top of page

The Global Political Climate of the Far-Right

By Max Soh

Table of Contents







The Influence of the Tea Party

Implications for the Future: Effects of Far-Right Retrogression

The Big Picture: The Intensification of Illiberal Democracies




A promise of national and economic sovereignty for the disenfranchised through the formation of cultural homogeneity fueled by an aversion to changing demographics – a promise championed through the employing of tactics such as silencing and vilifying critics, and tactics of playing to the worst instincts of supporters – this is a picture that has been characterized by scholars as the ethos of the American Tea Party movement(1). Yet, this core sentiment of the Tea Party movement is hardly isolated to the United States. As the following seeks to argue, right-wing nationalist sentiment is not only evident around the world, but rather also gaining traction. The following discourse is primarily an analysis of the climate of such right-wing nationalist movements around the world, but it also aims to evaluate if the rise of the American Tea Party has played a role in the development of such groups worldwide.


The term “far-right nationalism” has been debated, and there is no one fixed definition(2). However, scholars have identified a few traits of “far-right nationalists” that are common in many groups and movements that are both colloquially and academically known as the “far right”. One such scholar is the political scientist, Roger Eatwell, who has identified ten characteristics common to far-right nationalist groups(3). They include:

  1. The “single issue thesis” – a trait of uniting behind one or two major issues (i.e. immigration);

  2. The “protest thesis” – a trait of protesting parties or groups who are viewed as “mainstream” or “establishment”, and the push away from what is considered “mainstream” or “establishment”;

  3. (3) The “social breakdown thesis” – a distaste for current social structures and a belief that current social structures are “breaking down” and that the solution is tribalism and a return to “family and traditional values”;

  4. The “reverse post-material thesis” – the belief that left-wing establishment parties are to blame for a “liberalization” of social structures, which according to the far-right, are breaking down;

  5. The “economic interest thesis” – the trait of feeling economically disenfranchised;

  6. The “political opportunity structure thesis” – the feeling of legitimacy in participating in “far-right” groups due to issues that are widely deemed by both the right and the left as current social problems;

  7. The “mediatization thesis” – the appeal to media outlets and actors that only espouse far-right beliefs (i.e. importance of notions of tribalism and “family values”), and the subsequent dismissal of media outlets and actors that do not correlate with such far-right beliefs;

  8. The “national tradition thesis” – the association with a “national tradition” (i.e. an era from a country’s past, particular values viewed as “traditional”, etc.) – that they hope to further define;

  9. The “programmatic thesis” – the belief that values which are associated as far-right are inseparable with notions that are more ubiquitous (i.e. the belief that anti-migrant sentiment is required for freedom, etc.); and

  10. The “charismatic leader thesis” – the trait of following a common leader – one who is usually seen as holding a given far-right group together(4).

Eatwell’s ten characteristics of far-right groups have proven useful in previous analyses(5) of the far-right, and shall be employed in the current discourse as a definition of far-right nationalism in analyzing the recent rise of such groups. However, prior to such analysis, it is important to first turn to an outline of recent occurrences of far-right nationalist uprisings to attain a sense of the global political climate of such uprisings. Below are just some examples of the rise of groups that portray far-right nationalism in recent years.


  • The United Kingdom and The Brexit Referendum

Approximately four and a half months before the shock election of Donald Trump, the United Kingdom provided its own surprise to the world through its decision to leave the European Union – a move which had tremendous support and assistance by U.K. far-right nationalists groups – many of whom employed fearmongering tactics such as painting a picture of a United Kingdom “out of control” with refugees, and posters that resembled 1930 anti-Semitic propaganda(6). Most prominently among such groups included the United Kingdom Independence Party – a group that is currently the third largest party in the British parliament after it garnered 3.8 million votes in the 2015 elections – a 9.5% increase from what it garnered in the 2010 elections – which was also the largest increase by a political party in U.K. election history(7).

  • The Philippines and the Election of Rodrigo Duterte

A week later, the Philippines swore in their 16th President(8) – Rodrigo Duterte – a man who won the presidency by receiving 39% of the electorate (15% higher than his closest rivals)(9), and a man who has been nicknamed the “Trump of the East” for his frequent outlandish and vulgar comments and for his campaign that ran on a promise of “law and order”(10). Since his election, Duterte has taken measures mirroring that of the worst authoritarian regimes – including the orchestration and condoning of 7,000 extrajudicial killings(11). He has also denounced traditional allies such as the United Nations after the U.N. criticized Duterte for his use of lethal force(12).

  • Poland and the Rise of the Law and Justice Party

A few months later in October, the Polish parliament brushes off critiques from the European Union charging the Polish government of weakening democratic institutions through passing legislation that diminishes check and balances on the government(13). It may not have been coincidence that this dismissal by the Polish parliament came two days after the one-year anniversary of the election that saw the rise of the Law and Justice party come to power in Poland – a party that ran on a promise of economic growth for Poland’s rural poor who felt left out in the midst of Polish economic growth, and a party whose leader has openly declared Muslims as a threat to Poland’s “Catholic heritage”(14).

  • The Election of Trump

In November, while many decried the election of Donald Trump, right-wing nationalist groups celebrated.

  • In Australia, members of the far-right One Nation Party were seen jubilant and celebrating with champagne at the announcement of Trump’s victory(15).

  • In South Africa, white nationalists hailed Trump’s victory as a sign of optimism, with some declaring the former reality TV star as a “new hope for white South Africans”(16).

  • In India, Hindu nationalists who share in Trump’s anti-Muslim sentiments were seen reveling in a Trump win on election night through the burning of ritual offerings in front of giant portraits of the former real estate businessman(17). For such groups, Trump’s victory was a continuation of what they perceive as a political climate continuing in their favor(18) – with their own prime minister identifying as a Hindu nationalist who came to power through the rise of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – a group that ran on a philosophy of “Hindutva” – the notion that India is the land of Hindus only(19).

  • In Russia, president Vladimir Putin who immediately signaled his approval of the results by state TV switching coverage of American politics as a “fraud” to acclamations of the triumph of the “man of the people”(20). This would not be Putin’s first celebration of the week(21). Just a few days before the U.S. election, Bulgaria voted in a pro-Russian political novice who ran on an anti-migrant platform(22). On that same day, the Republic of Moldova elected a pro-Moscow political outsider(23). Putin himself has been regarded as a nationalist tyrant – crushing political rivals and declaring any sign of opposition as a siege from “overbearing liberal values and globalization”(24).


  • The Netherlands and the Close-Election of Geert Wilders

March 15 – the world awaited the results of the Dutch parliamentary elections(25). After what seemed as a year for the far-right in 2016, the elections in the Netherlands was rendered by many as 2017’s first litmus test for the state of nationalist sentiment(26). While the far-right nationalist candidate, Geert Wilders – a candidate who promised to “de-Islamicize” the Netherlands and pull the Dutch out of the EU if elected, did not succeed in gaining victory, his party finished second and in fact gained five seats from the previous election(27). This occurrence of right-wing nationalist groups not ceasing power but still gaining traction in elections was one common pattern for the year with elections such as ones held in France and Germany.

  • France and the Rise of the National Front

Just two months after the Dutch elections, 11 million French voters casted their ballots for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and her National Front party – a group that has espoused anti-migrant, anti-establishment, and anti-Semitic rhetoric(28). While not enough to win the election, the 11 million votes for the National Front still outperformed itself compared to previous elections – with the status of “frontrunner” in the first round of votes(29) and gaining 35% of the second round of elections – its highest performance(30).

  • Germany and the Rise of the AfD

Similarly, later in the year, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) – an anti-EU, anti-multicultural party that promotes a revisionist history of the two world wars, while not winning the election, would still become the first far-right party to enter parliament since WWII after attaining 12.6% of the vote(31). While some will argue that the 87 seats the AfD has gained through the 2017 election is not enough to have an immediate major effect on overall proceedings of the German parliament, the AfD still remains after the 2017 election as the third largest party in the Bundestag and many are in agreement that this has given the German far-right its biggest platform to alter the political tone of German politics(32).

  • Turkey and the Presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdogan

While individuals such as Le Pen were in the midst of mobilizing for the advancement of far-right nationalist sentiment, approximately 2,000 miles away, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was making a move of his own. Still under a state of emergency from a failed coup launched by his political rivals in 2016, Erdogan called for a referendum in April of this year – a move that worked in his favor – granting Erdogan more executive powers as president, particularly the ability to appoint high-level positions in the judiciary – diminishing systems of checks and balances in the Turkish parliament(33). Erdogan has thus far used his newly granted powers to crack down on further political rivals, censor media outlets that do not share with the opinions of his party, and limit the participation of civil society – weakening democratic institutions(34). It is thus no surprise that Erdogan would go on a year later to win reelection(35).

  • Japan and the Re-election of Shinzo Abe

A month after the AfD raised its head in the September German elections in a way that has not been witnessed since WWII, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was making a similar wave of nationalism in Japan in a way also not witnessed since the WWII era(36). Fresh off a victory from a snap election he called in October, Abe not only won reelection, but also garnered enough votes to increase his two-thirds governing supermajority(37). This has many worried about far-right nationalism to be concerned because Abe came to power in 2012 on a significantly nationalist platform – with a promise to increase national security through a more robust defense posture(38). Abe also often promoted a revisionist history of his country – energizing far-right groups(39). Many such groups often target their harassment towards Chinese and/or Korean minorities within Japan, as well as journalist who do not share with their views, and many note that such groups became much more vocal after the 2012 election of Abe(40). Yet, another reason why Abe’s reelection is cause for concern is due to his long-espoused desire to amend Article 9 of the Japanese constitution – a move that if amended to Abe’s liking, would permit the government to use force to settle international disputes(41). Abe has also long espoused passing legislation known as the anti-terror bill – a bill that if codified, would give the state the right to crack down on what it deems as terrorists agendas – potentially stifling the work of journalists, civil society, and ultimately, freedom of speech(42).


January 20 – The one year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration as President, and the United States government is shut down(43). At the heart of the gridlock lay a move made by Trump several months prior when he announced that he would be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program – an Obama era policy that provides potential amnesty to people who were brought to the U.S. without “documents” as a child(44). Since his announcement, Washington had been in a standstill – with Trump requiring funding for his border wall in exchange for the continuation of the DACA program – leading to the inability to keep the government funded(45). While many have rendered Trump’s border wall as illogical, nationalist groups around the world have done Trump’s bidding by proposing their own version of border walls to keep out migrants.

  • Argentina and Trump-esque Legislation in the Argentine Parliament

One such example may be seen with the Argentine legislator, Alfredo Olmedo, who made headlines in February of the previous year by announcing a proposal for a wall to keep people from poorer Latin American countries from entering Argentina(46). While Olmedo remains as the only Argentine legislator who is in favor of the construction of a physical wall, it must be mentioned, that he is by no means the only Argentinian politician who holds Trump-like anti-migrant policies. The Argentine president, Mauricio Macri, has recently pushed through a decree without checks and balances from the Argentine parliament that will make it both harder for migrants to come in and easier for officials to deport migrants(47). Reminiscent of Trump’s rhetoric, Macri has cited crime as the reason for his recent decree and has quoted statistics that are non-factual and baseless(48).

  • Italy and the Election of the Five Star and Northern League Parties

In June, the world witnessed the newly elected Italian government utilize the Mediterranean as a wall to deny asylum to over 600 marooned refugees stranded at sea(49). While unjust, the move did not come as a surprise as factions of the newly elected Italian government won on a highly anti-migrant platform(50). With no party able to secure the required 40% of the vote during elections, the party receiving the most votes, the Five Star Party, formed a coalition with the Northern League Party – two groups that despite differences share in their appeal to many voters living in poverty, their desire to punish Italian businesses that move overseas, and in their anti-EU and anti-migrant sentiments(51). This new face of Italy’s government especially made headlines as just several years ago, Italy was viewed by many as a Bastian of left-wing values(52).

  • Hungary and the Re-election of Victor Orban

However, one of the most prominent examples of the employment of a rhetoric of othering through the formation of walls may be seen in the Hungarian prime minister, Victor Orban. With already 200 miles of fencing covering the length of two of its shared borders(53), Orban has long been touted as one of the hardest far-right European nationalist in power, and April of this year saw his ascendency even further to the right, when voters granted Orban a third term and enhanced his two-third majority in parliament(54). Since his election in 2010, Orban has not only funded anti-migrant and pro-xenophobic rhetoric and initiatives – including the launch of a nation-wide campaign promoting the preservation of “Hungarian culture” and denying the EU mandate to take in a set refugee quota required of all EU members(55), but also Orban has been seeking to weaken democratic institutions by adopting a new constitution which consolidates more power within parliament(56). Since his reelection in April, Orban has extended his antimigrant rhetoric by proposing bills that, if codified, would criminalize individuals and groups seeking to assist asylum seekers(57).


Having listed several examples of the rise of the far-right in recent years, we may now shift to analyze the trends and events that led to this rise of far-right nationalism. While a list of such trends and events vary amongst scholars, most research has agreed that the following were indispensable to how the far-right has gained its recent level of prominence: a global financial downturn, a sharp increase in migration, and the rise and advances in technology.

  • A Global Financial Downturn

This does not just refer to the 2008 recession – although it is a significant factor. What is meant here by the “global financial downturn” is the reference to pockets of economic unrest around the world – largely spawned by the 2008 recession, but also by other factors - that has led to feelings of economic disenfranchisement (the “economic interest thesis”), which is not only a key characteristic of far-right groups, but also a factor that has led to the growing traction of far-right groups(58). Since the 1980s and the 1990s, when far-right movements were still considered as “fringe groups”, an important shift began to occur in such groups – a shift to an economic message – playing to poorer voters and economic ideals(59).

When markets on Wall Street collapsed in 2008, and when interest rates on government bonds in Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Cypress went through the roof a year later, not only did access to jobs, welfare, and pensions begin to diminish and inequality widen – trust in institutions such as the European Union began to erode as well(60). This was fodder for far-right nationalists who had long preached distrust in the establishment (the “protest thesis”), and who especially pointed the finger at more liberal ideals of globalism as the cause for what they claim as the failure of the establishment (the “reverse post-material thesis”)(61, 62). It is noteworthy to mention that while much animosity by far-right groups has been targeted at the left, scholars note that it is the “establishment” in general – whether right or left – that has borne the brunt of far-right sentiment. Political scientists have noted that while the far-right has benefited from many voters crossing over from left-wing parties, the majority of the newer members of far-right affiliations formerly identified as belonging to political groups that are deemed as “center-right”(63).

The global recession was a significant factor in enhancing the anxieties that drive individuals to adopt more extreme views such as the ones espoused by the far-right. However, as mentioned, the 2008 market crash was not the only economic determinant of such anxieties. Not only is the economy a consistent determinant of individual voting patterns(64), but in many countries that had already been experiencing poor economic conditions, the global recession of 2008 and a perceived sluggish growth thereafter were just additional reasons to elect far-right nationalist leaders(65). This was especially the case in the election of Duterte in the Philippines(66).

  • A Sharp Increase in Migration

Shortly after the beginnings of the global financial downturn in 2008/2009, the world began to witness one of the worst humanitarian disasters of the 21st century – the Syrian civil war – leading to the forced migration of 5.6 million people and millions more displaced internally(67). Groups by the hundreds began arriving on the shores of Southern European coasts – attempting to make their way north in search of a better life. For many on the far-right who hold both anti-migrant and anti-Islamic views, the sharp rise of Muslim seeking asylum in the European continent was an opportunity for outreach and expanding their base(68). This perhaps marks the fundamental distinction of far-right economics – the far-right depicts migrants as the cause of economic hardships, and often claim that a strong economy will have to adopt policies that diminishes the presence and entrance of migrants – be they immigrants, refugees, or asylum seekers(69).

This combination of outreach to the domestic poor combined with anti-migrant sentiment has been at the core of far-right beliefs for the last few decades, and it is no question that far-right despots have capitalized on the global recession followed by an influx of migrants from events such as the Syrian War to catapult their views more prominently into the public square. Research has shown that the surge of migrants and refugees between 2011 and 2015 and the economic crisis of the Eurozone just a few years prior, are by far the two most dominant reasons why voters in Europe have chosen far-right groups in recent years – evidence of the “single issue thesis” and the “political opportunity structure thesis”(70). As outlined, the two main talking points that bind Le Pen, Orban, members of Italy’s Northern League Party, leaders of the U.K. Independence Party, members of the AfD party, and leaders of the Polish Law and Justice Party are their disdain for the European Union and their contempt for migrants and refugees(71). For such anti-establishment firebrands of the right, scenes of platforms and train stations overcrowded with migrants in European cities which immediately followed a Eurozone on the brink of crisis were dream propaganda tools to depict a “crumbling European culture” (the “social breakdown thesis”)(72) - an opportunity to push for the glorification of past eras of fascism (the “national tradition thesis”), and a means to play on the worries and xenophobia of citizens(73). It is important to emphasize the term “propaganda” as studies show that many far-right talking points portraying migration as a negative phenomenon are fabricated or exaggerated, and that the truth is migration usually helps benefits a host country(74).

  • The Rise and Advances in Technology

With the advent of social media and advances in internet capabilities, Trump is by no means the first on the far-right to utilize tools such as twitter to advance far-right sentiment. Prior to the political rise of the former real estate businessman, India’s Modi was the number one most re-tweeted political figure(75). Observers have also noted that Modi’s utilization of social media and technology was one of the main factors that led to his election in 2014(76). Approximately two years after Modi’s election in 2014, the world witnessed another far-right nationalist utilize technology to maintain power when then Prime Minister (now President) Erdogan, in the midst of a coup that was attempting to overthrow him, used Facetime to mobilize supporters(77). His supporters, with the help of tools such as Facebook Live, were then able to organize quickly in the streets(78). The coup ultimately failed(79). Two years after the Turkish failed coup, Matteo Salvini, leader of the fascist Northern League Party in Italy, was quick to credit the Internet and social media for his party’s second place finish(80).

Scholars have noted the role of technology in the rise of the far-right(81) – particularly with the rise of Internet usage. In the past two decades, world internet penetration has jumped globally from about 20% to 60%(82). While having numerous advantages, the internet has also allowed for more siloed individualizations – increasingly separating people out into their own “atomized” internet worlds(83) – giving people what they want to hear(84). It is also true that the Internet and the advent of social media has also allowed for a vast array of diverse perspectives; however, it is the combination of these two realities that has allowed far-right demagogues to capitalize upon the phrase “fake news”. As the expanse of information has become innumerable, so too has it become easier for tyrants to pick and choose media that suits their beliefs – and to crack down on sources that say otherwise (the “mediatization thesis”)(85).

Having noted these main factors leading to the current state of global far-right nationalism, we may now return to one of the main questions of this discourse: how did America’s own far-right nationalists – the Tea Party – influence the current prominence of far-right nationalism globally.

The Influence of the Tea Party

The Tea Party grew out of American conservative dissatisfaction for Obama era policies(86). Through conference calls and conventions(87), funded by billionaire conservative elites(88), and inspired by a rant by right-wing pundit Rick Santelli’s call for a “modern tea party”(89), the American Tea Party movement has been on a mission to push for their agenda – one that not only has rancor for policies of the left – policies that many in the Tea Party call as antithetical to “traditional values”, but one that also decries the expansion of rights to minorities and migrants who in their eyes are receiving “handouts” – an agenda that calls for a return to a previous era of laissez faire government – and whether they would like to confess – an era when minorities had less access to rights(90). With such an agenda, the American Tea Party movement has aligned themselves with afore mentioned far-right nationalists around the world(91). However, the American Tea Party does not only have commonality with global far-right movements – the American Tea Party has helped shape the climate of such movements – both now and possibly for the future. They have done so in two ways.

First – there was the rise of Trump and the indispensable role of the Tea Party in his election(92). In 2015, when Trump announced his run for the oval office, many pundits were skeptical of his chances not only due to Trump’s lack of political experience or his outlandish remarks, but also because, at the time, it was arduous to perceive how a long-time supporter of left-wing views who espoused policies such as repealing the Affordable Care Act but replacing it with a form of universal healthcare would fit the mold of what Tea Partiers rendered as traditional principles of “family values” or limited government(93). In addition, Tea Party leaders in the early days of the Trump candidacy would openly excoriate Trump for his braggadocious style and pursuance of self-interests but would find themselves jubilant a year later on election night(94). For many, the switch to a “never-Trump” to a vote for the former reality TV star was due to his willingness to take an “at-all-costs” approach in pursuing anti-migrant policies, and a disdain for Hillary Clinton(95). Yet, while some may not have noticed it at the time, the willingness of many in the Tea Party to go with Trump, despite his numerous qualities and positions that would go contrary to the ethos of traditional conservatism, would not only lead to the election of Trump – an election that would embolden far-right nationalists around the world, but also to an international platform for groups in the United States who have been espousing far-right rhetoric long before Trump’s bid for the presidency, or for that matter, long before the rise of the Tea Party.

Shortly after the November elections, two hundred individuals gathered a few blocks from the White House – members of what is now known as the “alt-right” – an internet based white supremacists faction who espouse neo-Nazi views and propaganda(96). They gathered to express support for Trump – the first time they have openly gathered to support a presidential candidate of one of the two major U.S. political parties(97). Formerly a fringe on the “dark web”, the “alt right” have gained attention in recent years primarily due to the rise of Trump – a rise galvanized by the Tea Party. While leaders of the Tea Party movement may be quick to criticize and distance themselves from the explicit WWII-era anti-Semitic racism of the “alt-right”, the truth is that according to many on the “alt-right”, the Tea Party’s message of Obama as a “Muslim terrorist” providing “handouts to undeserving migrants and poor people”, and the media’s coverage of the Tea Party on cable news, provided the alt-right with a prime model to follow(98). This is evident from remarks made by Steve Bannon, Trump’s first pick for White House Strategist and founder of a leading “alt right” website (Breitbart) - when Bannon said that a “global tea party movement is underway” – one that, in his words, would defend “western culture” against “radical Islam”(99).

The support of Trump and the emboldening of the “alt-right” – leading to Trump’s election and subsequently an international platform for far-right talking points, was just the first way by which the Tea Party movement has contributed to the climate of the global far-right. The second is through the continuous support by the Tea Party for Trump’s policies as president – especially in international affairs. So far in the 18 months of Trump’s presidency, he has called for a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries(100), pulled the United States out of cornerstone international treaties and institutions – including the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, and the United Nations Human Rights Council(101), praised adversaries while debasing allies(102), and initiated trade wars with key trading partners including China, Canada, Mexico and the EU(103). Furthermore, Trump has appointed key members of his administration to implement his policies – some of whom are self-identified affiliates of the Tea Party movement – including his recent pick for top diplomat – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo(104).

These steps by the Trump administration are more than just “America First” or “America Alone”, they are a signal of isolationism, and more significantly of retrogression – a retrogression to a time when world powers placed competition over cooperation and self-interest over altruism(105). With the rise of nationalist governments around the world, Trump’s foreign policy, backed by Tea Party affiliates, will only encourage such governments to double down in their path towards retrogression(106).

Implications for the Future: Effects of Far-Right Retrogression

Such retrogressive steps will inevitably have consequences on the global political climate going forward. The first foreseeable effect is an immediate reshuffling of international powers. For instance, Trump’s stance on issues pertaining to the promotion of security – particularly his withdrawal from the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal and his recent commendations of Putin at the Helsinki summit, have already provoked U.S. allies such as members of NATO (whom Trump abraded before meeting Putin)(107). The former Defense and Foreign Minister of Poland, for example, recently commented that the United States can no longer be viewed as a reliable partner if a crisis involving Russia were to occur(108). Many commentators have noted that Trump’s ruffling of NATO allies plays into the hands of Putin in a way that would empower Moscow to enhance Putin’s agenda. Based on Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, along with his allyship with the brutal Assad regime, many pundits note that if the Kremlin has indicated anything to the world, it is that Russia is trying to break up Europe and set itself up as the main power broker in the Middle East(109). And in order to do so, Putin will need to dismantle the one force that will prevent him from doing so – NATO(110).

Perhaps one of the most symbolic portraits of the potential future of a reshuffling of international powers came in June 2018. While the Group of Seven (G7) Summit – a gathering of seven of the top economic (mostly western) powers - ended in disarray with Trump dismantling unity by refusing to sign a previously-agreed upon communique and lambasting key partners, halfway around the world, China was hosting its annual Shanghai Cooperation organization – a gathering of former Soviet states and China – which commenced with the welcoming of India and Pakistan as new members and ended with pundits acclaiming a “smooth” summit(111). While some claim that the perceived contrast between a “West in disarray” and an “East Rising” depicted by the two summits were mere optics, others note that this was representative of what is to come if the United States continues on its rhetoric of retrogression. Proponents of the former sentiment cite the differences in the purpose of the two summits as reasons behind the contrast – with the G7 meant as a forum to hash out differences, while the SCO meant as a gathering to present “aspirations”(112). Some proponents of this notion would also go further and state that there is not a global reshuffling – and that the G7 in disarray translates to a “G6 plus 1” – the “1” being the United States, which could have a completely different “back-to-normal” policy from Trump’s isolationism in four years(114).

Yet, there are others who will state that the contrast between the G7 and the SCO was indeed representative of something deeper that is occurring in the global political climate. Proponents of such sentiment will state that it is no coincidence that China’s president Xi Jinping has recently begun talking about the importance of globalization at the recent Davos World Economic Forum, nor is it coincidence that a day after his Davos speech, Xi would present China as a “new defender of the environment” – a contrast to Trump’s denial of climate change, nor is it coincidence that immediately after Trump slashed funding from the United Nations, Chinese media began highlighting the growing role China has been playing in the U.N.(114) Proponents of a “China Rising” sentiment also site how Xi’s new relations with India and Pakistan at the SCO are just the tip of the iceberg, and that Xi’s recent Africa tour– where he announced new trade agreements and initiatives with key states within the African continent such as Senegal, Rwanda, and South Africa – shows that the Chinese government has no plans of ceasing to gain prominence in global politics and expand its influence in the region(115).

If proponents of the “China Rising” speculation are correct, then there are also future implications for the direction of far-right nationalism. While Xi and the Chinese government seems to be making steps towards more centrist ideals of globalization and free trade, much of their rule within the Republic of China still remains authoritarian – and bears many of the elements that comprise of Eatwell’s ten characteristics – most notably with China’s authoritarian style censorship on the media (which has tightened under Xi’s watch), and recent votes within the ruling party to abolish term limits for the presidency(116). Not only so, but the “pursuance of self-interests at all costs” strategy – that is at the core of much of the far-right, is manifesting itself in China’s foreign policy that will have inevitable effects on global political tensions. As stated, the rise of the global far-right presents nation-states not only looking inwardly, but also to their own self-interests. And with the top two economic and military super-powers in the world – the United States and China – both witnessing a rise of nationalist self-seeking ethoses, a U.S.-China dispute that will further shape the global political climate is unavoidable(117). We of course already are witnessing such a dispute with the beginnings of a trade war after Trump initiated tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum(118). Some have even speculated that U.S.-China conflicts may go beyond trade and into military confrontation with long-time tensions in the South China Sea(119). Yet it is very probable that the clash of nationalist governments will not be confined between U.S. and China. The United States, for instance, has found itself in a growing dispute with Turkey as Trump warned of imposing sanctions that could strain the NATO alliance if an American citizen currently imprisoned by the Turkish government is not released(120). This is not the first time Trump has threatened other nationalist leaders – from his comments of “fire and fury”, to his recent threat to Iran, Trump has shown that diplomacy and peacebuilding is not to be found in his first instincts.

The Big Picture: The Intensification of Illiberal Democracies

Taking a step back, many observers note that recent uprisings of the far-right may be captured in the phrase - “illiberal democracies”. Coined by writer and political commentator Fareed Zakaria, the term refers to “democratically elected regimes” that “ignore the constitutional limits of their power and deprive their citizens of basic rights and liberties”(121). The phrase thus notes the distinction between two often conflated terms - democracy and liberalism(122). The former refers to the process by which leaders are chosen; whereas the latter refers to the level by which individual rights are protected(123). Hence, a state can be democratic but “illiberal” – i.e. people democratically electing a government that espouses the stifling of press freedoms and diminishing the rights of minorities(124). This is a distinction that cannot be emphasized enough as most of the case studies of far-right nationalism outlined in this discourse rose to power in the name of “democracy” and giving people a voice. Yet, with the notion of rights diminished, such democracies transformed into tyrannies of the majority. While coined more than 20 years ago, Zakaria’s phrase of “illiberal democracies” is relevant to the current trends of the time – a possible reflection of how what may be perceived as a “recent rise” of the far-right may be just a more intensified continuation of a trend that has been brewing for decades.

This thus begs the question of what causes individuals to vote for regimes and governments that openly pledge to curb press freedoms and to diminish the rights of minorities, or perhaps a better question is: what causes democracies to become “illiberal”? We have already noted some of the events in the last ten years that has sparked more of the recent occurrences of the far-right and hence the advancement of illiberal democracies – global economic unrests caused by economic recessions and widening inequality, a sharp increase of migrants and demagogues capitalizing on the xenophobia of nationalists, and the rise of new technologies such as the advent of social media providing the far-right with a tool to spread its message. Yet, scholars note that behind such events lies a deeper trend that fuels people to vote for illiberal democracies – one that has been occurring prior to the global recession of 2008 - undemocratic liberalism. If illiberal democracies are democratically elected regimes that ignore the constitutional confines of its power, then undemocratic liberalisms are regimes that ignore the processes of electoral systems in pursuance of what a small elite class deems as liberalism(125). Hence, undemocratic liberalism is not by any means liberalism, as it concentrates power in the hands of a few – ignoring the rights of many. The mutually enforcing nature of these two extremes – illiberal democracies and undemocratic liberalism not only share in their dismissal of ensuring rights, but scholars note how the latter often fuels the former - when undemocratic liberalism gains power, many people will feel disenfranchised, fueling their desires to overthrow the “elite” or “establishment at all costs – even if it means the abandonment of fundamental rights such as free speech, or even if it means disregarding one’s civic duty to protect the rights of minorities(126).

If the recent occurrences of the far-right are part of a phenomenon known as illiberal democracies, and if illiberal democracies are fueled by undemocratic liberalism, then this begs the question: what causes undemocratic liberalism? Again, the answers to this questions are debated, but most scholars will agree that it is the erosion of “informal” institutions and mechanisms – groups that serve as “intermediary associations” between the government and individuals that exist as “arbiters” of society – groups such as trade associations, civil society organizations, the free press, electoral systems, etc.(127) – the very institutions that Trump and other nationalist demagogues around the world have threatened and attempted to shut down. Empirical studies support this trend. According to a report released by the renown human rights advocacy group, Freedom House, democracy is on the decline around the world(128). According to the report, 2017 was the twelfth consecutive year that political rights and civil liberties trended downward(129). The report shows that according to indicators such as the integrity of electoral systems, freedom of press, freedom of association, etc. (indicators that are aligned with the notion of the importance of informal institutions), 71 countries became “less free”, while only 35 saw an improvement in their freedom scores(130). Since 2006, twice as many countries have declined in freedom than countries that have improved(131). In the United States, which has been receiving a declining freedom score by annual Freedom House reports, a consolidation of power into the hands of a few is evident from the growing influence of lobbyist groups such as the Koch Brothers(132) and the National Rifle Association (NRA)(133) – making politicians more and more accountable to corporations than people(134) – widening inequality, fueling economic unrest, and heightening the climate for a favor for illiberal democracy.

It thus seems that the solution is to improve the functions of such “intermediary associations” as the free press and civil society groups so as to reduce undemocratic liberalism, hence diminishing illiberal democracies, and therefore reducing the power of far-right movements. However, any efforts moving forward to counter negative effects of the far-right must take into account the elements by which they stand for (i.e. Eatwell’s ten characteristics), the main events driving recent occurrences of the far-right (global economic unrests, migration, and the rise of new technologies), and the political forces behind such events (illiberal democracies and undemocratic liberalisms). Specifically, resistance movements that will prove effective will be ones that addresses the anxiety of everyday working individuals – working to diminish inequality and decentralize power from the hands of a few - while bringing individuals of all social demographics together with a prioritization of minority populations. Given the significant role the Tea Party currently plays in Trump’s foreign policy – a policy that could see not only a reshuffling of international powers and the emboldening of far-right parties, but also the collision of nationalist states, crucial attention will have to be paid to applying a liberal democracy strategy to diminishing the control of Tea Party affiliates on the international stage, but to do so will require a domestic strategy that will allow for more checks and balances on the Trump administration.


  1. Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson. The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. (Oxford University Press, 2012).

  2. Elizabeth Fekete. Europe’s Fault Lines: Racism and the Rise of the Right. (Verso Books, 2018), 7–12.

  3. Roger Eatwell. “Ten Theories of the Extreme Right”, in Right-Wing Extremism in the Twenty-First Century, ed. Peter H. Merkl and Leonard Weinberg (Portland, OR: Frank Cass Publishers, 2003).

  4. Ibid.

  5. William E. Carroll. “Far Right Parties and Movements in Europe, Japan, and the Tea Party in the U.S.: A Comparative Analysis”. Review of History and Political Science 2, no. 2 (2014): 111-29.

  6. Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani. “The Far-Right Xenophobia Behind Britain’s Decision to Leave the EU”. Think Progress, June 24, 2017.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Ted Regencia. “Rodrigo Duterte Sworn in as President of Philippines”. Al Jazeera, June 30, 2016.

  9. Richard C. Paddock and Floyd Whaley. “Rodrigo Duterte’s Rivals Concede in Philippines Election”. The New York Times, May 10, 2016.

  10. Emily Rauhala “The ‘Trump of the East’ Could Be the Next President of the Philippines”. The Washington Post, May 7, 2016.

  11. Mark R. Thompson. “Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte: A Not-So-Surprising Political Friendship”. The Conversation, May 5, 2017.

  12. The Guardian. “Duterte Says Philippines Might Leave U.N. Over Criticism of Drug Trafficker Killings”. The Guardian, August 21, 2016.

  13. Remi Adekoya. “Xenophobic, Authoritarian – and Generous on Welfare: Howe Poland’s Right Rules”. The Guardian, October 25, 2016.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Philip Lynch. “Trump’s Victory Will Embolden Australia’s Far-Right Politicians”. Irish Times, November 10, 2016.

  16. Charles Villet “Donald Trump, White Victimhood, and the South African Far-Right”. The Conversation, February 23, 2017.

  17. Murali Krishnan. “For India’s Extremist Hindu’s, Trump is a Hero”. DW, November 11, 2016.

  18. Ibid.

  19. James Traub. “Is Modi’s India Safe for Muslims”. Foreign Policy, June 26, 2015.

  20. Sarah Rains. “U.S. Election 2016: Why Russia is Celebrating Trump Win”. BBC News, November 9, 2016.

  21. Vijai Maheshwari. “Russian Win Blows Over Eastern Europe”. Politico, December 1, 2016.

  22. Ibid.

  23. Josh Lowe, Owen Matthews, and Matt Mcallister. “Why Europe’s Populist Revolt is Spreading”. Newsweek, November 23, 2016.

  24. Sabra Ayres. “Russian President Putin Celebrates Election Victory, Tells Crowd It’s Important to ‘Preserve This Unity’”. LA Times, March 18, 2018.

  25. Jon Henley. “Europe’s Governments Signal Relief After Dutch Election Defeats Far-Right”. The Guardian, March 16, 2017.

  26. Mike Corder and Raf Casert. “The Far-Right Failed its First Europe Litmus Test in Dutch Elections”. Business Insider, March 16, 2017.

  27. Jon Henley. “Europe’s Governments Signal Relief After Dutch Election Defeats Far-Right”

  28. Angelique Chrisafis. “Marine Le Pen Defeated, But France’s Far-Right is Far from Finished”. The Guardian, May 11, 2017.

  29. Manuel Reinert. “Here’s What Happened in the First Round of France’s Presidential Election, and What Happens Next”. The Washington Post, April 25, 2017.

  30. Emily Shultheis. “Marine Le Pen’s Real Victory”. The Atlantic, May 7, 2017.

  31. David Child. “Who Are Germany’s Far-Right AfD?” Al Jazeera, September 26, 2017.

  32. Jefferson Chase. “Far-Right AfD enters German Parliament: What it Means for German Politics”., September 24, 2017.

  33. Everett Price. et. Al. “Turkey Post-Referendum: Institutions and Human Rights”. (Speech, Washington D.C.: Senate Hearing 115, May 2, 2017).

  34. European Commission. “Turkey Report 2018”. Europa, April 17, 2018.

  35. Kate Lyons, Verity Bowman, and Jon Henley. “Turkey Elections 2018: Erdogan Declared Winner”. The Guardian, June 24, 2018.

  36. Alexander Griffing. “Make Japan Great Again: Abe’s Landslide is a Victory for Militant Nationalism in the Trump Age”., October 24, 2017.

  37. Ibid.

  38. Benoit Hardy Chartrand. “For Case Study of Nationalism in Trump’s America, Look to Japan”. The Hill, November 21, 2016.

  39. Ibid.

  40. Ibid.

  41. Alexander Griffing. “Make Japan Great Again: Abe’s Landslide is a Victory for Militant Nationalism in the Trump Age”.

  42. Ibid.

  43. David Jackson. “Trump’s One-Year Anniversary Marked by Shut Down Instead of Celebration”. USA Today, January 20, 2018.

  44. Louis Nelson. “Trump to Dems: No DACA Deal Without the Border Wall”. Politico, December 29, 2017.

  45. Sabrina Siddiqui, Ben Jacobs, and Lauren Gambino. “U.S. Government Goes into Shut Down After Senate Rejects Funding Bill”. The Guardian, January 20, 2018.

  46. Uki Goni. “Argentina Sees Migration Ban and Border Wall Proposals in Immigration Row”. The Guardian, February 3, 2017.

  47. Erin Barton. “Argentina’s Trump-esque Immigration Decree”. Panoramas, February 20, 2017.

  48. Ibid.

  49. Gai Pianigiani, Jason Horowitz, and Raphael Minder. “Italy’s New Populist Government Turns Away Ship With 600 Migrants Aboard”. The New York Times, June 11, 2018.

  50. Ibid.

  51. Jason Horowitz. “Italy’s New Populist and Anti-Establishment Government is Sworn In”. The New York Times, June 1, 2018.

  52. Jason Horowitz. “This Italian Town Once Welcomed Migrants, Now It’s a Symbol for Right-Wing Politics”. The New York Times, July 7, 2018.

  53. Amnesty International. "Hungary 2017/2018". (Amnesty International, 2018).

  54. Marc Santora. “Hungary Election Gives Orban Big Majority and Control of Constitution”. The New York Times, April 8, 2018.

  55. Lydia Gall. "Hungary’s Xenophobic Anti-Migrant Campaign". (Human Rights Watch, 2016).

  56. Eleni Kounalakissept. "Hungary's Xenophobic Response". The New York Times, 2015.

  57. Pablo Gorondi. “Hungary’s Pro-Migrant Groups Seen as Targets after Election”. US News and World Report, April 9, 2018,

  58. Audrey Sheehy. “The Rise of the Far-Right”. Harvard Political Review, February 11, 2017.

  59. Ibid.

  60. Yann Algan, Sergei Guriev, Elias Papaioannou, and Evgenia Passari. “The European Trust Crisis and the Rise of Populism”. Brookings Institution, September 4, 2017.

  61. Zack Beauchamp. “Financial Crises Are Great News for Far-Right Politicians”., December 2, 2015.

  62. Audrey Sheehy. “The Rise of the Far-Right” (2017).

  63. Ibid.

  64. Richard Wike, Katie Simmons, Bruce Stokes, and Janell Fetterolf. “Globally, Broad Support for Representative and Direct Democracy but Many Also Endorse Non-Democratic Alternatives”. Pew Research Center, October 16, 2017.

  65. Yann Algan, et. al. “The European Trust Crisis and the Rise of Populism” (2017).

  66. Manolo Serapio Jr. and Manuel Mogato. “A Populist Mayor Who Reminds Everyone of Donald Trump is on Track to Win the Philippines Presidency”. Business Insider, May 9, 2016.

  67. UNHCR. “Syria Emergency”.

  68. Audrey Sheehy. “The Rise of the Far-Right”.

  69. Ibid.

  70. Ibid.

  71. BBC News. “Europe and Nationalism: A Country-By-Country Guide”. BBC News, June 5, 2018.

  72. Nick Robins. “How the Refugee Crisis is Fueling the Rise of Europe’s Right”. The Huffington Post, October 28, 2015.

  73. Bobby Azarian. “Fear and Anxiety Drive Conservatives Political Attitudes”. Psychology Today, December 31, 2016.

  74. Eduardo Porter and Karl Russell. “Migrants Are on the Rise Around the World, and Myths About Them Are Shaping Attitudes”. The New York Times, June 20, 2018.

  75. Associated Press. “India’s Elections 2014: Five Reasons Why Narendra Modi Won”. The Telegraph, May 14, 2014.

  76. Ibid.

  77. Kieran Healy. “Turkey Coup: How Facetime and Social Media Helped Erdogan Foil the Plot”., July 16, 2016.

  78. Ibid.

  79. Ibid.

  80. Jane Mcintosh. “Who Are Italy’s Two Leading Populist Parties: Five Star Movement and the League?”., June 3, 2018.

  81. Julia Ebner. “The Far-Right Thrives on Global Networks, They Must Be Fought Online and Off”. The Guardian, May 1, 2017.

  82. Council on Foreign Relations. “The Rise of Illiberal Democracies”. Council on Foreign Relations, April 28, 2018.

  83. Jamie Gaskarth. “The Emerging Social Contract in Asia”. Observer Research Foundation, February 20, 2017.

  84. Council on Foreign Relations. “The Rise of Illiberal Democracies” (2018).

  85. Siva Vaidhyanathan. Antisocial Media: How Facebooks Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy. (Oxford University Press, 2018).

  86. William E. Carroll. “Far Right Parties and Movements in Europe, Japan, and the Tea Party in the U.S.: A Comparative Analysis”.

  87. Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson. The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. 98-99.

  88. Kate Zernike. Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America. (Times Books, 2010): 35.

  89. Ibid.

  90. William E. Carroll. “Far Right Parties and Movements in Europe, Japan, and the Tea Party in the U.S.: A Comparative Analysis”.

  91. Ibid.

  92. Vanessa Williamson. “What the Tea Party Tells Us About the Trump Presidency”. The Brookings Institution, November 9, 2016.

  93. Jane Coaston. “In 2018, the Tea Party is All In for Trump”., May 16, 2018.

  94. Ibid.

  95. Ibid.

  96. Christopher Caldwell. “What the Alt-Right Really Means”. The New York Times, December 2, 2016.

  97. Ibid.

  98. Daniel Arel. “Not Alt-Right – Call It What It Is”. The New Arab, January 24, 2017.

  99. Christopher Caldwell. “What the Alt-Right Really Means”.

  100. Oliver Laughland. “Muslim Americans on Trump’s Travel Ban: ‘We Live as Second-Class Citizens’”. The Guardian, June 27, 2018.

  101. Philip Bump. “Where the U.S. Has Considered Leaving or Left International Agreements Under Trump”. The Washington Post, June 29, 2018.

  102. Susan Page. “Analysis: Friends or Foes? Trump’s Embrace of Putin Prompts Backlash”. USA Today, July 16, 2018.

  103. BBC News. “Trade Wars, Trump Tariffs, and Protectionism Explained”. BBC News, July 26, 2018.

  104. Geoffrey Kabaservice. “The Old Tea Party May Be Over, But the New One is at Peak Power”. The Washington Post, March 16, 2018.

  105. David Smith. “Scourge of Our Planet: An Annotated Guide to Donald Trump’s U.N. Speech”. The Guardian, September 19, 2017.

  106. Krishnadev Calamur. “What Europe’s Far-Right Sees in Trump’s Win”. The Atlantic, November 10, 2016.

  107. Eli Stokols. “Trump Disrupts NATO Summit with Blasts at Allies, Especially Germany, and New Defense Spending Demands”. LA Times, July 11, 2018.

  108. Sasha Polakow-Suransky. “We Have No Idea What President Trump Would Do in a Crisis with Russia”. Foreign Policy, July 19, 2018.

  109. Dilip Hiro. “Russia Emerges as New Power Broker in Middle East”. Yale Global Online, January 31, 2017.

  110. Ibid.

  111. Katherine Putz. “A West in Crisis, An East Rising? Comparing the G7 and the SCO”. The Diplomat, June 12, 2018.

  112. Ibid.

  113. Julian Borger. “Worried NATO Partners Wonder If Atlantic Alliance Can Survive Trump”. The Guardian, July 8, 2018.

  114. Asaf Ronel. “Trump’s Policies Benefit Mainly China”. Haaretz, February 14, 2017.

  115. Associated Press. “China’s Xi Jinping Just Arrived for a Visit to Africa – As U.S. Interest in the Region Seems to Be Waning”. Business Insider, July 22, 2018.

  116. Tom Mitchell and Charles Clover. “China’s Xi Jinping Shocks Rivals with Plans to Scrap Term Limit”. Financial Times, February 25, 2018.

  117. Mark Landler. “As Xi Tightens His Grip on China, U.S. Sees Conflict Ahead”. The New York Times, February 27, 2018.

  118. David Dollar. “Unpacked: The U.S.-China Trade War”. The Brookings Institution, July 12, 2018.

  119. Michael Dempsey. “U.S. and China Have Bigger Problems Than a Trade War”. Bloomberg, April 11, 2018.

  120. Bill Faries and Jonathan Stearns. “Trumps Threat of Turkey Sanctions Piles More Pressure Onto NATO”. Bloomberg, July 27, 2018.

  121. Fareed Zakaria. “The Rise of Illiberal Democracies”. Foreign Affairs, November 1997.

  122. Sean Illing. “Fareed Zakaria Made A Scary Prediction About Democracy in 1997 – And It’s Coming True”., July 4, 2017.

  123. Ibid.

  124. Ibid.

  125. Ganesh Sitaraman. “The Three Crises of Liberal Democracy”. The Guardian, March 17, 2018.

  126. Ibid.

  127. Sean Illing. “Fareed Zakaria Made A Scary Prediction About Democracy in 1997 – And It’s Coming True”.

  128. Elen Aghekyan, Rukmani Bhatia, Jennifer Dunham, Shannon O’Toole, Arch Puddington, Sarah Repucci, Tyler Roylance, and Vanessa Tucker. “Democracy in Crisis”. Freedom House, 2018.

  129. Ibid.

  130. Ibid.

  131. Ibid.

  132. Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez. “The Koch Network and Republican Party Extremism”. Perspectives on Politics 14, no. 3 (2016): 681-99.

  133. Emily Cadei. “NRA Spending Big to Keep Senate in Hands of Pro-Gun Republicans”. Newsweek, October 10, 2016.

  134. Lee Drutman. The Business of America is Lobbying: How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate. (Oxford University Press, 2015).



bottom of page