From Japan and Philippines to the UK and the US, nationalism is on the rise. This is transforming politics by enabling the rise of the right and, more alarmingly, of the far-right.
Before we carry on, what do we mean by the right and the far-right? To understand this, we have to go back to the heady days of the French Revolution. In the French parliament, supporters of l'Ancien Régime sat on the right while those who wanted a secular republic with equality for all sat on the left. Those who sat on the right believed in hierarchy, tradition and clericalism. Inequality and social stratification were the natural order of the universe.
Over time, the justification for some being more equal than others has changed from noble birth to ability and hard work. Those who win in a competitive free market deserve greater rewards for their ingenuity and industriousness. The right broadly believes that markets produce better outcomes than governments and that inequality is a price worth paying for efficiency, choice and greater wealth for all.
The far-right takes ideas of inequality and stratification to absurd levels. It often ascribes an entire nation or race as superior. The Nazi Party famously deemed Germans belonging to the Aryan race as the master race. In contrast, Jews, Slavs and many others were mere untermenschen. The Nazis were part of a long European tradition of such extreme ideas. The British believed they were superior to the yellow opium addicts in China and the brown idol worshippers in India. Belgian King Leopold II believed that his countrymen had a divine right to slaughter, torture and pillage the half-humans who inhabited the heart of darkness in Congo.
After decades of relative obscurity and quiescence, the far-right finds itself back in the fray. In Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte is urging people to kill drug addicts. Austria faces another election where a Glock 9mm pistol-packing Norbert Hofer has a fair shot at the presidency. In France, Marine Le Pen is the respectable face of the immigrant-bashing far-right. The UK has just voted for Brexit thanks in no small part to the exhortations of xenophobes like Nigel Farage. In the US, the rise of Donald Trump, a tacky billionaire and reality television star, is confounding political analysts and sending shivers down spines of minorities such as Muslims and Mexicans.
As this speaker wrote not too long ago, this is an age of fear, anger, hate and terror. The scale and pace of change is faster than ever. Inequality is rising incessantly not only in terms of income and wealth but also in terms of education and opportunity. Social mobility has taken a battering. Institutions are increasingly crumbling around the world. There is a growing dichotomy between global aspiration and local impoverishment. This puts collective identities in question. Is it nation, region, ethnicity, race or religion?
Far-right leaders are touching upon deep seated fears and providing simplistic solutions to complex problems. They are rising to the fore because elites are empty and exhausted. These elites have been narrow and technocratic. They have tried to kick the can down the road and dodged big questions. Most importantly, they have failed to articulate a vision with a compelling collective narrative and people feel lost. It is a most dangerous time for the planet as temperatures increase, sea levels rise and people turn to demagogues for quick fixes.
Atul Singh Bio:
Atul Singh is the Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Fair Observer. He teaches Political Economy at the University of California, Berkeley and at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar where he also teaches World History. He studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford on the Radhakrishnan Scholarship and did an MBA with a triple major in finance, strategy and entrepreneurship at the Wharton School. Singh worked as a corporate lawyer in London and led special operations as an elite officer in India’s volatile border areas where he had many near-death experiences. He has also been a poet, playwright, sportsman, mountaineer and a founder of many organizations. Singh’s knowledge is eclectic, and his friends often joke that it comes in handy when access to Google is limited.
Pulitzer Prize winner Margo Jefferson talks about her new memoir Negroland with Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah.
In a social circle comprised of the elites of black Chicago, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic Margo Jefferson was raised in a world of contradiction. “I call it Negroland,” she writes, “because I still find ‘Negro’ a word of wonders, glorious and terrible.” Her incendiary and icy, mischievous and provocative, celebratory and elegiac memoir of that name went on to win the National Book Critics Circle Award, and for its paperback release, she’ll be in the Strand’s Rare Book Room to discuss the world of exclusive sororities, fraternities, networks, and clubs—a world in which skin color and hair texture were relentlessly evaluated alongside scholarly and professional achievements.
Joining Margo in conversation will be Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, contributor at The New York Times Magazine, as well as a finalist for the National Magazine Award with bylines at The Paris Review, The Believer, Bookforum, and many more.
Michael Ian Black, comedian and author of books for adults, children, and those in between, turns his quizzical eye on the confounding phenomenon that stalks the political scene with 'A Child’s First Book of Trump,' illustrated in classically whimsical style by Marc Rosenthal.
The Trump is a curious creature, very often spotted in the wild, but confounding to our youngest citizens. A business mogul, reality TV host, and now…political candidate? Kids (and, let’s be honest, many adults) might have difficulty discerning just what this thing that’s been dominating news coverage this election cycle is. Could he actually be real? Are those…words coming out of his mouth? Why are his hands so tiny? And perhaps most importantly, what on earth do you do when you encounter an American Trump?
In the Strand Rare Book Room, Black reads and discusses 'A Child’s First Book of Trump' with former literary collaborator, blogger and Fox News host Meghan McCain.
A reading and panel on the state of gay literature. Featuring, from left to right, Paul Lisicky, Garth Greenwell, Brad Gooch, Darryl Pinckney, & Chris Bollen.
With experience spanning across decades, genres and styles, each of these men has a unique and compelling perspective on gay life and its expression in literature. They’ll discuss the remarkable evolution of the LGBT community in literature with a special emphasis on the more recent and transformative decades in our nation. Join us as each panelist gives us a taste of his most recent work and responds to each other’s readings, peeling layers back on topics of race, gender, art, history and literature.
Brad Gooch is the author of the acclaimed biographies City Poet and Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), as well as other nonfiction and three novels. The recipient of National Endowment for the Humanities and Guggenheim fellowships, he earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University and is professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey.
Darryl Pinckney is a longtime contributor to The New York Review as well as a frequent contributor to Granta, Slate, and The Nation. He authored the acclaimed novel, High Cotton in 1992. His most recent novel, Black Deutschland, picks up where High Cotton left off, and was published in February 2016.
Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and a Lambda Award. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, he holds graduate degrees from Harvard University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he was an Arts Fellow. His short fiction has appeared in The Paris Review and A Public Space. What Belongs to You is his first novel.
Paul Lisicky is the author of five books: The Narrow Door, Unbuilt Projects, The Burning House, Famous Builder, and Lawnboy. His work has appeared in the Atlantic, BuzzFeed, Conjunctions, Ecotone, Fence, The Offing, Ploughshares, Tin House, Unstuck, and in many other magazines and anthologies. He currently teaches in the MFA Program at Rutgers University-Camden, the low residency program at Sierra Nevada College, and at the Juniper Summer Writing Institute. He is the editor of StoryQuarterly and serves on the Writing Committee of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.
Chris Bollen is Editor at Large at Interview Magazine, and was previously the editor on V Magazine. His work has appeared in GQ, the New York Times, New York Magazine, and Artforum, among others. His first novel, Lightning People, was published in 2011. His second novel, Orient, came out with Harper in May 2015.