A Powerful Theory of Why the Far Right Is Thriving Across the Globe
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As we approach the 2022 midterms, the outlook for American democracy doesn’t appear promising. An increasingly Trumpist, anti-democratic Republican Party is poised to take over at least one chamber of Congress. And the Democratic Party, facing an inflationary economy and with an unpopular president in office, looks helpless to stop them.
But the United States isn’t alone in this regard. Over the course of 2022, Italy elected a far-right prime minister from a party with Fascist roots, a party founded by neo-Nazis and skinheads won the second-highest number of seats in Sweden’s Parliament, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party in Hungary won its fourth consecutive election by a landslide, Marine Le Pen won 41 percent of the vote in the final round of France’s presidential elections and — just this past weekend — Jair Bolsonaro came dangerously close to winning re-election in Brazil.
Why are these populist uprisings happening simultaneously, in countries with such diverse cultures, economies and political systems?
Pippa Norris is a political scientist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where she has taught for three decades. In that time, she’s written dozens of books on topics ranging from comparative political institutions to right-wing parties and the decline of religion. And in 2019 she and Ronald Inglehart published “Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit and Authoritarian Populism,” which gives the best explanation of the far right’s rise that I’ve read.
We discuss what Norris calls the “silent revolution in cultural values” that has occurred across advanced democracies in recent decades, why the best predictor of support for populist parties is the generation people were born into, why the “transgressive aesthetic” of leaders like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro is so central to their appeal, how demographic and cultural “tipping points” have produced conservative backlashes across the globe, the difference between “demand-side” and “supply-side” theories of populist uprising, the role that economic anxiety and insecurity play in fueling right-wing backlashes, why delivering economic benefits might not be enough for mainstream leaders to stave off populist challenges and more.
Sacred and Secular by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart
“Exploring drivers of vote choice and policy positions among the American electorate”
Popular Dictatorships by Aleksandar Matovski
Spin Dictators by Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman
The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
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“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Emefa Agawu, Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris, Mary Marge Locker and Kate Sinclair. Original music by Isaac Jones. Mixing by Jeff Geld. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin and Kristina Samulewski.