Navigating the Storm: How Global Inequality Fuels the Rise of the Illiberal Right

The recent Annual GRIP Lecture and Symposium, a significant event in the academic calendar, resonated with the pressing global socio-economic and political challenges. It delved deep into the complexities of inequality and the surge of far-right extremism. In a gathering marked by insightful perspectives and thought-provoking analyses, speakers and commentators shed light on the multifaceted nature of these issues and their ramifications across diverse geographies.


The Annual GRIP Lecture: Exploring the rise of the far-right

The Annual GRIP Lecture was held in a packed auditorium at Ulrikes Aula (University of Bergen). Margareth Hagen, the Rector of the University of Bergen, set the tone by highlighting academics’ unique and crucial role in confronting inequality and far-right extremism. She underscored the necessity of going beyond conventional political and journalistic frameworks, emphasising the need for comprehensive academic research and analysis.

The lecture, titled “The Politics of Inequality and the Rise of the Illiberal Right: a Global Perspective,” curated by Don Kalb, Academic Director at GRIP, provided a platform for this year’s keynote speaker, Walden Bello. Bello, a distinguished international sociologist renowned for his insightful analysis of the politics of inequality, scrutinised the ascent of the illiberal Right across the Global South and North. He offered nuanced insights into authoritarian processes, geographical categorisations, and the comparative analysis of right-wing mobilisations, enriching the discourse with his profound understanding of the subject.


One of the lecture’s most relevant features was its examination of case studies from around the world, illustrating how leaders like Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro, Viktor Orban, and Rodrigo Duterte have capitalised on economic insecurities and societal anxieties to propel their agendas. Through meticulous analysis, Bello unveiled the mechanisms through which these leaders wield fascist charisma and exploit populist sentiments, resonating with audiences through unorthodox discourse and appeals to fear and insecurity, thereby connecting the audience to the global issues discussed.

The discourse expanded to encompass the role of neoliberalism and globalisation in fuelling the rise of the far-right, particularly in disenfranchised rural communities and among white working-class voters disillusioned with liberal democratic establishments. It elucidated how economic conditions, coupled with racism and anti-immigrant sentiment, form the bedrock of fascist movements, which seek to create cross-class solidarity based on exclusionary narratives.


Commentators, including Siri Gloppen and Geir Presterudstuen (UiB), offered invaluable perspectives on the lecture’s themes. Their nuanced engagement with the complexities of labelling leaders as fascists and the challenges of combating far-right ideologies within legal and institutional frameworks enriched the conversation, underscoring the need for innovative solutions and effective mobilisation strategies in a rapidly deteriorating socio-political landscape.

The Q&A session further broadened the dialogue, addressing concerns about the erosion of democratic norms, the institutionalisation of intimidation tactics by far-right leaders, and the role of corruption and elite accumulation in perpetuating socio-economic disparities. Bello’s responses further elucidated the intricacies of these challenges, urging for cooperation and solidarity from the audience in the pursuit of genuine equality and democratic empowerment.


The Annual GRIP Symposium: A Platform for Further Exploration

The Annual GRIP Symposium, held following the lecture, provided a platform for scholars from diverse backgrounds to present their research papers aligned with the Annual Lecture’s theme. The scholars were drawn from renowned institutions such as the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Boğaziçi University, University of Amsterdam, and Georgetown University Qatar. Elina Troscenko, Arif Rüzgar, Geir Presterudstuen, Tomas Salem, and Don Kalb chaired the thematic panel sessions.

Session topics ranged from “Fascism with Indian Characteristics” by Svati Shah to “The Rise of the Illiberal Right as the ‘Revenge of Politics’” by Ayşe Buğra. Volodymyr Ishchenko discussed “Eastern European Working-Class Neo-Nationalism: A Ukrainian Exception?” while Ewald Engelen discussed “Saving the ‘Fascists’ from Themselves.” The symposium also included presentations on specific country cases, such as “Fascism Goes Viral: Far-Right Influencers, Organised Crime Bosses, and the Emergence of Social Media Authoritarianism in Ecuador” by Jorge Núñez.


The symposium culminated in a session chaired by Don Kalb featuring Marc Edelman’s presentation on “Fascism USA 2024,” offering a glimpse into the current socio-political landscape of the United States. Scholars, including Don Nonini from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Walden Bello, provided closing comments and reflections. Don Kalb reinforced the significance of the symposium in fostering broader discussions on global inequality, the imperative of fortifying democratic institutions in the face of rising illiberalism and the need for a more scrutinised and comparative analyses on how extractivism and accumulation of global capitalism fuels the rise of the far-right. The symposium served as a testament to the audience’s role in academia’s commitment to addressing pressing socio-political challenges and seeking innovative solutions in an increasingly polarised world – in direct response to the initial call by UiB’s Rector during her opening remarks.

In conclusion, the annual lecture and symposium were compelling platforms for deepening our understanding of inequality’s complex dynamics and the far-right’s resurgence. As we navigate an increasingly polarised world, we must heed the insights from such discourses, forging inclusive pathways towards a more just and equitable future.


You can catch up on our YouTube channel if you missed the Annual Lecture.