By: Dr Ayesha Khan
Is Populism Threatening the Liberal World Order?
“The roots of the once unchallengeable liberal world order are being shaken; populism has emerged to counter this world order.”
What in populism?
2. Rising populism
A threat to the liberal world order:
2.1 Trump’s election
2.3 Massive number of votes to AfD in Germany
2.4 Growing nationalism in countries like India
3. Era of triumph of the liberal world order:
3.1 End of the cold war: Victory of liberal capitalism
3.2 Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’
3.3 Ever-increasing globalization
4. Start of downfall of the liberal world order:
4.1. Economic downfall:
(a) 2008 financial crisis
(b) Rising unemployment
(c) Increasing account deficit: Imbalance of imports and exports
4.2. Other vices brought by the liberal world order:
(a) Global climate change
(b) Trans-boundary terrorism
() Cultural invasion
(d) Drugs and human trafficking
(e) Settlement problems due to mass migration
5. Shift towards populism:
6. What threats is populism posing to the liberal world order?
6.1 Border closure for immigrants
6.2 Cutting down investments
6.3 Greater chances of conflict due to non-cooperation and lack of dialogue
6.4 More space for terrorists and extremists
6.5 Rising regional organizations against the global ones
6.6 A setback to global research and education
6.7 More chances of dictatorship against the liberal democracy
“The rising threat of populism to the liberal world order can only be countered by a saner approach.”
The roots of the once unchallengeable liberal world order are being shaken; populism has emerged to counter this world order. This is not a toothless statement. There are many incidents to support the argument. The election of the populist president Donald Trump, much talked about Brexit, the massive votes gained by the AfD, the neo-Nazis in Germany’s election and the growing nationalism in countries like India are all but a testimony to this fact. No doubt, the liberal world order emerged victorious after the cold war. However, Francis Fukuyama was wrong to call it the End of History. The economic globalization promoted by the liberal world order not only led to severe economic crisis of 2008 and unemployment but also paved the way for many other evils. These include the global climate change, trans-border terrorism and drug-trafficking. Hence, in such a situation, populism gained popularity. It proved a saviour for those who were most severely affected by the liberal world order. Thus, in the present world, populism is threatening the liberal world order to an enormous level.
The most glaring example of rising populism is the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States. An inexperienced, unpredictable and a populist man who gained popularity by his rhetoric of “America First”, he was successful in convincing the people of America that the prevailing liberal order is the root cause of all their problems. He was against bridges and wanted to build walls. The common people suffering from a serious financial crisis and a rising unemployment were shown the dreams of a wonderland surrounded by walls. The most astonishing fact is that the people were convinced and Trump was elected the President of the United States.
However, there was much more of it coming. After his election as the President, Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate agreement, he has taken his country out of the Trans-Pacific Plan and his much talked about immigration ban is also a testimony to his populism.
Relying on this trend, more populist politics can be expected from Trump. In such a situation, when the world power has bowed down before populism against the liberal world order, it is easy to estimate the threat populism is posing to the liberal world order. Realizing this rising populism, Wolf Gang Schnabel is rightly concerned when he says, “I warn against fuelling cheap populism.”
Another very important proof of this threat posed by populism is “Brexit”. The Great Britain has decided to withdraw from the European Union which is the produce of the liberal world order. What Brexit means is that England no longer wants unchecked immigration to its territory. It wants to snatch the educational opportunities and the employment opportunities from the so-called ‘outsiders’ and return them to its natives. The 54% votes in favour of Brexit in a referendum shows that populism has emerged with a bang and is trying hard to replace the liberal world order. In this case, the liberalists are bound to cower over the threat posed by populism.
Additionally, the huge number of votes AfD, the neo-Nazi party, won in the recent German election darkens the situation further. This shows that general masses are fed up of the liberal world order. This no more attracts them. What appeals to them now is a populist approach. An approach that is against this liberal world order that is skeptic about the present globalization and that promotes xenophobia. This is the moment of concern as populism’s threat to the liberal world order cannot be denied.
Last but not least, rising nationalism in countries like India also shows the strengthening of populism. People are not ready to accept outsiders in their country neither do they tolerate people of other religions, caste or ethnicity. This is the extreme form of populism where xenophobia reaches to such a level as the people become suspicious about every unknown person and do not welcome the strangers. This is the very basic theme of liberal world order where countries are open for others to come, live, work and invest in other’s territory. However, this approach is now being threatened by the rising populism.
It was way back after the World War II when the conquest between the two world orders started. The one, communism, was full of checks, balances and restrictions. The other, capitalism, was the liberal one that promoted free market with no checks and balances. With the fall of the Soviet Union, capitalism won and Francis Fukuyama termed it “The End of History”.
According to him, the liberal world order that emerged after the cold war is an unchallenged final world order with no further movement to challenge it. Unfortunately, he was unaware at the time of the very strong populism movement that was going to pose a threat to this liberal world order in the future.
The liberal world order promoted free trade and free movement even across boundaries. It brought with it a wave of economic globalization. The developed countries started investing in the lesser developed ones. The free movement of goods, services and people started across the boundaries. The walls between the countries were replaced by bridges. The march of China from isolation to globalization is the best example to prove this fact.
Nevertheless, this liberal world order came with its costs as predicted by Karl Marx. The world order that promised economic prosperity led to a global financial crisis in 2008, the aftershocks of which can still be felt. Moreover, as the doors for foreigners were opened, the locals had to share their jobs and resources with the newcomers. This led the locals to dislike the foreigners and blame them for their unemployment. Additionally, the flow of foreign goods paralyzed the industries of the consumer countries creating a wide account deficit. The example of Pakistan is worth mentioning. Its markets are flooded with Chinese goods, its industries are toothless and the account deficit here is sky-high.
The story does not end here. This liberal world order paved the way for a global climate change where the under-developing countries have to pay the cost of industrialization in the developed ones. Terrorism, now, is not confined to particular countries. It has spread globally in the form of IS and other organizations. This liberal world order makes it easy for the terrorists to travel from country to country and spread their terror. Additionally, drug and human trafficking, cultural invasion and settlement problems due to mass migration are all the evils brought about by the liberal world order.
With all these shortcomings, the liberal world order was bound to be criticized. The general public blames the liberal world order for all their woes. The people are not willing to take this world order anymore. This fact is demonstrated by the rising number of bigots who not only hate the Muslims in the United States but also want the blacks to leave their country. The English want to quit any joint venture like the European Union, and the story goes on.
Resultantly, people now are more inclined towards populist leaders who promise to purify their land from the aliens. For this sake even the non-populist leaders are adopting such slogans as hit the emotions of the people deeply. This populist movement caused the victory of Trump and in Pakistan, it has changed even the extreme left parties to more or less rightists. The fact that is the norm of the day is that the more populist approach you have, the stronger chances are there for you to win public support.
“As such the rule (populism) is all about political expediency. The populists don’t think about the consequences, they even do not know what one step ahead lies.” – Vladimir Putin
It is, hence, a proven fact that the liberal world order is under grave threat from the rising populism. The borders once opened owing to the liberal world order are now being closed. Countries are now becoming a no go sign for the immigrants. In a crisis of civil wars and terrorism in different states, the space for the masses fleeing from atrocities is shrinking. This is a point of concern.
Moreover, the countries pursuing populist policies are among the world’s biggest investors. A lot of poor and developing countries depend on funds from these countries. Once populism gains ground, these funds and investments would be cut down. This will cost nothing to the developed countries as they have already exploited the resources of other countries but the developing ones may be deemed into a severe economic crunch.
In addition to this, populism means xenophobia. This means that no one is going to trust the other. Hence, there will be no chances of cooperation as promoted by the liberal world order. This lack of cooperation and dialogue can lead to conflict. In the present nuclear world, even a minor conflict can lead to devastation.
This lack of dialogue and cooperation is also creating a breeding space for terrorists and other extremist groups that are exploiting this opportunity to the fullest. Moreover, the rising regional organizations like SCO, ASEAN and BRICS against the global ones also demonstrate rising populism that is shrinking the scope of communication and dealings from a global level to a regional one.
Another very grave threat populism poses to the liberal world order is that to democracy. Liberal world order means democracy. This means everyone has an equal voice and the leader is bound to deliver. As opposed to this, a populist leader is an authoritative one. The examples of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Donald Trump are in front of us where these populist leaders work with impunity and believe in the absolute concentration of power.
“Besides the theocratic right, two other policies pose a threat to the liberal democracy: regressive populism and white supremist nationalism.” – Chip Berlet
Last but not least is the threat posed by populism to education and research that is promoted by the liberal world order. It was the liberal world order that opened the doors of the orientalist educational institutions for the occidents. Students and researchers went from their country to other countries with better opportunities of education and employment. Nevertheless, populism hampers this free flow of knowledge. Hence, populism in a number of ways is posing a grave threat to the liberal world order.
The liberal world order was once perceived as unchallengeable and the ultimate world order with no opponents. However, rising populism is proving this wrong in the form of Trump’s election, Brexit and the popularity of the AfD in Germany. No doubt, the liberal world order emerged victorious after the cold war and it led to an unceasing globalization. Nevertheless, globalization with its economic and other vices compelled the people to turn their faces away from the liberal world order. In search of a remedy, they were encountered with populism that promised to reverse all their sufferings that were due to the liberal world order. The closing of borders for immigrants, cutting down investments, lack of cooperation and dialogue, closing the doors for trans-boundary research and the rising threat to democracy by the dictatorial attitude of the populist leaders are all but some of the threats that populism poses to the liberal world order. As Benjamin Netanyahu says, “Populism is dangerous.”
In this world of rising populism, we can only hope that populism will not rise to such an extent as to crush the liberal world order completely. The rising threat of populism to the liberal world order can only be countered by a saner approach.