Claims of a Far-Right Rise are Overexaggerated


Far-right victories in Sweden and Italy are not indicative of a larger trend. (Courtesy of Twitter)

In both Sweden and Italy, the emergence of far-right political leaders has taken the two European nations by storm. Sweden’s far-right political party, the Democrats, have recently risen to take second place in the country’s elections, and have been described as having its roots in neo-Nazism. Meanwhile, Giorgia Meloni’s election as prime minister of Italy has drawn attention to the far-right roots of her party, the Brothers of Italy, and its ties to the Italian fascism of Benito Mussolini. While it may seem as though this trend of right-wing victory in Europe suggests a shift to the political right globally, and particularly in the West, this is not necessarily the case when examining the politics of the last several years. 

While Meloni’s victory in Italy could be seen as a triumph for the far-right, suggesting a trend in a swing to the right of politics, it simply seems to be an outlier in the larger political arena. Italy has a number of factors that make it more hospitable to right-wing leadership, such as a strong tie to conservative religious values, and a struggling economy that many in the country blame on the country’s ties to the European Union, seeing globalism as a threat to Italy. However, it would be foolish to suggest that Meloni’s government will be in power for a long period of time, by American standards at least. As observers have noted, Italy has a long history of governmental instability. According to The Economist, “Italy will have its 70th government since the end of the second world war—on average, one every 13 months.” 

Arguably, the global populist right’s largest recent victory came in 2016, with the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. At the time, this was also suggested as a global turning point, in which the far right had taken control of the political narrative and would only see more wins in the future. As it turns out, this was not the case, as Trump was defeated, with record turnout, in the 2020 Presidential Election, only serving a single term. In his first two years in office, Biden has pushed legislation that has a more populist bend, but to the left instead of the right. According to Ross Douthat of the New York Times, Biden was able to flip Trump’s narrative into a victory for the left, disproving of the theory that the right wing is the dominant ideology in America. “So now comes Biden, in a sense, to simply scoop up elements of Trumpian populism and try the trick himself.” 

The far-right wing also saw a defeat in France in April, when incumbent President Emmanuel Macron beat back a challenge from Marine Le Pen, a popular far-right figure, whose party had once engaged in Holocaust denial and championed extreme immigration restrictions. This again showed people’s displeasure with the insurgent right, making the not-always-so-popular Macron the first French president to be reelected in 20 years. According to CNN, French voters were uneasy with Le Pen’s stances on the most important European issues of today, stating that, “A Le Pen presidency would have fundamentally changed France’s relationship with the European Union and the West, at a time when the bloc and its allies rely on Paris to take a leading role in confronting some of the world’s biggest challenges — most notably, the war in Ukraine.” Again, the global right had another opportunity to pick up a key victory, and yet their message did not resonate with the voters. 

Since the Leave campaign’s victory in the Brexit referendum in the U.K. in 2015, and Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president in 2016, there has been a narrative amongst political observers that the far right was becoming a dominant political force worldwide. However, victories for the global center to center left worldwide have disproved this theory. Not even including the prior examples, since then, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been forced from power, Justin Trudeau has won two elections in Canada and following the ousting of Boris Johnston, the U.K. Conservative Party faces daunting poll numbers. Perhaps increased political polarization has led to more people supporting parties or politicians on further opposite ends of the political spectrum. However, this does not suggest a dominant far right. Instead, it is clear that they have lost more than they have won, and voters have been proven to be uncomfortable with their politics.

Peter McGowan, FCRH ’24, is a political science major from Rochester, N.Y.