There is a sharp political chill in the air right now. It’s a chill that runs from Brazil to Budapest, Manila to Istanbul. One that sweeps across our own political doorstep and sometimes in its crudest form appears menacingly in the busy strassen, plazas, and boulevards elsewhere in Europe.

The terminology used to describe this chill has many variations; far right, radical right, national populism, fascism or Nazism, but always at its core lies an identifiable authoritarianism, the central tenets of which are profoundly undemocratic.  

More often than not those tenets are defined by race, ethnicity or religion and embrace the violent suppression of internal opponents and exclusion of outsiders invariably perceived as enemies. This is the credo of the far-right international.


Social Liberal Party's Jair Bolsonaro (Photo: Getty)

“Let’s go straight to the dictatorship,” replied Jair Bolsonaro back in 1999 when asked in an interview whether he would shut down Congress if he were to become president of Brazil. 

Today, of course, Mr Bolsonaro is president-elect of Brazil and scheduled to take office in January next year after an election campaign characterised by all the hallmarks of authoritarianism. 

Mr Bolsonaro’s campaign drew from a now all-too-familiar political playbook, placing at its heart a xenophobic vision of Brazilian society. 

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From a staunch defence of Brazil’s decades’ long brutal military dictatorship to threatening to shoot opponents and vowing to pack the country’s supreme court with sympathisers, there is a discomfiting familiarity about Mr Bolsonaro’s rhetoric. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to see the parallels with Donald Trump’s vision of America.   

Mr Bolsonaro’s election is only the latest chapter in a global resurgence of authoritarianism that in less than a decade has seen the extreme right move from being outside the corridors of power to the centre of power itself. 

During those years, pushed by the election of Mr Trump and political changes in Europe, there has been a breaking down of the taboo that kept far-right political ideas largely outside mainstream political culture.


Election of President Trump has pushed far-right ideology into mainstream (Photo: Getty)

Explaining this sudden resurgent rise of the authoritarian right, Walden Bello of the US-based think-tank Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) points to what he says is the extreme right’s expropriation of the anti-globalisation critique from progressives.

In a recent article for FPIF entitled “Sieg Heil Déjà vu?” he argues that the“extreme right has now married these traditionally left-wing concerns to a vicious racist, chauvinistic, and anti-immigrant agenda that is reminiscent of the platform that the fascists and Nazis offered to people during the volatile 1930s”. 

He describes this agenda as a defensive programme that involves strong state management of the economy, while leaving the capitalist mode of production largely intact with its class inequalities. 

Mr Bello insists though that this same programme comes with discriminatory privileges for whole communities based on ethnicity, blood and race, and with borders sealed to migrants.

“Call it a welfare state, but only for members of the dominant racial and cultural group,” he says.

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While Brazil is the latest country to have a far-right party and demagogue succeed in gaining power at a national level, this disturbing trend has manifest itself globally.

Across the world today there is so much reminiscent of the 1930s, when forces of the extreme right were also on the offensive and the fate of progressive democratic politics hung in the balance.

“The world is fracturing… Europe is leaning almost everywhere towards the extremes and towards nationalism. Those who don’t see what is happening everywhere around us are implicitly deciding to be the sleepwalkers of today’s world,” French president Emmanuel Macron warned darkly in a recent television address. 

In Europe far-right populist parties have seen a surge resulting in parliamentary gains in 15 of the 27 EU member countries over the past two election cycles, according to the Centre for American Progress a progressive public policy and advocacy organisation.

In Europe these parties and their leaders made the most significant gains in Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Estonia, winning five per cent more in the share of votes. Some leaders like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban have already demonstrated a willingness to roll back democratic norms and quash political opposition in order to entrench their authority. 

Further afield it’s much the same story. Since the massive 2014 election win of Narendra Modi and his ultra-right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) India’s pretensions of being the largest democracy in the world have crumbled. 

Recently, the BJP has mounted an all-out vicious attack on left-oriented activists, writers, and intellectuals in the country, which some describe as reminiscent of McCarthyism in the US during the 1940s and 50s. 

This has been accompanied by atrocities meted out to Muslims, Dalits, and indigenous peoples or Adivasis who make up 8.6% of India’s population. 

Elsewhere in Asia, President Rodrigo Duterte’s scrapping of the liberal democratic constitution and instituting an authoritarian system masquerading as federalism in the Philippines has left thousands dead. 

In the streets of the eastern German town of Chemnitz, neo-Nazis march, innocent foreigners have been hunted down and attacked, while racist slogans have been chanted amid illegal Hitler salutes. 

As I write, Americans go to the polls in mid-term elections the results of which could further polarise a country that has seen its own violent Unite the Right rallies in towns like Charlottesville.

As Nic Robertson of CNN ominously observed recently: “The world order we are seeing now is one fixing for a fight. We are not quite sure what that fight will be, or where it will begin, but we are shaping the arguments for it and preparing our defences.”