining public trust in a democratic political system through a barrage of an ideological, conspiratorial, and disinformation-based social media onslaught that aims to turn people against the fundamental values of liberal democracies.

This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.

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Opinion // Brazil / CARR / Donald Trump / Europe / Radical Right