The alt-right is considered a significant threat to Western democracy because it undermines inclusivity that is at the heart of democracy.

In light of this rationale, the New Zealand government has been seeking progressive change to counter the growth of the alt-right. Last month, the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Amendment Bill was introduced to parliament. This bill aims to undermine the spread of extremist and conspiracy ideas on social media by monitoring and removing objectionable material to create a safe space for users.

However, such an approach is self-deceiving. This type of policy treats the alt-right as a given condition and tends to suppress it without addressing why people support it. These alt-right groups would only be pushed into a “self-sustaining ecosystem” off the mainstream. Even though popular social platforms would be free from the alt-right, the issue of the alt-right itself is left unresolved.

What has been overlooked is that the rise of the alt-right is rooted in our current approach to democracy. Specifically, majoritarianism as a longstanding process for decision-making has created coercion against inclusivity, pushing people to the extreme.

Ideally, majoritarianism should promote inclusivity, for it emphasizes equal vote and majority rule. The equal vote ensures that no one has determinative power on the final decision. The majority rule creates the need for debate, deliberation, and negotiation to secure the vote. Then, different opinions can be contested and intergraded. Even though the final decision may not be what many expected, they would say, “okay, it was not what we expected, but it is still reasonable.”

Nevertheless, in order to make majoritarian democracy function as ideal, having the virtue of compassion is necessary. With compassion, people will become moderate. Neither will they insist on more than is needed nor seek to impose their view on others, which makes effective deliberation possible. Then, decisions that are commonly acceptable can be attained.

Yet, the presence of such a virtue is absent in New Zealand politics. People’s disagreements still show a radical division. For instance, in legislation concerning abortion in 2020, the proponents accused the skeptics of disregarding women’s sovereignty over their bodies. Skeptics contend that proponents of abortion ignore the traditional, philosophical, and ethical premises of abortion. None of them has fully engaged in each other’s rationales. Therefore, the final decision was not inclusive but rather coercive. The minority are coerced to accept a majority decision only by the claim that “you must accept it since you have spoken your ideas, and people have heard that.”

This type of coercion provides a breeding ground for the alt-right to grow. In light of deindustrialization and globalization, progressive policies implemented through majoritarian coercion would overlook the impacts of the cultural and societal change on those who were once privileged in New Zealand society. Those people may feel marginalized in their own country, leading to significant grievances among them. Consequently, groups that appeal to their struggles become appealing.

As we see, alt-right parties like New Conservatives have received increasing support from the less educated and older citizens in the 2020 election. They mainly appeal to those people’s frustration caused by the political decisions that do not acknowledge their voice, particularly in immigration, abortion, and COVID-19. In essence, they provide an inclusive place for those people to express their voices.

Therefore, to fundamentally overcome the alt-right, we need to restore the majoritarian practice that promotes inclusivity. Here are two possible solutions.

On the one hand, we should restore the virtues of compassion through education. Particularly, education should emphasize that the core value of democracy is inclusiveness and encourage people to engage in conversation with those who subscribe to the alt-right. Then, we can understand what hides underneath their radical appearances and address those concerns.

On the other hand, we can have a procedural intervention to ensure equal consideration of different voices. That is to introduce a strong judicial review of the legislative process. Whereby, when there is a strong disagreement in a political decision, the judiciary ought to enter into reviewing whether there is sufficient deliberation in the legislative process.

If the majority seeks to gain more power at the expense of the fundamental concerns of the minority, the bill proposed needs to be returned to the legislature for reconsideration. The majority needs to provide a more detailed justification of their proposal and constructively address the minority’s concerns. Whereas, if a minority’s disagreement is unreasonable and can be disproven, the bill should become the law. At this point, although the minority might still disagree with the law, they will not strongly oppose it since their fundamental concerns are not breached. Then, a commonly acceptable solution can be obtained.

This procedural-based approach is different from the current judicial review in New Zealand, which is content-oriented. It does not require judges to decide whether people should have a right according to a specific view or legal tradition of where the public interest lies. Rather, it only aims to reinforce deliberation. Then, a better mutual understanding can be achieved to obtain inclusivity. The breeding ground for the alt-right can be, therefore, fundamentally eliminated.
Despite either approach we take, promoting inclusivity should be at heart for countering the alt-right. We should convince, other than suppress.

Luke Meng is a postgraduate scholar at the University of Auckland. He is pursuing a Master's degree in Conflict and Terrorism Studies. His main interests are in studying conflicts from the perspective of identity politics, liberalism, and democratic practice.