The Evolving Political and Social Order: Is the World Leaning Right? — A Short Excerpt

This article is a short excerpt from the thesis that I’m working on for my graduation and hence should not be taken as a complete study or paper on the subject.

The ideologies and thoughts have been the basis of human civilisation since times immemorial. May it be the documented history or the orally conveyed legends in various cultures, the political and social lives have always been guided by the different beliefs, perspectives, ideals, principles towards day-to-day social order and its problems.

As the humans came closer and closer to current times, these beliefs or ideals started being categorised in various ways and across various spectrums based on various factors, most important of them being social, political and economic. The social and political scientists have tried to arrive at commonly accepted categorisation but it has been a grim task owing to the diverse understanding and definitions of these ideas. Still there have been some widely, not universally, accepted classifications of these ideas. The longest standing one is the Left-Centre-Right Political Spectrum, as one may call it, based on the seating arrangements in French Parliament post the French Revolution.

Fig. 1. The Traditional Political Spectrum

On this mono axis, it is possible to classify and identify the political orientation of an individual or a society up to some extent. According to the generally accepted principle vis-à-vis this axis, as one goes towards left from the centre (which is considered a moderate approach), she/he is believed to be inclined towards liberalism, socialism, communism, anarchism, etc. and while tilting towards the right from centre, the inclination is believed to be in the direction of conservatism, individualism, libertarianism, fascism, etc. Even though this classification has tried to provide for the political as well as the economic inclination, the limitation here is that the ideas and etymologies may not be constant between different individuals, societies, and cultures. For example, the idea of Liberalism may differ across the minds. In social or cultural context it may refer to individual rights and freedom which puts it in the ‘Left’ ideals whereas it also stands for economic freedom and capitalism which falls towards the ‘Right’. Thus, the uniaxial approach of Left-Centre-Right may not be sufficient and therefore there is a need to include other axes as required. Example of a variant is the popular Nolan Chart created by David Nolan, an American activist and politician in 1969 (Fig. 2) which uses two axes — Economic Freedom and Personal Freedom.

Fig. 2. Nolan Chart

Until the end of World War II and beginning of Cold War, there were several ideologies clashing and allying with each other. But the two prominent ones which arose and divided the world into blocs were — Capitalism (Right) and Communism (Left). Also, on one hand USA was a democracy where people had a say whereas USSR was a communist country with limited or no say of the people in the state affairs. Hence, USA’s idea was of economic freedom (Rightist) and individualism/democracy (Leftist) while USSR advocated state control on the economy (Leftist) and totalitarianism/authoritarianism (Rightist). The Cold War ended in or around 1991 with the collapse of Soviet Union and survival of USA. The prevailing idea of democracy consumed most of the communists and since very few completely communist states exist. A classic example is China which is politically run by a communist and totalitarian government with little or no public say while becoming more and more liberal in economic terms.

Although the popular economic orientation of the world is capitalist or a blend of it with socialist policies and not communist, and the political orientation is also favourable to democracy, one would expect the world to be turning left. The world has not turned left. Given the financial crisis, widening inequality, the unpopularity of the right’s stances on social issues and immigration, you would have thought that progressive parties would be cruising from win to win. Instead, right-leaning parties are doing well. In the United States, Republicans control both houses of Congress. In Israel, the Likud Party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled off a surprising win in an election that was at least partly about economic policy. In Britain, the Conservative Party led by Prime Minister David Cameron won a parliamentary majority (Brooks, 2015).

The largest electoral exercise in the history, Indian General Elections of 2014 resulted in a sweeping victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance. It was for the first time since 1984 that a single party secured clear majority — Bharatiya Janata Party, a Right Wing Nationalist Party led by Narendra Modi who is known to be a socially conservative and economically liberal leader. Liberal Democratic Party of Japan which contrary to its name is a conservative party (Kingston, 2013. Japan in Transformation, 1945–2010) has been continuously in power since its formation in 1955, except for a brief time in 1993–94 and 2009–12. Donald Trump, the Republican Party nominee for President of the United States in the 2016 election surprised the world by becoming the President-elect of the United States of America. Similarly, in France’s Presidential Race for 2017 is witnessing a similar trend with Marine Le Pen of Nationalist Party posing a serious challenge to Nicolas Sarkozy of The Republican Party. Also, the Act prohibiting concealment of the face in public space which resulted in the ban on wearing face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclavas, niqābs and other veils covering the face in public places, except under specified circumstances received cross-party support even though there were claims that it violated France’s civil liberties (Allen, 2010). Brexit can be viewed as a result of a nationalist and conservative sentiments of the people of Britain. With right-of-centre governments in power in the world’s major democracies — India, Britain, Germany and Japan, similar to the trend seen across the United States, Europe and South America — is there a global ideological shift taking place? Venezuela and Poland are the latest countries to lurch politically right-wards. In Sweden and the Netherlands right-of-centre parties are topping opinion polls. Denmark and Hungary too are witnessing an ideological lurch to the right (Merchant, 2016).

The growing extremism across the globe, especially in the Middle East and with militant outfits like Islamic State and Al-Qaeda influencing the public behaviour like never before also indicate the bend of ideologies towards the extreme right. Observing all of the above occurrences and trends across the globe, one is forced to give a thought to the probable rightward ideological drifting of the world.

With the shaping of new political and social world order, there is an urgent need to revise the organisation/classification of Political, Social, and Fiscal Ideologies. The X-Y axis classification is no more sufficient to encompass the complex web of a wide range of ideas and thoughts around the world. Also, it might be helpful if the idea of strict conformation to one or more ideology is given up and ideas are held to be flexible from one issue to another.