Opinion | Why there exists no such thing as a global right wing4 min read . Updated: 06 Oct 2019, 06:07 PM IST
While the left finds common cause, the right has a pre-occupation with what is locally relevant
In the British comedy Fleabag, a young woman is aroused by watching Barack Obama give a speech about democracy. The universality of the moment is in the fact that she could have been anywhere in the world and we could infer she believes in climate change and the liberation of Palestine.
Far less mesmerizing men than Obama have been global heroes—like Hugo Chávez, who was once treated like a rock star at Jawaharlal Nehru University. But all such public figures of various nationalities have one thing in common—they are humanitarians.
Strongmen, on the other hand, are usually local heroes, and if the world outside cares about them at all, it is usually as villains.
There appears to be much in common between “right wing" heroes of various nations, but they are never in alliance, like humanitarians can be.
Is there a global fellowship of strongmen who exchange jokes about Obama, Macron and Marx, and about the latest lament in The Guardian on “the rise of strongmen across the world"? Is there an intellectual festival for patriots from different nations where a Brahmin, a White and an Arab will argue why their groups are superior, what a nuisance poor migrants are, and how cultural diversity is just a device to get cheap waiters?
These concepts don’t exist, but not because people don’t think along these lines. They do. It is the “global" aspect of such a congregation that seems ridiculous. There is something odd about the idea of a “global nationalist".
By nature, the “left wing" is global and the “right wing" is local. Of late, new Indian patriots have been trying to change this; they have been trying to form global alliances with conservatives in advanced economies. After all, the Indian patriot today is more suave than his earlier avatar. New nationalists are culturally and linguistically comprehensible to the West, and they are successful people in respectable professions.
But the global right is a futile exercise. There will never be such a thing.
After the Narendra Modi government integrated Kashmir with India beyond any ambiguity, the modern Indian patriot imagined US President Donald Trump would cheer. As though it was natural that Trump and Modi should get along because the same newspapers are critical of their leadership. Patriots even imagined that a global network of strongmen will support the nationalistic mojo of the move. But supporting Modi on Kashmir was clearly not the priority of “conservatives" across the world. Even so, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, the BBC and Western liberal intellectuals who knew very little about India’s northern-most state magically acquired enough wisdom to bemoan the “suspension of freedom" and “the violation of human rights" and “the suffering" of Kashmiris.
Meanwhile, Fox News and The Sun did not magically acquire any right wing wisdom—that the poor of Kashmir have been liberated from their crooked elite, trauma merchants, terrorist middlemen and economic stagnation.
The “left" is a low-stakes human hive of hearts on auto-pilot that sees the world as a human hive of victims. The “right" is a high-stakes pre-occupation with what is locally relevant. The “left" is a monoculture of a European idea; the “right" is culture. All elites are like parents—conservative at home, where the stakes are high, and liberal elsewhere, an abstract place that is not as important as home.
It is not only the social right that is helplessly local.
Increasingly, the economic right, too, is shedding its evangelism of globalization as it does not serve its interests anymore. Last year, Trump told the United Nations, “We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism."
There are, of course, a few global right-wing figures. Hitler, for instance, has for long been a mascot for groups that wish to terminate cultural diversity in society. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has fans who post videos of his motorcade, of his walks down corridors in slow motion, and of his bare-chested horse rides. But these fans are a small fringe compared to the numbers, spread and diversity of the fans of humanitarian figures.
There are powerful reasons why there is no such thing as the global right. Any wound that is global will automatically become a left movement.
Even a strand of the Indian freedom movement that was led by the first generation of Hindu nationalists who did not seem to believe in ideas like non-violence, found support in Britain only from the left, including the early feminist movement which saw in the plight of Indians the plight of all British women. On the other hand, it was natural for British nationalists to despise Indian freedom fighters. This principle operates today in every right-wing struggle.
Nationalists of a society tend to perceive other nationalists as foes. And nationalists themselves often become liberals once they migrate—as is the case with many Indian patriots who live in the US.
Also, everyone, including nationalists, has a quota of compassion that they need to display. And it is easy for them to show compassion to victims outside their borders. For instance, it is easy for Trump supporters to sympathize with Kashmiris. It is easy empathy, very sweet, and does not affect their own lives.
When the stakes are low, everyone is a leftist.
Manu Joseph is a journalist, and a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’.