Former military officer Jaïr Bolsonaro, who ran his campaign on a right-wing fascist platform, was inaugurated president of Brazil on Jan. 1. The election of a politician who proudly embraces fascism in a major country like Brazil is a first in nearly 75 years, since the end of the last world war.
We are now living in a world ruled by leaders very similar to Bolsonaro, even if they do not flaunt their ideologies like him. And this is becoming an epidemic across the entire planet.
It does not look like this is a brief epidemic either. An increasing number of authoritarian administrations across the world are destroying the norms of the post-1945 order. National and international institutions are slowly failing. Those who oppose this trajectory, not just in Turkey but everywhere else, are feeling depleted and despondent. Just take a look at the quickly spreading pessimism among the democrats/liberals/leftists in the United States, which still has perfectly healthy institutions compared to Turkey. A period of values and standards has come to an end.
Democracy was the backbone of those values. Now the masses are craving fascism. If democracy is defined as the will of the people, then the people are now choosing anti-democracy; even at the cost of not being able to vote again to assert their sovereignty. Just like they did in Nazi Germany after 1933 or in Turkey, after 2015.
The post-1945 era was built on institutions established with hope for the future after the terrible destruction of World War Two. These institutions were the glue that kept things together. Whether we like them or not, this is the period when the world heralded rights and freedoms. Decolonisation, despite all the biases and abuses, led to the globalisation of the principle of equality. More recently, the perception was that the world order would continue on the same path, maybe even stronger, following the end of the Cold War. Recently deceased U.S. President George H.W. Bush's "New World Order" - a phrase borrowed from Wilson and Churchill - celebrated the collapse of the Soviet world and the victory of the “free world”.
Alas, the world today is not moving toward the U.S. ideal of a "New World Order", but is veering towards another scary "New World Order" making even the old order precious.
The writings of pre-1945 philosophers; the Frankfurt School, Arendt, Reich, Canetti etc. all provide valuable analysis and information relevant to grasp and make sense of this new order. We can even trace the roots to Ancient Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. All of these philosophers' analyses refer to the manifestation of the characteristics of human beings and provide answers to basic questions such as how to manage society, the meaning of good governance, how to delegate and to whom, the definition of voluntary servitude and how totalitarian systems succeed and reign.
We should include other ideas that take into account the post-1945 developments. The democratisation and emancipation movements around the world since 1945 inevitably distinguish what is happening today from the pre-World War Two era. For example, we are living in a period in which the traditional job and work standards are transforming rapidly and the working classes in many countries elect right-wing demagogues to represent them without a blink. Can class behaviour analysis by itself explain this transformation?
Traditional opposition to fascism still has considerable sway, especially in developed Western democracies. Institutions are still robust in Europe. But, does the fact that this opposition is scattered, fragmented, diverse and unorganised not point to the difficulty of getting rid of fascist tendencies?
Similarly, does the fragmented nature of the opposition not point to the doom of the classical relationship between ruler and governed and hence us moving towards an era of ungovernability? I think the appeal of the yellow jackets’ protest in France is an excellent example of this development.
Contemporary historians, sociologists, political scientists, and journalists will analyse and write about the fascist wave for many years to come.
For now, let us try to make sense of the spirit of the time in a few observations.
We are currently living in an era in which the values of yesterday, when democracy acted as its measure and main criterion, are suspended for an unforeseeable future.
The masses are willing to give up personal freedoms, and they desire firm rules. The public support of fascist regimes recalls somewhat the “desire of fascism” coined by Wilhelm Reich.
The institutions in relatively democratic countries exposed to this wave are fighting for their survival. Those who do not agree with or vote for these anti-democratic movements are shocked by the loss of hard-earned achievements and rights. Individuals who are opposed to what their governments are doing are opting for individualistic solutions such as migrating to other countries. The map of authoritarian countries mushrooming all across the globe is alarming.
The biggest group on the map still is the countries that have never had their share of democracy. These countries are having the easiest time keeping up with the new era. According to the Economist’s Democracy Index, there are 53 countries in the authoritarian category and 39 countries in the hybrid category. These countries are mainly in Africa and Asia. Turkey has for a long time been in the “hybrid” category, and it dropped 10 places to 110th out of 167 countries in the latest index, released this week.
What is new and remarkable is the transformation of flawed democracies. Countries such as Brazil, the United States, Israel, India, Poland, Hungary, the Philippines, Romania and Serbia, listed as flawed democracies, are now exhibiting visible fascist features.
No country is completely exempt from the effects of this wave, and the disease is spreading. These phenomena are enough to highlight the gravity of the age we are in.