By Absalom Sink
Two weeks ago, we read
and discussed the rise of the Nouvelle Droite (ND), first in France, and then
in a broader, pan-European context. Crucial to the formulation of the ND was
its retreat from the political arena into the realm of culture, the realm of “metapolitics”.
Seeing in the protests of 1968 the sway that the Left held over cultural
institutions—particularly institutions of higher education—far right figures led
by Alain de Benoist ostensibly abandoned politics and moved instead to open up
cultural space in which later generations of Far Right thinkers and politicians
might act; they appropriated from the Left Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, and
worked to sow the seeds of a counterhegemonic bloc.
From this week’s
readings, I would argue that the experiment is something of a qualified
success. Certainly, most of today’s so-called Radical Right1 have
not taken up de Benoist’s neopagan ritualism. And the populist, self-described “democratic”
nature of Radical Right movements is inherently contrary to the ND’s
anti-democratic, elitist formulation. But as the readings make clear, there are
crucial threads linking the ND and the Radical Right. Chief among them is ethnopluralism.
As Ina Schmidt explains, “Ethnopluralism is an ideology of the far right, which
is no longer directed against foreign ethnicities, but rather against
cultures—understood as being irrevocably connected with certain values,
practices, and habits.” Essentially, it is a form of cultural racism, as opposed
to the biological racism of yore, popular with fascists. By shifting the focus
of their xenophobia from “race” to “culture”, Radical Right groups avoid the
charge of racism and open ideological space between themselves and fascist
forebears. It’s the ideological sleight of hand that lets Islamophobes respond
to charges of racism with the stock sentence “Islam isn’t a race!” And as we’ll
recall from Tamir Bar-On’s article, it is the same semantic shift that de Benoist
and his followers made in the 1980s, moving from biological racism to the anti-multicultural
“Europe of a Hundred Flags”.
It does not really
matter that groups like Pegida or the Front National don’t adhere entirely to
the roadmap laid down by the ND. Remember, the goal of the ND was simply to create
the cultural space in which Far Right ideals might be taken once more into the
political sphere—ideals like the abandonment of liberal democracy, and at least
since the 1980s, of ethnopluralism over multiculturalism. By achieving broader
cultural acceptance, as evinced by de Benoist’s Prix de l’essai from l’Académie
Française and glowing coverage in Telos, the ND was able to open that
political space it desired. It now needed political actors to take up the
mantle. As both Zack Beauchamp—in his interview with our old friend Cas Mudde—and
Pietro Castelli Gattinara show, a series of events in 2015 would provide the
spark for an explosion of Radical Right movements to occupy that space, a sort
of Far Right Big Bang.
According to Mudde, “the
core of the ideology of the radical right includes three features: nativism, authoritarianism,
and populism.” Nativism, he says, is essentially a form of xenophobia that
dictates that a state should only be inhabited by people who are “native” to it.2
Authoritarianism revolves around the belief that society should be “strictly
ordered”, and in which any social issue becomes treated as an issue of security—the
example Mudde gives here is the treatment of drug crises as “something to be
cracked down on” through law and order, rather than as a public health issue.
Finally, populism boils down to another “us versus them” dichotomy, this time
between “the elites”—typically mainstream political figures, but with a healthy
helping of wealthy proponents of liberalism, like the far right’s bogeyman George
Soros—and “the real people”.3 2015 brought a confluence of factors
that served to empower nascent Radical Right movements throughout Europe. First,
the refugee crisis, stoked nativist fears throughout Europe. Terror attacks, starting
with Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015, fueled authoritarian tendencies and calls
for increased vigilance, particularly against ‘outsiders.’ Finally, the lingering
effects of the 2008 financial crisis and the aftershocks that threatened the
structural integrity of the EU undermined the existing economic liberal order
and played into populist anti-elitist rhetoric.
Julius Evola knew he
would never see a truly resurgent fascism in his lifetime; it is entirely
possible that Alain de Benoist never thought he’d see the ideological seeds he
sowed bear fruit. But a series of external shocks—a financial crisis
originating in the United States, revolutions throughout the Middle East
leading to a nearly decade-long civil war in Syria, the rise of ISIL, and the
largest refugee crisis since the Bosnian War—provided the cover for a broad range
of Radical Right political movements to spring up in the cultural niche carved
out by the ND.
1Borrowing here from Cas Mudde’s differentiation between
“Extreme Right” and “Radical Right”, in which the former rejects democracy outright
in favour of revolution aiming for authoritarianism, while the latter merely
rejects aspects of liberal democracy, like pluralism and minority rights,
while still claiming to adhere to democratic principles. Castelli Gattinara
helps to further clarify, explaining that radical right groups “locate
themselves outside the political mainstream but without intending to replace
democracy with an authoritarian order.”
2Remember, though, from our very first class, when we grappled with the question of “who is really ‘native’ to a given place?” The Magyar people claim ownership of Hungary, even though they are likely to have arrived significantly later that the ancestors of today’s Slovenes within the borders of Hungary. Likewise, how “native” is a person who calls themselves an “Anglo-Saxon”—itself an incredibly fraught term—to Britain?
3”The real people” has become something of a shibboleth
for Far- and Radical Right groups, differentiating them from Left populists; as
Jan Werner-Muller explains, the term serves to “other” any who don’t fit with
the “majority”, while also delegitimizing any other groups and figures vying
Beauchamp, Zack. “An expert on the European far right explains the growing influence of anti-immigrant politics”. Vox. May 31, 2016 https://www.vox.com/2016/5/31/11722994/european-far-right-cas-mudde
Bar-On, Tamir. “Transnationalism
and the French Nouvelle Droite.” Patterns of Prejudice 45, no. 3 (July
Castelli Gattinara, Pietro. “Framing Exclusion in the Public Sphere: Far-Right Mobilisation and the Debate on Charlie Hebdo in Italy.” South European Society & Politics 22, no. 3 (Sept. 2017): 345–364.
Schmidt, Ina. “PEGIDA: A Hybrid Form of a Populist Right Movement.” German Politics & Society 35, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 105–17.
“The Dangers of Populism” Interview with Jan Werner Mueller, Council of Europe (March 2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahtvsNU2bkk