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The West and the Rest: A Global (dis)order | Part 2

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The rise of Populism

Giovanni Stanga | Let’s proceed in assessing these global events and their relationship with the current economic system.  As for populism, it is crucial to  note that politics failed to prevent the concentration of wealth in the hands of few (the multinationals) and that the economic elites, the ‘technocrats’, took decisions ‘undemocratically’, dismissing the people’s will. Consequently, people progressively began to distrust the democratic institutions and their ability to respond effectively to their needs. With so many individuals feeling extremely powerless in this world, populists have been able to channel the people’s frustration by using a persuasive and easily understandable rhetoric. Their main political targets are the politico-economic elites of globalization and the national minorities, namely immigrants and refugees, both accused of being the chief responsible of the collective impoverishment, rising unemployment and the general worsening of the people’s living conditions. Paradoxically, in a time of global interconnectedness and multiculturalism, populism not only succeeded in reviving nationalism, but also broke with the traditional political scheme of Right and Left. Indeed, the latter is undergoing a structural crisis of political identity and proves unable to effectively reach the people with convincing projects. Consequently, the low-income workers that traditionally voted for left-wing political parties are more attracted by populists who emphasize their cultural integrity of the people under a common national culture and religion. Common people gradually lost trust in democracy’s institutions and its claimed illegitimate representatives. Consequently, authoritarian leaders such as Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Orban and Le Pen gained political prominence by advocating the return to a glorious past when the nation-state was a cohesive and homogenous politico-cultural entity. The peculiar fact is that their socio-economic, cultural and political conservativism is gaining popular ground in a time where global relations and connections at any level have never been so intense.

What is the bottom line of this demagogues’ overarching project? The protection of the ‘true’ people’s social status through economic measures that counter the downsides of the global market. Examples of these are the transfer of national industries to low-paid workforce countries, the bypassing of taxation, environmental and job regulative systems by big companies. This protectionism, which is based on high tariffs on imports, had been implemented worldwide from the 1929 Great Depression until the end of the Second World War. As Donald Trump is opposing free global trade, a downward spiral can occur in which the world countries engage into an economic war aimed to harm one another, risking to halt sustained growth and development. The advocators of the global economy were well aware that this pragmatic system would automatically produce winners and losers. But who are the ones that lost to the West and its economic policies, beside the populists’ supporters? The millions of immigrants coming to Europe from the Middle East who escape war and Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists, which spread in these countries as a resistance movement against Western economic colonialism first and globalization later on. Moreover, it should be noted that these two social groups are victims of the clash of civilization thesis. Indeed, the immigrants find a mostly hostile social environment in Europe, since the majority of them is Muslim and thus they are considered potential terrorists by the populists. In turn, the ones who are actively involved in the jihad are indoctrinated by a powerful anti-Western ideology which arose from the geo-political and economic policies pursued by the Western countries in these pivotal regions. As these phenomena are intertwined to one another, they both demonstrate the disastrous effects of the ruthless exploitation of natural resources, raw materials and human capital of Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia through direct or indirect control of these regions.

The World’s Animal Farm

From the 1860s until the outburst of the Great War, the Western world transformed into mass societies with expansionary and imperial aims. The Western politico-economic colonialism not only determined widening socio-economic gaps between the Western and the ‘Third World’ countries, but also prevented the formation of leading elites capable of carrying out the nation-states’ interests in the post-colonial period. Nevertheless, nowadays the Western mantra that economic growth and technological progress are endless seems faulty, considering the fact that the resources on our planet are limited and that environmental issues need to be addressed as crucial global issues by the world governments. The traditional categories of giving and getting have shaped how the Western world and especially Europe established their relations with the rest of the world. However, these are no longer valid. Our civilization has profited and enriched itself at the expense of all the other world countries that are currently impoverished, in deep debt or incapable of guaranteeing minimal livings standards to its citizens. The immigrants who flee their home countries to escape civil wars, persecutions or simply want to ameliorate their future and that of their children, find nonetheless a hostile environment, since they are accused with unfunded arguments of being job stealers, terrorists, criminals and trouble makers in general. Nonetheless, by analysing the decreasing natality rate in Europe, they could be a valuable source when actively involved in the labour market. They would represent new taxpayers that could sustain the social services and programs offered by the welfare state system. Being victims of the clash of civilization thesis, furthermore, they are regarded to be ‘inferior’ humans, since they are denied the possibility to benefit from the wealthy and well-being of the Western world, which has enriched itself throughout time behind their backs. This is the reason why borders are being closed, walls are being built and anti-immigration policies are fiercely pursued by the national governments.

To quote George Orwell from one of his most famous works, “Animals’ Farm”, the populists of the Western countries and their widespread supporters believe that “Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others”. How can we possibly argue that the former colonies’ populations that we have utterly exploited do not desire to have their fair share of socio-economic well-being? Our planet’s is comparable to a cake whose pieces have been unjustly distributed by the West, leaving only the crumbs to the rest of the world. Furthermore, statistics show that 56% of the worldwide refugees are hosted solely by nine states, namely Turkey, Lebanon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Iran and Pakistan: none of them belong to European and/or to Western countries, which nonetheless claim that their humanitarian burden is unbearable. Relief and aids can be useful in the short-run, but because it is mainly driven by other interests, structural changes such as the reform of the educational system need to be implemented to enhance socio-political awareness of Europeans and non-Europeans. This crucial step would promote a better understanding of the complexity of this global world, often dismissed by populists.

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