Faced with raging right-wing populism across the world, there has been a tendency among columnists to portray it with a broad brush, blurring important distinctions. It is common, for example, to see fingers pointing at the backlash to globalisation. But if one takes the whole range of rich, middle-income and poor countries across continents, there is certainly no worldwide rebellion against the forces of globalisation. A survey across 18 countries, reported in The Economist (November 19), suggests that the majority are quite positive on globalisation in Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Denmark, Hong Kong and so on (if China were included, probably it’d have been in the same list). On the other hand, support for globalisation is low in the US, France, Britain and Australia—the expected fallout in rich countries from the decline in their century-old domination in international trade and investment. Everywhere there is a struggle to find a niche in the ever-changing global value chain and retrain the workforce in line with the changing demand for skills. Similarly, immigration is a major divisive issue mainly in Europe and the US, while the developing countries lobby for relaxation of immigration restrictions in rich countries.
Yet virulent majoritarianism, populism and nationalism are no less rampant in, say, China, India, Russia or Turkey, even though anti-globalisation and anti-immigration forces are weak. If one takes liberty, equality and fraternity as the three essential elements of a decent society, one sees a disillusionment with the first and ambiguous responses to the other two in these populist movements across many countries, rich and poor. There seems to be palpable reaction against ideas of tolerance, minority rights, freedom of expression and respect for individual autonomy and dignity in many parts of the world. In the majority communities (like those who support Donald Trump in the US, Le Pen in France, Orban in Hungary, Modi in India or Erdogan in Turkey), strengthened by the electoral arithmetic of democracies, there is resentment against a perceived appeasement of minorities (blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Kurds etc) that is implicit in liberal support for minority rights. In the anxiety of the erosion of their ethnic dominance, the minorities become easy scapegoats. The majority finds the rhetoric of diversity and political correctness condescending, if not socially threatening, and do not care much about the procedural niceties of a liberal order.