Andrew Coates on the ideologists guiding the far right today
“The right has changed; it has embraced the ideas of its outliers,” David Renton begins in The New Authoritarians (2019). “In the US and Europe, conservatives have made alliances with those previously consigned to the margins.” Formal political agreements between conservative and centre-right parties and the far right are rare (Austria’s coalition between the Conservative ÖVP and the racist Freedom Party FPÖ, and the participation of Bart De Wever’s hard right Flemish N-VA into Belgium coalitions, are the biggest exception). But there are convergences around “national populism”. This brings the politics of national sovereignty and identity, attacks on “globalist elites”, and, above all, fears about “ethnic change”.
The Christchurch Mosque massacre of March 2019 brought some of the ideas of the far right to international attention. The murderer of 51 people had published a manifesto, The Great Replacement. This echoes the ideas of the European ‘identitarian’ movement, and the French far-right writer Renaud Camus (Le grand Remplacement (2011)). Douglas Murray had written in The Strange Death of Europe (2017) that European civilisation is “committing suicide”. The Spectator writer continued that both a lack of faith in Europe’s traditional values and the “mass movement of peoples into Europe” were at fault. Murray is far from advocating violence to halt “white genocide”. Yet he cited Camus and rejected the idea that our homelands could be “great melting pots”.
In the introduction to Key Thinkers of the Radical Right (2019) Mark Sedgwick listed four themes of these extreme theorists. Apocalyptic visions of catastrophes; an obsession about “global elites”; the use of the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt’s “friend-enemy” distinction; and the “metapolitics”, an overarching ideology. Many modern radical right-wingers are oddities. Moldbug’s “neo-reaction” and an engineered authoritarian state is an internet curiosity. Decentralised and web-based, these ideologies have still had an impact. The influence of the ‘alt-right’ white nationalists in Donald Trump’s election illustrates how the fringe interacts with the rest of the US right.
The floating signifier of the “elite” has had wide international echoes. In France, recycled as a distinction between la France périphérique looked down upon by metropolitan liberal elites, it’s at the heart of debates around the writings of Christophe Guilluy. The European Union, “rootless cosmopolitans”, the ‘Nowhere’ people, stand for the “enemy” opposed to the native ‘Somewheres’ in the language of the pro-Brexit camp, including some of the left. The word has become so commonplace that few bother to clearly define which social group or class it refers to.
In his most recent book, No Society, Guilluy draws comparisons between Hilary Clinton’s elitist scorn for the ‘deplorables’ who backed Trump, the ‘hysteria’ in the UK against the alleged racism of the lower classes who backed Leave, and French anti-fascist unity against Marine Le Pen. This ‘moral posture’ looks more like national neoliberalism and its trade wars. It heralds, with British parallels, a concession to the extreme-right’s agenda of putting national sovereignty first without any clear economic justification.
David Renton argues against calling the politics of this mixture of national populism and extreme right views ‘fascist’. Historically the comparisons back him up. Not only is there no Nazi Germany nor Mussolini in Italy. The contrast can be made with countries without these regimes. In the late 1930s the French Les Croix de feu peaked at nearly three quarters of a million members. The leader, La Rocque, could declare that he had only “to push a button to mobilise in less than two hours 20,000 men ready to sacrifice their lives”. Bravado aside, during that decade France had not just fascist rhetoric but paramilitaries who would try to put these words into action – as they did during the Vichy regime.
Today Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) has around 25,000 full members, a muscular security service, and the ability to hold vast rallies. It has MPs and hundreds of local councillors. The RN topped the polls in the European elections (24.31%). The Brexit Party also headed the UK European results. It is a private company owned by Nigel Farage. Classed on the extreme right by much of the European media, it contains alongside former Tories, ex-UKIP, and other hard right-wingers, a ‘red-brown’ tendency headed by the former Revolutionary Communist Party member, Claire Fox. Fox and her comrades see in Brexit an assertion of ‘democracy’. Yet the Spiked faction’s anti-Parliamentarian and anti-internationalist shift comes close to the far right’s focus on the manipulations of hidden ‘elites’.
The left cannot respond by taking over the language of these ‘outliers’ and giving it a different content. Those who wish to erect borders, those who appeal to the identity politics of the ‘Somewhere’ people, are not going to draw together a constituency that will help support left governments or parties. The voices that pit old communities against urban elites, dosed with a vague critique of neoliberalism, enter the same territory as the pro-Brexit nationalists who attack cosmopolitan globalists. National populism feeds off political confusion. It looks as if it is becoming, if not a new fascism, at least a place within which extreme right ideologies can flourish. To give a voice to the discontent fuelling their successes we need our own way of speaking to people. This is something that the Labour Party’s radical social and economic policies have begun to do.