The Far-Right’s Blame Game: From COVID-19 to the Migrant Crisis

by Jackie Howell

COVID-19 presents an opportunity for practically anything – a chance to learn a new hobby, a chance to learn to work remotely, and a chance to reflect. While some have mildly enjoyed the ability to stay at home, these unprecedented times have allowed the far-right to prey on those affected the most by COVID-19. When there is a crisis, the far-right uses this opportunity to their advantage to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories to attract supporters. As COVID-19 disrupted economies globally, it was only a matter of time before the disenfranchised – now with idle time – turned to QAnon and the far-right for comfort.

Across the world, states are witnessing a surge in anti-government protests and a rise in violence. From anti-maskers to protests against lockdowns, those on the fringe have joined the far-right’s movement. Referring to people that follow the rules as “sheep,” far-right populists have managed to spread their anti-liberal, anti-immigrant agendas. As a Japanese Canadian, I am not surprised by the increase in anti-Asian violence and hate crimes. During the beginning of the pandemic, my mother and I were accused of bringing the virus to our hometown. We faced disgusted glances, racial slurs, and the not-so-subtle attempts to give us more than six feet of space – even though neither of us presented with symptoms, we spoke English, and we were wearing masks before the mask mandate. To the disenfranchised, we represented the virus and all of its destruction simply by our physical Asian traits.  It is shocking and sad how a pandemic could bring out the worst in people, but these qualities are what the far-right looks for when recruiting supporters.

“COVID-19 has been an intelligence test” (Vice) is quite an ironic statement to make by anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers considering the lack of logic in their arguments against lockdowns, vaccines, and the health threat of COVID-19. Often, I see tweets on the low death rate of COVID-19, spurring online movements against lockdowns and masks. In my hometown (Chatham-Kent), protesters from Windsor to even Toronto came to support our local group of anti-maskers. The result? A rise in COVID-19 cases. The rejection of science and evidence is becoming a successful tactic of the far-right to gain supporters on the fringe.

The idea that COVID-19 and the migrant crisis contribute to the elites’ global agenda is absurd and unfounded. This conspiracy theory resonates with QAnon supporters, the far-right, and those on the fringe. When far-right populists present misinformation in a clear consumable manner, the far-right can attract new supporters that may not identify with the political right or those outside of politics. For example, the woman that changed her opinion on Trump after watching YouTube videos and reading social media posts illustrates how the far-right can manipulate logic to gain supporters. As crises continue to occur, the far-right has the opportunity to seek new supporters by blaming a common enemy.

References

How this TV chef turned COVID truther helped QAnon boom in Germany. (2020, October 23). VICE News, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1yOqtbWrdg&ab_channel=VICENews

Kalmar, I. (2020). Islamophobia and anti-antisemitism: The case of Hungary and the ‘Soros plot.’ Patterns of Prejudice, 54(1-2), 182-198. DOI: 10.1080/0031322X.2019.1705014

Scott, M. (2020, October 23). QAnon goes European. POLITICO. www.politico.eu/article/qanon-europe-coronavirus-protests/

QAnon’s European Vacation

by Sydney Linholm

The article by Mark Scott for Politico discusses how the American conspiracy theory QAnon has made it’s way to Europe and settled within populist groups and conspiracy theorists such as the Yellow Jacket movement in France, the anti-vaccine community in Italy, and the Brexit followers in Britain. The author alleges that the reason for this embracing of QAnon both online and in these movements in Europe comes from the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s true—the same people who participate in anti-lockdown protests across Europe are the ones who buy into QAnon theories about political leaders and secret government agendas.

With people spending so much more time online because of the pandemic, it’s easy for them to discover QAnon’s rhetoric and jump to the conclusion that COVID is a hoax and lockdown is just the new world order being pushed by crooked officials. QAnon is all about fighting against the elites: the basis for their theory is that Donald Trump was recruited by the U.S. Military to win a war against crooked democrats, and QAnon capitalized on those who already didn’t trust the government and bought into theories such as Pizzagate. The distrust of influential world leaders is what allowed them to gain such a strong following, and they take advantage of American fear.

While the movement is still small in Europe, it’s quickly spreading, and similar groups are emerging. QAnon has influenced things like Qactus.fr in France which promotes conspiracy theories about local politics, praises Trump, and supports the Yellow Jacket movement. In the Netherlands, QAnon has influenced social media accounts that support far-right politician Geert Wilders. In Britain, movements like “Citizens Unite UK #wakeup” borrow from QAnon’s theories and make allegations about secret pedophile rings, the global elite, and the government limiting their rights and freedoms through COVID lockdown. QAnon’s global reach was sped up by the pandemic and the conspiracies that emerged from it, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Appearances

This week’s readings and video were certainly entertaining. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there seems to have been a surge in conspiracy theories, mostly on random Facebook posts, but it was alarming to read just how many people are in fact involved in the QAnon movement. One of the interviewees in the video, Mirko, raises an important point when he says that media literacy should become a school subject. Now that information, any information, travels so easily and can reach so many people, and that medias onto which we rely to stay up to date with events have become a part of our everyday life, it is crucial that we learn to use them wisely from a young age. I think that it is the main reason why ideas like those put forward by QAnon and other conspiracy theories groups were able to convince such a large number of followers. There is a clear lack of knowledge on how to find reliable and trustworthy information on the Internet. Combined with the boredom, panic and questions that the pandemic brought, this created the perfect mix for people to get caught up in wacky theories (intelligence test? Virus created by Bill Gates?). In a normal context where people would not have that much time to kill spent on social media, or would not have had sanitary measures to question, their judgement would not have been clouded (at least, for the majority… conspiracy theories will always attract a minority), but the pandemic allowed for the explanations provided by QAnon to make sense to them.

I spent some time reading the comments under the video, and one in particular was interesting. It compared Attila Hildmann, seen in the video, with Hitler. Now this is a bit far stretched, but there is a parallel to be drawn with a charismatic leader (Hildmann seems to enjoy and even need to be the center of attention, given his career and the fact that his convictions allow him to draw people to his cause of ‘telling the truth’) or the speeches based on conspiracy theories that call for people to unite and fight against an imagined enemy. And frankly, considering how Hitler succeeded in convincing a lot of people, it is a bit scary to think that history could repeat itself, with the same means, albeit for different reasons.

On the subject of means, other than the appeal of ideology that is expressed in the video and in Scott’s article, what emanates from the readings is how such theories rely deeply on appearances and rumors. Just from the choice of the words in Scott and Kalmar papers (theirs, and the ones they cite), it can be understood that there is a particular attention on how the ideas are formulated in order to attract people and numb judgment. Vocabulary such as ‘alleged’, ‘propagate’ or ‘reinvent’, along with the description of the methods used by Viktor Orban, for example to nurture the hatred towards Soros and his supposed plan to force Hungary to accept migrants (posters, spreading false stories, etc.), illustrate just how narratives are a powerful tool.

Thought Policing and the Battle of ‘Disinformation’: How Political Debates and the Exchange of Divers Ideas are Needed Now More than Ever

By Austin Pellizzer

This week’s articles and video media sheds light on conspiracy theories and how this has made its way into the mainstream of American politics and across the pond into the European political community. Looking at the Hungarian populist governments’ use of conspiracy theories to push anti-Semitism and islamophobia (184) in Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism: The Case of Hungary and the ‘Soros plot’ by Ivan Kalmar, these ideas can grow into an Ethno-nationalist scope with detrimental consequences (185). With such nationalist happenings, this inevitably spreads both intolerance and hate in the name of preserving particular values and ways of life (186). On the other hand, both Politico and Vice’s materials talk about the need to battle ‘disinformation’ related to more well-known and global movements from the right, which can have detrimental consequences to one of the most sacred freedoms to democratic nations, the freedom of speech. 

The Politico article by Mark Scott titled Qanon Goes European looks at the 2017 fringe political movement Qanon which has made the mainstream news in more recent years. Scott, in detail, looks at how European populist parties (particularly in the UK, Germany, and Italy) have used many of these Qanon theories from Trump’s 2017 Presidential Election to the recent Covid Pandemic to shape this phenomenon which found its beginning on the social chat site 4chan. While it is essential to consider how these movements can have serious consequences, like the Capital Hill Riot of January 6, which brought Qanon believers together, the idea of having to silence and de-platform individuals and organizations in the name of combatting ‘disinformation’ is problematic of an in itself. Demonstrated in the Vice video, How this TV Chef Turned Covid Truther Helped Qanon Boom in Germany, brings to light the need to combat this ‘disinformation’ within the political sphere. However, while this idea might sound like something needed to preserve democracy, it is in many ways doing the exact opposite. 

With collective action predominantly coming from the political left concerning social media platforms and politicians bent on censoring people based on the idea of spreading ‘disinformation’ related to topics like Trump and the Covid-19 pandemic, this will only lead to more people embracing alternative beliefs as a whole. If companies and politicians alike genuinely want to have a united political dialogue and discourse to improve society, it is in their best interest to end the censoring and silencing of one side based on having diverse ideas and beliefs which is only human. Instead, what is needed is to open the doors of dialogue for a free exchange of ideas and debate, which will inevitably lead to the truth prevailing and mending political wounds of past years. 

Watchin’ the Tide Roll Away?

By Absalom Sink

It’s becoming a tiresome cliché, isn’t it? Almost as tiresome as the cliché from a few years ago: that of a ‘rising tide of far-right populism’ in Europe. And while that old number is still getting plenty of play, it seems like every month there’s a handful of new articles and op-eds pontificating on whether the ‘populist tide’ has peaked and begun to ebb.

To be fair, I can understand the urge behind writing pieces like those. The ‘populist right’ has been dealt a number of blows this year. There was the “stunning rebuke” against populism in Slovakia with the election of centre-left, liberal Zuzana Caputova. Just over a week ago in Bologna, Italy, a rally held by the populist Matteo Salvini and attended by a little under 6000 supporters was counter-protested by between 12000 and 15000 people. Similarly, far-right rallies held last week by Pegida in Dresden and the ultranationalist NPD in Hannover were dwarfed by counter-protesters. And it’s hard not to see 13500 people marching in Paris against Islamophobia as a raised middle finger aimed at the Rassemblement National (RN), the political embodiment of Islamophobia in France. Finally, let’s not forget the “collapse of the far-right” in the Austrian election this past September, when the FPO lost 10% of the overall vote as compared to the last election because of a corruption scandal.

The problem is when we try to use events like these to extrapolate out over the whole of Europe. In fact, just framing it as the populist right is problematic. Certainly, there are transnational connections between populist movements/parties, but there is no single, monolithic populism. These groups cooperate to the extent that it’s practical. But if, say, Germany’s AfD were to suddenly founder, it’s a fair bet that the Swiss Peoples’ Party and the RN and the Sweden Democrats—far-right populists, all—would let them sink before risking their own positions. By lumping all these groups together when declaring that the ‘populist tide is receding’, we massively oversimply a complex transnational political situation.

Aside from oversimplifying things, there’s also the worry that such statements might make voters complacent; believing the threat to be behind them, voters might have less impetus to vote. The problem is a number of far-right populist parties in Europe still have fairly robust polling numbers. Germany’s AfD has held steady at 13-14% in the national polls for two years, while in Thuringia’s state election last month it came second, with over 23% of the vote. In France, Marine Le Pen’s RN is actually leading the presidential poll, hovering around 28%. Even in Austria, where the ‘Ibiza affair’ saw the FPÖ drop by 10% in the last election, they picked up enough seats that they were able to maintain their coalition government with the winning ÖVP. How can we claim that far-right populism has peaked when a party like the ‘formerly’ fascist Sweden Democrats are poised to become the biggest party in their country, and could conceivably with the 2022 election?

My point in all of this is simply that journalists and political observers alike should be wary of making sweeping declarations on the state of far-right populism. Europe is bigger and more diverse than we sometimes recognize; when we’re talking about an entire continent, it’s worth remembering that high tide happens at different times in Helsinki, Finland and Cadiz, Spain. The same goes for the metaphorical tide. While populism might ebb in one region, it can still be in flood in another.

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 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 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) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahtvsNU2bkk

Diversity, bu Only the Selected Diversities…

Surely, it is understood that the Second World War greatly influenced the political outcomes of the post-war world. Fascism was associated with the Holocaust and could no longer be associated with because of its link to the horrors of the war. So, what to do with all the far-right thinking political parties? The 80s were a great time for populism to rise as Cas Mudde explains, but the 2015 mix of economic and refugee crises was the “perfect storm” for these movements to reach peaks in Europe and globally again. As Spain and Portugal never got a surge of refugees migrate to their country, we can argue that populism and far-right movements did not “stick” because of the lack of a “scapegoat” (i.e. refugees, more precisely Islamic refugees). Nativism was less of an issue because of this lack of “threatening non-native cultures.”

It is extremely interesting that these movements are influenced differently in the West and the East because of the outcomes of the Second World War and Communism in the Eastern countries, influencing the communities used as “scapegoats” which also include a Jewish population in Eastern European states. How do we understand diversity, then, in the context of othering and an increasing tendency to lean on anti-multiculturalism sentiment for the legitimization of these far-right populist movements?

With last week’s discussion of multiculturalism, it is interesting to see the shift from multiculturalism to “ethnopluralism”, because, as Ina Schmidt argues, it is the Islamic culture that is seen as a threat rather than the Arabic ethnicity. The European Union comes under the banner of “unity in diversity” when really it should read “Unity in diversity of native European states against the Islamic Other.” So, racism is not the issue anymore even though broad definitions and generalizations of the othered groups can definitely still lead to racism.

Europe’s Paradoxical Relationship with Tradition

By Absalom Sink

As Gloria Wekkers writes in her book White Innocence, the celebration of Zwarte Piet—Saint Nicholas’ “Moorish helper” usually portrayed by a white person in blackface, and played as a —remains a mainstay of Dutch Christmas celebration, despite increasing controversy over the racistracial’ implications of the character. Supporters of the Zwarte Piet minstrelsy often wrap their defense of the practice in the flag of tradition; white Dutchmen and women perceive themselves at risk of being “deprived” of a tradition that reaches back into their youth and beyond. Wekkers gives the example of a woman who “introduces herself as a sociocultural worker and says that black people do not realize how much pain it causes whites to hear that Black Pete is a racist figuration.” Wekkers’ interlocutor, a stand-in for countless other Dutch, imagines herself and her family the victims of “blacks [who] do not realize how hurtful it is to have to give up a figure that you have grown up with and who has given you so much joy.” Forget the people who actually feel uncomfortable or hurt by the depiction of Piet; forget that, as Stuart Hall says, “stereotyping tends to occur when there are gross inequalities of power.” This is a matter of tradition! Europeans clearly must hold traditions to be sacred, right?

Ah, but then we get to Nilüfer Göle’s article, “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam.” Here we read of European Islamophobia, which pits Europe as a “secular site of modernity” against the foreignness of Islam, which no less a figure than Pope Benedict XVI implied to be incompatible with “reason” and “rational values.” As Göle explains, “many Muslims defend Islam as the religion of their parents; Islam them with a source of resistance to acculturation and an opportunity to bind with their heritage.” The tradition of Islam both provides a link to ancestry and acts as a bulwark against the cultural alienation of trying to acculturate in a society that insists on recognizing immigrants as Other. And from thence springs the fear, the “phobia” in Islamophobia. By presenting an alternative to the European ‘secular’ consensus (which nonetheless frequently makes reference to a Christian cultural basis), Islam brings with it the spectre of counter-hegemony. Recognizing a Europe in which Islam has a place—not just in its present, but throughout its history, first in Spain, then in the Balkans, and now across the continent—means “become aware that the hegemony of European chronotopes (time-space) over the definition of modernity is weakening.” Islam is a threat to that hegemony, just as the controversy around Zwarte Piet is a threat to the white Dutch hegemonic culture within the Netherlands.

So, one could suppose that the threat of erosion of hegemony is what leads to the disconnect on the subject of tradition. But questions remain. How do Europeans—Western Europeans, in particular—reconcile their progressivism with their own cultural conservatism? How does Belgium ban the niqab while neighbouring Netherlands clings to blackface Zwarte Piet? Could it have anything to do with the fact the former is seen as a mark of the foreign Other while the latter is a Dutch tradition, ostensibly “indigenous” in nature? What makes some traditions, even those rooted in religion, compatible with ‘European secular modernity’ while disqualifying others?

… ‘he asked rhetorically, already having a good idea as to the answers.’

Works Cited

Göle, Nilüfer. “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam.” New Literary History 43, No. 4 (Autumn 2012): 665-685.

Wekkers, Gloria. White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2015.

Metapolitical Chimerism of the Nouvelle Droite

By Absalom Sink

The protests of 1968 are often held up as the apotheosis of the New Left—to borrow from Hunter Thompson, the “high water mark[…] where the wave finally broke and rolled back”—as the student activism that undergirded them generally failed to meet their revolutionary aims. But as this week’s readings make clear, 1968 also served as a critical inflection point in the trajectory of the ultranationalist right: the French protests of May ’68 provided a crucial impetus for the genesis of a French, and later transnational, “New Right.”

Tamir Bar-On’s “Transnationalism and the French Nouvelle Droite” examines the ideological influences Alain de Benoist’s ‘Nouvelle Droite’ (ND), and the factors that allowed it to transcend national boundaries and become a transnational cultural and metapolitical movement. Bar-On predicates the ND’s success on the prolific output of its ideological architect, de Benoist, on the movement’s ability to metamorphose following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and its adoption of Gramscian hegemonic theory. The latter stems from de Benoist and his fellow travelers’ “hatred and envy for the [left] 1968ers”: the mass-mobilization of leftist activists and students had shown the radical right the extent to which left-wing politics had captured “hearts and minds”. The goal of the ND, then, was to “regain cultural power from the liberal left by regaining the ‘laboratories of thought,’” that is, through the creation of a web of think-tanks, journals, conferences, and by carving out spaces in universities sympathetic to ND discourse.1

Key to this right-wing neo-Gramscianism was a necessity for transmission and adoption of ND ideology and ethos beyond France. After all, communism, egalitarianism, socialism, liberalism all would continue to exist outside France even if ‘defeated’ within France, and thus might reenter the French cultural discourse. The fight would need to be transnational in order to succeed.2 The attempt to export ND abroad met with varying levels of success; Richard Marchi’s “The Nouvelle Droite in Portugal” argues that Portugal’s Nova Direita “seemed influenced less by the content and more by the methods of the French ND,” and adopted ND tactics like Gramscianism, while eschewing aspects like the ND’s anti-Christianism.

With all that said, it is crucial to recognize that even the French ND is not a static entity; rather, it is a metapolitical chameleon, changing its colours to camouflage its ideological underpinnings within the broader politico-cultural discourse. At core, the New Right is a “transnational ideological cocktail,” a chimera born from disparate parts, and everchanging to match the prevailing political conditions in such a way that it can always be tugging the discourse to the right.

1This right-wing Gramscianism has been reflected again in recent years in alt-right and far-right discourse about shifting the “Overton Window”

2 Similarities to Italy’s attempt to export fascism in the interwar years is not coincidental; as both Bar-On and Roger Griffin make plain, the self-described ‘superfascist’ Julius Evola was a key ideological influence on the French ND.

Works Cited

Riccard Marchi, “The Nouvelle Droite in Portugal: A New Strategy for the Radical Right in the Transition from Authoritarianism to Democracy,” Patterns of Prejudice 50, no. 3 (July 2016): 232–52.

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

Roger Griffin, “Between Metapolitics and Apoliteia: The Nouvelle Droite’s Strategy for Conserving the Fascist Vision in the ‘Interregnum,’” Modern & Contemporary France 8, no. 1 (Feb. 2000): pp. 35–53.

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (New York: Random House, 1972)

Russia in Europe: A New Game, An Old Playbook

By Absalom Sink

Things fall apart; the centre looks less like it’s able to hold, as the European Union continues to be buffeted by the widening gyre of euroskeptic nationalism. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the rise of the European far-right isn’t exactly organic. In fact, you’d almost need to be willfully ignorant in order to miss the signs of Russian influence. The Kremlin has a well-established habit of supporting right- and far-right euroskeptic political parties and movements in Europe and beyond. In the short term, Russia’s goal is to agitate for the lifting of sanctions imposed on it following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. But its long-term goals are no less transparent: Russia wants to weaken NATO and the EU, and reestablish its hegemony over former Soviet Bloc countries. Vladimir Putin did, after all, call the break-up of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.”

Hence, Russia’s support for nationalists, particularly the euroskeptics: illegal funding for Italy’s Lega Nord; the Ibiza scandal involving Austria’s far-right deputy chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache; potential links between Russia and Germany’s AfD, the official opposition party; the miraculous loan from a mysterious Russian bank that kept Marine Le Pen’s Front National afloat in 2014; the list is long, and that’s without even touching on the likelihood of Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum or the 2016 United States presidential election. Still, if we remove the latter two—obviously huge wins for Russia if they tipped the scales in either case—the win-loss record is decidedly mixed. While Lega Nord did end up in a ruling coalition Italian government, Marine Le Pen was soundly defeated by Emmanuel Macron, and the Ibiza affair led to Strache’s resignation in Austria, to say nothing of apparent far-right failures in a handful of other European states recently.

But Russia’s record is spotty only if we count a Russian victory as being the installation of a sympathetic party in those countries. In reality, the Kremlin may be playing a much more nuanced game, one that instead harkens back to the Great Powers competition of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Before World War I, European states sought any advantage they could to tip the continental balance of power. An increasingly common tactic over that period was to back anti-colonial nationalist movements in opponents’ colonial empires, as a way to force that opponent’s focus inward. The Russian Empire themselves supported Armenian and Kurdish nationalists as a way to destabilize the Ottoman Empire. Nazi Germany revived the practice during World War II, hoping to undermine the British war effort by supporting Indian and Arab nationalist movements.

Remember, Russia’s goal is the disruption of the NATO and EU status-quo. In that regard, anything that weakens either is a point for Russia. The Kremlin certainly would have benefitted from a victory by Marine Le Pen, but it would be naïve to think that they haven’t benefitted simply from the uncertainty and political polarization that came with the contested 2017 French election. Even the renewed majority government that Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS)—famously frosty in its relations with Russia—won earlier this month is something of a minor victory for Russia, given PiS’ euroskepticism. If the Kremlin’s playbook in Europe is a throwback to those pre-WWI great power tactics, Putin and pals’ implementation is remarkably effective.

Still, it’s not all sunshine and roses for Russia. Their short-term goal of getting economic sanctions lifted is seeing little success. And even though Putin still looks to have his strongman hold over the country, “the shrinking economy, the shrill nationalism as a distraction from internal decay, an inward-looking elite feuding over the division of spoils while taking its monopoly on power for granted” might be signals of a crumbling grip, that some new revelation is at hand. If that’s the case, it yet remains to be seen what rough new beast will slouch towards Moscow to be born.