The famous sociologist and political thinker Ralf Dahrendorf has been forecasting an “authoritarian 21st Century” for quite some time now. It seems that he is being proven right
Globalization has been the dominant economic phenomenon over the past nearly half of a century and has largely contributed to the uplifting of a massive number of people from absolute poverty in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This is now an uncontested fact. It has achieved this through increased capital mobility (FDI) which has favoured accelerated development of productive forces in those regions and thus created new opportunities for trade and employment. Enhanced connectivity through the spread of new technologies and innovations such as the internet and mobile phones have led to improved standards of living in countries in which basic public infrastructure is still lacking.
While acknowledging these positive outcomes, opponents of this form of globalization have for a long time been warning against the perverted political economy which was a direct consequence of the new global regime which was emerging from this new order. The famous sociologist and political thinker Ralf Dahrendorf, for example, has been forecasting an “authoritarian 21st Century” for quite some time now. It seems that he is being proven right when one considers the rise of authoritarian/populist leaderships from Erdogan (Turkey) to Putin and Donald Trump.
Although very strange and eminently contradictory, it is no coincidence that the newly elected Commander in Chief of the US armed forces expresses open sympathy for the Russian leader who is meant to be his antithesis in global affairs. Similar regimes are threatening to take over in forthcoming elections in Austria and other European countries while the lurking menace of Marine Le Pen becoming the next French President no longer looks as unlikely as it did only a few weeks back…
The common threads which run through the discourses of these new right and extreme right movements are a pronounced nationalistic (nativist – White supremacy in America and France to the descendants of the Gaulois) sentiment feeding on the disorientation of a majority of the population and electorate. The latter are increasingly alienated from the classic political parties and what looks more and more as an undifferentiated “establishment” constituted by the “political class” and the intellectual elites.
Recent political developments in various nations have validated the thesis of a deep schism between the population at large and their erstwhile political representatives. Starting with Brexit, these have now culminated in the election of Donald Trump in the United States. In France recently the defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy in the first ever primaries of the Les Republicains party has been the latest shock “happening” which has again proven all the polls wrong. A more and more frequent occurrence these days signalling radical but difficult to decipher changes in political behaviour among the electorate in the developed nations.
As mentioned above, elections are now due in France and Germany as well as in Austria next year and the result of each of these could have profound implications for the future of the European Union but also for the whole global regime which has been put in place during the last almost half a century.
Many commentators have expressed the view that the constraints of actually being thrust in the role of the supreme decision-maker would somehow moderate the wildest inclinations of Donald Trump. Unfortunately the first indications coming out of Trump Tower are most worrying. After a rather conciliatory speech on the night of his election, the natural instincts of the man have clearly taken over. To the dismay of the “optimists”, the announcement of the first official nominees for his next administration are clear indications that the hardliners are going to hold sway on the orientation of the next administration. If, as often contended, in American politics personalities are determining elements of eventual policies, then the appointment of Stephen Barron as Chief Strategist in a future Trump’s White House leaves no doubt that Donald Trump has no intention of somehow tempering his most extreme stands announced during the recent campaign.
In addition to several other proposed appointments in the same vein, the Trump team has recently published a list of measures which will be implemented in the first 100 days of his presidency. Prominent among those is the intention to scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership which would have grouped several Asian nations (excluding China) and those of Latin of America into what would have been a vast commercial and investment promotion platform as well as a new prominent geo-strategic regional player under the leadership of Japan and the US.
In light of these events, a European extreme right leader is quoted as having recently stated that “their world is coming to an end and ours is just beginning.” This is a frightening statement coming from the leader of a party driven by the most retrograde political ideologies based on race, religion and steeped in nostalgia for a return to some ideal past. The sad part is that although such movements have always been part of the political landscape, recent events have demonstrated that they can no longer be simply considered as marginal phenomena which can be dismissed lightly.
It is a real shame that there seems to be no serious debate in Mauritius regarding the above described developments and their eventual impact on the socio-economic future of the country. This is especially regrettable because we have been a historically Euro-centric nation in terms of our principal economic activities and remain vulnerable to this kind of volatility in these nations. Considering the already reduced rate of growth in global trade over the past two years and the risks of serious shockwaves taking shape in our principal markets in the coming years, one would have thought that there was an urgency to consider alternative scenarios.
Accelerating regional integration through the variety of instruments such as the COMESA, SADC or Indian Ocean Rim Association is one such strategic option which one would reasonably expect Mauritius to take the lead on. In the same vein, clarifying and putting meat on the “Africa Strategy” of the country should be raised to the top of our economic agenda. Such policy options would of course have to be accompanied by structural reforms within the country to ensure improved productivity and competitiveness in order to extract maximum benefit from this emerging regional economic landscape.