The rise of the far-right is cause for collective concernNovember 26, 2023
A shock result in Dutch elections handed the largest number of the country’s parliamentary seats to the party of extreme right, isolationist, anti-immigrant and Islamophobic longtime political gadfly Geert Wilders last week. He vowed that the country would be “returned to the Dutch.” Wilders might be a relative unknown to most Americans, but he’s certainly a known quantity among those who’ve tracked and studied the rise of the global far-right. The virulent xenophobe and Euro-skeptic was something of a template for a new class of new authoritarian, less polished and martial than those who came before, with a focus on immigration and a knack for connecting with and radicalizing online right-wing communities, complete with weird hair and some kind of private-sector background.
Wilders is sometimes called the Dutch Trump, but the reality is he was Trump before Trump was. He’s been a parliamentarian since 1998, and founded his Party for Freedom in 2006. His rhetoric and positions have changed little over the years. He’s not a fresh-faced populist who came out of nowhere to pull the wool over the electorate’s eyes; people knew what he was about. Many observers dismissed the possibility that Wilders would ever wield real power. What has changed is the electorate, which around the world has become increasingly tolerant or even supportive of far-right political movements.
Less than a week prior to the Dutch elections, the far-right libertarian Javier Milei swept to decisive victory in the Argentine presidential election. Amid a faltering economy, the economist and onetime TV pundit — beloved by bookers for his ratings-boosting railing against the government — promised, essentially, to burn it all down, dissolving the central bank, ditching the currency and engaging in a program of massive spending cuts.
Many Argentines openly acknowledged that they had no idea how this was all going to pan out, but they just wanted change, and Milei was going to deliver it. The same desire for someone to come in and fix everything, to stick it to the political system, is what led voters to opt for Giorgia Meloni’s far-right government in Italy last year and to give the far-right Finns Party a sizable chunk of the Finnish governing coalition. It is what is leading the mainstream GOP, with the support of the majority of Republican voters, to coalesce around Donald Trump despite his contempt for American democracy and effort to overthrow it, his plans to weaponize the levers of government to his advantage and, crucially, his total failure to actually bring safety or prosperity to the American public.
It is perhaps this latter point that’s most infuriating, as all the evidence to the contrary rarely convinces people that these far-right movements won’t deliver what they promise. They prey on dissatisfaction with a changing world and a seemingly indifferent elite, and not every one of their critiques and grievances are manufactured; things like stagnant wages, unresponsive bureaucracies and the encroaching power of tech and corporate consolidation are real issues.
Yet their solutions — to blame and go after immigrants, cut government functions, vilify LGBTQ people and return to some imagined more moral past — are no solutions at all. The antidote to their venom must be an informed citizenry that can reject the snake oil. It can’t come soon enough.