When we think of right-wing governments, we might think of far-right organisations, simmering with anti-immigration, anti-Islam, populist and nationalist thoughts, determined to remove ‘outsiders’ and preserve the traditions of their culture and way of life. In the past, we might even still link right wing with fascism or dictatorships but in truth, the defining features are starting to blur. Are right wing governments universally bad, even evil? Will they always trample our rights and censor our media? Should we avoid these countries at all costs?
In recent years, Western governments have moved from centre-right further out to the right. This has been in response to issues of immigration and against the establishment of the European Union. These issues have become the new focus of perceived threat to the order of society and rule. The closer a country is to the origin of perceived threat, the more right wing they tend to be. Eastern European countries close to Africa and the Middle East have become increasingly right wing as immigrants continue to seek asylum there. So is a right wing government a reaction to a perceived threat or does a threat, not as dangerous as publicly suggested, enable those with right wing tendencies to bring out the worst in people, particularly politicians?
Right wing politics, although it has existed in some form or another long before, really only came to be known after the French Revolution. On the right referred to those who remained loyal to monarchy, class systems within society and to traditional values within the culture. The right arose as an opposition to left wing politics, which favoured liberalism, ethical decisions applied to the well-being of a society and individual freedom. Right wing politics is rooted in the rejection of equality. Hierarchical orders are to be viewed as natural aspects of society so privilege and reward is given to those who merit it according to the criteria of those who claim to be superior within society. Therefore, it is easy to see why right wing governments lean towards private enterprises and reward them with lower corporate and personal taxes as their work for advancement is considered an effort to improve society. That these rewards partner with the suppression of those not deemed worthy is no mistake.
The history of right wing governments varies from region to region but it often includes violence and oppression. During the Cold War, right wing governments in the Caribbean and South America enjoyed support from the US and carried out horrendous brutality, usually against their own people, torturing and killing with virtual impunity, all in the name of anti-communism. Dictators and military juntas displayed anti-left credentials and received millions of dollars when in reality they used this as cover to carry out their own agenda, crushing workers’ rights and individual privacy and freedom. While communism itself varied from left wing politics, by adopting an anti-communist stance, countries were able to perpetuate the belief of worker’s rights and liberal policies as in alignment with communist ideology, thereby justifying the suppression of populations that sought security in work and wages.
The power of a right wing government can seem all the greater through a pre-existing infrastructure than amplifies its policies. The United States, for the moment the world’s only superpower, under the leadership of its president, Donald Trump, has moved increasingly to the right. Implemented or intended laws, such as the current humanitarian situation at the US-Mexico border or the previous ‘Muslim travel’ ban demonstrate a desire by the administration to carry out conservative and right wing policies.
Yet these formats and characteristics have a habit of falling by the wayside once those in support of them are in power. Right wing politicians will support limited government in favour of letting the markets resolve technological and environmental issues for example. Yet the decisions made by the government tend to lean towards these private enterprises, with whom they are likely to have close ties, often to the detriment of the citizens. Capitalism, as an ideology, permeates many governments and is the driving force both economically and financially which, essentially, defines many aspects of a government’s policies. While in the past, the right was against the rising riches of those not considered nobility, time and money has changed that. Moreover, the freedom of money has become more of a right wing issue, a governments control over taxes and expenditure seen more and more against the principles of the right.
Religion and climate change denial are also typical of right wing governments. Evangelical churches in the US have a powerful influence on election outcomes and push for more power for themselves and those they consider on their ‘side’. Yet the right wing media persists in pointing out the supposed Sharia laws that Muslims are attempting to impose. Working to mitigate the impact of climate change is seen as counter-productive to the needs of the economy, in other words, the profit to be made from commerce and industry being affected. Once again, right wing governments seek to protect their corporate sponsors while the left is portrayed as wanting to destroy the economy and the financial institutions or democracy.
Who is the most right-wing country? There is no definitive answer. There is no doubt that the United States is considerably more right wing than it was but is that down to actual right wing achievements or is the country perceived as more right wing due to the language and actions of its president? The policies of smaller Eastern European countries are very anti-immigration and display Islamophobia yet may provide very well for their own citizens in terms of healthcare and infrastructure. Based only on their foreign policies, should we demonise these countries? The damage that both the US and China are doing to the world as a result of military build-ups and trade wars has far bigger impacts economically and financially than anti-immigration stances of right wing countries.
Politics is cyclical and so governments in power will change and the policies of a country may change as incoming administrations seek to undo the work of the previous one. This action will continue for as long as there are governments. Right and left wing beliefs, though, will change according to how the world is acting, a reaction to individual and community threats, both real and perceived.
Gunnar Eigener is an environmental and political writer, studying Journalism and Environmental Studies. He lives in East Anglia with 'the wife', 'the dogs' and 'those cats'.