Framing Populism

This week’s readings were unified by examining the spectrum of right-wing populist movements in Europe. Rather than trying to draw broad conclusions that link these movements together, they dissected specific issues that were dealt with by right-wing populist movements in order to distinguish differing positions or frames of these issues. Specifically, the articles by Gattinara, Pattermotte & Kuhar and Schmidt illustrated these differences well by examining specific issues or events to display varying reactions to them, with the goal of portraying a more comprehensive picture.

Gattinara utilized the reaction of Italians towards the Charlie Hebdo cartoon and the following attacks to display the broad spectrum of reactions within Italy. He analyzed the reactions of three specific groups: populist radical right actors, extreme right actors and ultra-religious actors. What he found was that ideology led to differences amongst these three groups, however there was a trend to include liberal democratic principles within a narrative of exclusion based on cultural differences. This highlighted the pragmaticism of far-right groups as they converge on a single issue from differing perspectives.

Pattermotte & Kuhar focused on the anti-gender campaigns frequently associated with the far-right, but sought to unpack these movements beyond the simple label of the global right. Instead, they divided the anti-gender movements between the historical Catholic narrative and rightwing populism. By differentiating the two campaigns, it became more apparent how they interact and mobilize their followers. This provided more context within concrete settings in which these campaigns are occurring and enabled a deeper understanding of the phenomenon.

Finally, Schmidt examined the PEGIDA movement that occurred in Germany, which opposed Islamization, and found two key attributes at its core. These attributes were autonomous nationalism and ethnopluralism. These two attributes fulfilled two differing needs for the PEGIDA movement. On one hand, autonomous nationalism fulfilled the practical side of the movement, including its mobilization, communication and cohesion of the movement. While on the other hand, ethnopluralism satisfied the ideological underpinnings of the movement, creating a theoretical framework and a unifying cause.

These case studies are interesting, as they illustrated the pragmatic nature of far-right populist movements across Europe, as well as display the diversity across them. While it appears as though they are unified in their cause for a homogenous society, a large variety of perspectives lead to quite unique framings of events and issues. Ultimately, these case studies provide a more comprehensive understanding of far-right populist movements beyond generalizations.

Social Media and Right Wing Populism

By: Julia Aguiar

It can be said that contemporary right wing populist movements benefit from increased access and presence of social media. Social media is often used by ring wing populists to disseminate ideas and bolster legitimacy. However, in making use of social media, these populist movements engage in some paradoxes. Indeed, to consider the different ways in which populist movements utilize social media in their campaigns is to unearth some of the most deeply entrenched paradoxes in populist movements. 

Social media is based on the liberal principles of transparency and freedom of speech, which speaks to the way that the populist radical right often asserts their exclusionary politics through liberal values despite the fact that they often place themselves in opposition to left wing politics. A concrete example of this can be seen in the Charlie Hebdo debates wherein liberal democratic values of freedom of speech were used to speak out against Islam and immigration as demonstrated by Pietro Castelli Gattinara in his article “Framing Exclusion in the Public Sphere: Far-Right Mobilisation and the Debate on Charlie Hebdo in Italy.” 

In, “Disentangling and Locating the “Global Right”: Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe,” David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar write about the way that social media campaigns have been employed by anti-gender activists and right wing populists. Social media is useful to these groups for the way that it allows their messages to reach a larger audience in addition to offering a different form of media than that of the mainstream. Mainstream media is viewed as elitist and against the interest of “the people” for whom right wing populists claim to be fighting for. 

Facebook plays an essential role in propelling the Pegida movement forward. Indeed, given that Pegida’s Facebook group was made only a day after the movement was founded, it causes speculation as to whether or not Pegida would be the same without the social media platform. As Ina Schmidt demonstrates in her article “PEGIDA: A Hybrid Form of a Populist Right Movement,” as much as populist movements like Pegida use social media to bolster their movements, the democratic nature of social media also means that the social media content published by right wing populist groups can be used to criticize and threaten the legitimacy of these populist groups. In many ways, social media offers a new type of rich data analyst for social scientists. 

To conclude, right wing populist groups utilize social media in order to disseminate their views and gain a wider following. In doing so they capitulate to liberal democratic values that social media is built upon including transparency and freedom of speech, which in many ways is paradoxical to their right wing agenda. However, as previously discussed, these paradoxes are not necessarily a bad think for right wing populists and are easily reconciled. It is important to keep in mind that as much as social media can be used as a tool by ring wing populists to spread vitriol, it can also be used as a tool of resistance.

The Populist Tactic

Populism is a political tactic, not an ideology. Unlike liberalism or authoritarianism that rallies people under a set of beliefs, there is no moral or philosophical ideology that rests exclusively within the populist camp. As David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar have written, “populism has no side and cannot be easily mapped onto the left-right divide”.

Populism as Cas Mudde a scholar of the European far right has framed it, divides populations into “two homogeneous and antagonistic groups”. There is a criticism of the ‘elites’ who have used ‘corrupt’ means to deprive the ‘ordinary’ people meaningful recognition by the state. The popular belief that the allocation of resources serves the ‘elites’ and forgets the rest, evokes calls to deliver for “the people,” “the real people,” and “the silent majority” as political scientist Jan-Werner Müller has argued.

Unlike Müller, I do not suggest that populism is utilized to attack liberal order. Instead, it is a tactic to critically examine the structural shortcomings of the state. Following the introduction of legislation in Spain favouring same sex marriage, ‘ordinary’ people gathered in protest of ‘elites’ moving in a direction that disregards their structural realities. Paternotte and Kuhar suggested that without motherhood and fatherhood there is an undermining of “the anthropological basis of the family,” creating what I argue are points of fragmentation in the public trust of the state. Trust is fragmented when the structural foundations of homogenous groups of people are called into question.

 In France in 2012, the near two years of protests that ensued following attempts to broaden the definition of a ‘traditional family’ known as “Manif pour tous” is a clear result of ‘the people’ losing trust in the states ability to deliver for them. It is important to note that prior to the “Manif pour tous” ‘the people’ in France were a different political group however, following the start of the movement those that would not regularly align formulated the artificially homogenous group. In such a process Ina Schmidt has written that “whole groups of people … are scared of the future and have their fears channeled by strong leaders into a certain direction.”  The process of codifying ‘the people’ is the populist tactic with populists themselves rallying more and more to a caucus of persons ready to renegotiate their position within the state. The powerful tactic of populism creates a political stalking-horse o be picked up and taken in the direction of any cause occupying any theoretical space on either side of the  left – right divide.



Providing Legitimacy

To understand the similarities and differences of how populism plays out in different contexts, is to understand the pragmatism of populism. The way in which it plays out in different countries is not fixed, rather it adapts. The articles for this week look at how populism needs to be broken down and disentangled from the idea that it takes the same form in all countries.

David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar look particularity at how anti-gender campaigns are  utilized by populists, and that they should not be conflated together. It is important to look at the use of anti-gender campaigns as a tool used by Populists, but it is not specific to populist movement. That is is used by evangelists, Populists and the left. The way it is used is dependent on the climate in the the region. This is seen particularly in how anti-gender campaigns in Brazil are a result of catholic versus evangelist rhetoric, with less use by populists, contrary to a more Western European use.

Zack Beauchamp’s interview with Cas Mudde, discusses in particular the difference between the conceptualization of nativism between Western Europe and Eastern Europe in the context of Anti-Semitism. Mudded regards nativism as a key element to populism, but is clear in making the distinction, in this case, how in different areas this element of populism is used. That for the heavy influence of Communism following the Second World War illustrates the differences of East and West Populist approaches.

Ina Schmidt looks at the German Pegida movement and how it is, as she calls it, a “hybrid populist movement.” That is had populist foundations, but it also draws elements from the Nouvelle Droite’s concept of ethnopluralism, and the Autonomous Nationalism use of  “patchwork identities,” violence, and media in the group’s mobilization.

An interesting concept that Jan-Werner Müller discuses in his interview on The Dangers of Populism, is the concept of providing legitimacy. That in order for populism to rise, it needed conservative backing. What these reading have then discussed is the importance of the way in which populism rose in particular regions as well as the political and religious climates in these places. That populism is malleable and exists on a spectrum. It is this spectrum that shows the need and desire for providing legitimacy. That this legitimacy is both the similarity and the difference of how populism plays out in different contexts. It does not have to be specifically a conservative backing, rather it is dependent on the region in which it trying to take hold.

Islamophobia and the new Far Right Scapegoat

By Alex Wittmann

In Nazi Germany there was a very obvious scapegoat, it was the Jewish population. They were blamed for Germany’s misfortunes. The Nazis planted the insidious conspiracy that the Jews were responsible for Germany’s WWI defeat. Hitler also asserted that they were behind the ideology of Bolshevism. Knowing all of this, I could not help but notice that the Far Right of the past and present has a particular interest in using a scapegoat to rile their base and create a common reactionary movement in the cause of their Populist movement propelling them to power in their country. In Nazi Germay it was the Jews and in European Far Right movements today it is Islam. This was shown in the Vox article The Growing Influence of Anti Immigrant Politics. There was one major similarity in which I noticed similarities in which I noticed. I consisted being of course Xenophobia or Anti Islam. The article asserts that Populism gained traction in the Refugee Crisis of 2015,where the perfect storm emerged. The article explained that prior to 2015 the Far Right did not have much power in Europe. Right Wing movements are usually born out of reaction. The massive influx of refugees, terrorist attacks, and fear of racial diolution lit the spark for Populist movements in Europe. Creating a major backlash against immigrants coming in from Syria. The Far Right used them as scapegoats for Europe’s problems with terrorist attacks that year. I am not saying that the European Far Right movements are born again Nazi movements. However it would appear that any Far Right movement is born out of reaction and scapegoating. The Nazis did it with the Jews and the Far Right European Populists have made scapegoats out of Muslims trying to seek asylum. The difference between the current Far Right and the Nazis is that the current Far Right has not systematically exterminated their enemies.

Work Cited: Zack Beauchamp, “An expert on the European far right explains the growing influence of anti-immigrant politics” May 31, 2016

Defining Terms Round 2: Radical Right vs. Extreme Right

By Christine Collins

Another week, another set of definitions to consider. Castelli Gattinara draws together terms from other academics to establish a minimum definition of far/radical right based on the centrality of three factors: nativism, authoritarianism, and populism. 

Nativism places the needs of ‘real’ citizens above those of immigrants. They hold a homogeneous view of the nation, viewing foreign people and ideas as a threat to the collective whole 

Authoritarianism refers to a strictly ordered society based on ‘law and order’ 

Populism divides societies into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups: ‘the pure people’ and ‘the corrupt elite’ 

Throughout the readings, I was constantly checking my understanding of the radical right vs. the extreme right, terms I have used interchangeably throughout my life and throughout this course. This harkened back to our fine combing of the differences between fascism and right-wing populism from Week 2. Of relevance to this week’s themes, the Matthews article made the distinction that Trump is not a fascist because he doesn’t want to overthrow the democratic system. 

This consideration of democracy and its place in society linked to Castelli Gattinara, in that he distinguishes the ‘extreme’ from ‘radical’ far right actors. Both see the end goal as authoritarianism.  However, Castelli Gattinara emphasizes those under the radical category deem it reasonable and even necessary to step beyond basic political reforms to achieve their goals. In other works, extreme right wing actors are ideologically opposed to democracy. 

One contrast I saw in the readings pitted Beauchamp and Castelli Gattinara’s ideas on the Othering used by right wing groups. As defined by El-Tayeb and Wekkers, Othering Is the act of grouping people who do not fit the ideals of a social group and, as a result, looking to that group as inferior. For Beauchamp, radical right wing ideology is a race game, grouping the Muslim, foreign threat as the outsiders in Europe. Castelli Gattinara offers a different perspective, considering the Other less biological and more cultural. For him, far right groups Other immigrants on the basis of their supposed unshared values on gender equality, free speech and secularism. 

I’d challenge this belief there has been a shift from biological to cultural racism. In my view, while “differing values” is a justification right-wing groups will give for their Othering, at the end of the day, European exceptionalism is first-and-foremost linked to race. Beauchamp addresses this to some degree in his discussion on Eastern Europeans, recognizing how some, but not all, are accepted by Westerners. I’d argue we saw the act of Othering play out when comparing the two most recent refugee crises in Europe: displaced Yugoslavians were resettled into Western European countries, while migrants coming from Muslim-majority countries have experienced much weaker integration today. While these differing welcomes may be as a result of cultural differences, I believe that race and a lack of shared skin colour is a far more convincing explanation.  

Populism: United and Fragmented

Populism as a concept, as shown throughout this week’s readings, is fluid and shapeshifting. Before getting to the content of populist claims, even the act of defining what populism is can vary; populism has been called a policy (Schmidt), a political style (Paternotte &Kuhar), and an ideological feature (Gattinara referencing Mudde). When considering framing ,as put  forward by Paternotte & Kuhar, the importance of categorizing or classifying populism becomes very crucial for the analysis and diagnosis of populist content. Personally, I tend to agree with Mudde’s idea of populism as an ideological feature that is then joined with politics.

Despite the hardship of defining what populism is categorized or classified as, the content of populism is somewhat clearer. The importance of an in-group and out-group is key to populism. This group dynamic in populism centres around the creation of a ‘pure people’, which populist leaders are able to define the values and identity of the group. The content of what the in-group identity consists of is where populism shines, as this identity is vastly different in all implementations, allowing for populist groups and movements to really shape and target their audiences. For example, the Global Right in the Paternotte & Kuhar reading, focus on fighting ‘gender ideology’ to fight the progressive a causes that challenges their group values, mainly Christian beliefs. Another example, the Pediga focus on protecting national identity through antiimmigration and nationalist rhetoric. All of these claims are portrayed as being against a ‘corrupt’ other, typically this ‘other’ will be the elites of a state or social movement. However, as Jan Muller points out, the idea of rallying against the elites should not be universally attributed to populism. This is because in a democracy, people have the right to challenge those in charge.

Nonetheless, far right populism poses a risk to Europe due to the centrality of nativism, and authoritarianism. Nativism plays into the populist ‘people’ idea by arguing that states should be inhabited exclusively by natives. Authoritarianism for populist groups entails rule through ‘law and order’. Muller warns that the danger of populism is that the anti-pluralist style of populism produces the effect of deeming all those not aligned with the ‘people’, as illegitimate.

Populism as a concept is hard to summarize neatly, which is not surprising as the concept is meant to be flexible and adaptive. It can hardly be expected that in most cases populist actions play out in a similar fashion. While there can be overlap in group identities and values, I believe Paternotte & Kuhar are correct in their argument that a more nuanced understanding is needed when looking at similar groups. As they have shown, similar groups may have similar rhetoric, but do not typically share the same path to the same conclusions and do not share similar core values that drive their rhetoric. For example, the Christian groups and populist groups differ in their shared opposition to ‘gender ideology’. Christian groups base their driving forces on historic grounds and oppose gender and sexual equality (according to Paternotte & Kuhar). Whereas, right wing populist groups, while opposed to ‘gender ideology’, do not necessarily oppose gender and sexual equality.

Replacement & Colonial Thought Patterns

By Daniel Williams

The Great Replacement. Not just a great sounding name for a metal band, but a nationalist/white supremacist slogan. That is the topic of a fairly recent New York Times article, addressing the term and its ‘father figure’.

Within this, we learn that the intent of the term centers around the idea that modern immigrants, especially those from African nations, do not wish to assimilate with French culture, and instead fail to integrate and would rather simply ‘replace’ French culture with their own.

Interestingly, it can be noted that Renaud Camus was originally a socialist. This is nothing new: there is a surprising pattern of many a socialist falling instead into far right patterns of thought over time. The Nouveau Droite itself played on this idea, getting radical members by playing on the divide between socilaist and new right-wing extremes.

Perhaps more interestingly is the sort of language that is used when describing the term Great Replacement. Because it’s not anything new.

South Africa has long been confronted with its own version of this concept, the idea that Afrikaner and white populations within South Africa has a history of extreme thinkers and radicals suggesting that a black takeover is inevitable. Even before the end of Apartheid, neo-fasicst and far right groups were actively propagating such ideas.

Why then is France different? What makes France’s case so unique that Camus gets the glory for coming up with this concept? Perhaps it can all be tied to a lack of historical reckoning.

France has, historically, been a colonizer. One of the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) colonizers of the world. France has, by extension, been a ‘mother country’ in the colonial context. France hasn’t been forced to reckon with this past, not entirely, and dealing with the idea that France is no longer in some cultural way ‘above’ former colonies and peoples, may be part of the way that these white supremacist notions grow to be so powerful.

Unfortunately, the idea has stuck one way or another. Whether it can be rooted out, or called out for what it is, remains to be seen.

Global Populism : A European Concept ?

Populist movements are not “one size fits all”. The following two examples prove that populism in its global presence is made of complex and intertwined relationships of various elements that each play a part in a greater scheme.

Through the study of the Pegida Movement in Germany  (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident) and how the activists are boxed in different categories, one can deduct that the populist movement in general cannot be define as a homogenous group and that politics and social movements contribute to the amalgamation that most people do about right-wing movements and xenophobia. According to Ina Schmidt, and based on the general definition of populism, practical and ideological categories provide a separate but complementary constructive element to what is considered right-wing activism. On one hand, autonomous nationalism drives the movement with radical demonstrations, violence and an opposition to the politics in place. On the other hand, ethnopluralism which characterizes the ideological standpoint, makes a departure from the former fascist ideology based on race to turn it into culture.

If there is one topic that encompasses the complexity of defining the strict definition of populism, it is the anti-gender campaigns that became more visible in the last ten years and which substantiate the difficulty to categorize movements within ideologies. According to David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar, the term gender ideology itself proves difficult to describe illustrating the main argument that many various groups will focus on one aspect only ( same sex-marriage, reproductive rights or sex and gender education in schools). Adding to the position of the Catholic Church, and potentially a greater audience, populism movements in Europe are easily associated with anti-gender campaigns .

This association although present in many protests, has a different history on a global scale but always uses the same rhetoric of fear. The heavy use of modern media is also a mean to gather more people, which is what populism is based on. But should we make a general assumption about Europe and right-wing movements increasing presence ? Studies have proved that this phenomenon also occurs in Latin America and North America. Can we agree to disagree on the assumption that populism is a one concept ideology, and can we consider that crossovers between different political and cultural institutions or government can alter the strict definition of populism ?

Europe’s Radical Right: Cultural Descendant of the Nouvelle Droite

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 for power.

Works Cited:

Beauchamp, Zack. “An expert on the European far right explains the growing influence of anti-immigrant politics”. Vox. May 31, 2016

Bar-On, Tamir. “Transnationalism and the French Nouvelle Droite.” Patterns of Prejudice 45, no. 3 (July 2011): 199–223.

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)