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Economic Disparity and Nationalism – Part 2 

By Dr. Lionel Bopage 

Concentration of power

This situation usually leads to concentration of political and decision-making power in the hands of a few. This could lead to suboptimal use of human resources and cause political and economic instability. In turn, this will obstruct the ability to absorb foreign direct investment, which the capitalist governments mainly rely upon. Misery, poverty, and hopelessness could become pervasive in such a society. This provides an ideal environment for demagogues to raise their ugly heads.

These demagogues will make high pitch noises like saviours, without providing any solutions of substance. Nevertheless, such demagogues can raise a glimmer of hope among the ones whose lives have been adversely affected by this inequity. These nationalistic divisive demagogic leaders can emanate from any ethnic or religious background. Even if they utilise something that looks like a policy, it is solely a tactic used for grabbing power. Once in power they ditch or forget these policies, like those pledging to improve citizens’ economic circumstances and to eliminate their economic exploitation.

The 2008 economic recession that is considered the largest since 1929 created serious political repercussions. As a result, fundamentalist nationalist and religious currents came to the fore in many parts of the world. National and religious supremacy came to be asserted through violent extremism, mostly authoritarian and gave rise to many fascist trends. Simultaneously, political sentiments of certain segments of populations started moving towards extreme right-wing ideologies. Centralisation of decision making power in the hands of an autocrat as discussed is a manifestation of an extreme form of nationalism associated with fascist inclinations.

Concentration of power in the hands of an autocrat can be achieved via presidential and parliamentary elections or through extra parliamentary means. In the US, mostly racist fundamentalist right-wing groups brought Donald Trump to the Presidency. In many Nordic countries right wing groups have been elected to govern. Turkey extended the presidential term and also delegated prime ministerial powers to Tayyip Erdogan. Russian Federation concentrated power in Vladimir Putin’s hands and China made Xi Jinping president for life. Much closer to Sri Lanka, India, despite his hands being stained with Gujarati Muslim blood, Narendra Modi was made the Prime Minister.

Fascism

Fascism is based on the superiority complex of a nation bound by race, ethnicity or culture. This nationalist ideology is upheld by an anti-democratic totalitarian state. A fascist state needs to be totalitarian to ensure that its citizens support controlling aspects of their lives such as leisure time, education and political activity to ensure their support for the regime. Democratic elections do not need to ensure that candidates have national interests at heart. Parliament can become a talk shop and a rubber stamp instead of being a forum that devotes time to discussing, formulating, enacting and implementing policies. If other parties exist, pursuing an ultranationalist goal may be challenged; hence the need not to have other competing parties in parliament.

Democracy can be weak when a regime is incompetent or unresponsive, or when democratic traditions are not entrenched in the social fabric of a country. As a result, citizens become disenchanted and are willing to abandon democracy for another ‘stronger’ and ‘stricter’ regime. Fascism in the guise of ultra-nationalism flourishes in such an environment where democracy is weak, and nationalism is strong. This provides an ideal environment for fascism to replace the weak regime and effortlessly flourish for some time.

How does one come to support demagoguery? When income inequality prevails, most people, especially those at the lower end of the income spectrum find it extremely difficult to meet their needs, whether they are basic economic needs, psychological or self-actualisation. So, it is not surprising that fundamentalism, discrimination, racism and sexism become prevalent in society. Humanity at one time or another has had to confront such issues. When faced with socio-economic and political crises, people will use whatever means available to realise their needs. That is when people start relying on demagogues. That is how fascist trends have established roots in many parts of the world. 

Over the past several decades in the western world, and certainly before that in some countries in Asia, totalitarian currents have surged under many pretexts. Humanity easilybecomes blind when they cannot satisfy their survival needs. This was the post-World War 1 scenario in both Germany and Italy. Italian and German democracies and democratic traditions were only recent and had weak roots. Unemployment grew with the economic crisis post-World War 1. The Treaty of Versailles made Germans culpable for starting World War 1. They had to accept punitive reparations and significant territorial concessions. Italians contended that they were not bestowed with the territory that should have been awarded to them. Feeling humiliated, national resentment became omnipresent. 

The Fascist and Nazi parties promised to restore their respective country’s national greatness. Hence, Italians and Germans started supporting fascism. Germany and Italy pursued their national superiority complexes via the Italian Fascist Party and the German Nazi Party. Benito Mussolini, the leader (Il Duce) of the National Fascist Party intended to “guide the material and moral progress of the [Italian] community.” Adolf Hitler (der Führer) of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party wished to re-position the German nation as “the culture-founder of this earth.” They wanted the loyalty to their nations to be above and beyond religion and social class."

To realise such goals, they needed an anti-democratic totalitarian state that would decimate any prevailing democratic systems and institutions. Mussolini removed all politicalopposition by employing his secret police and banning worker strikes. He and his followers of the Italian Fascist Party consolidated power by enacting laws and employing violent means that transformed the nation into a one-party dictatorship. His aspirations for creating a totalitarian state ended when he was deposed by the King. Yet, in a few months’ time, he established a pro-Hitler puppet regime in northern Italy and became the leader of the Italian Social Republic. In 1945, while fleeing with his mistress, he was captured and summarily executed. 

Hitler believed that the Jewish people were responsible for the economic exploitation of Germans during World War-II. Germans not only accepted Hitler’s falsified version of events, but condoned his savage barbarism, simply because this was justification for their own personal economic benefit.

Part 1: https://isis.lk/featured/1738-economic-disparity-and-nationalism-part-1

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