Critical judgement needed

I had mixed feelings will reading the Digital Services Act. To follow up on last week’s readings and discussion, media literacy appears to be the obvious long-term solution to halt the spreading of false information that manipulate people. This would in fact only be a solution to react to a dishonest or sensationalist use of social media by journalists or leaders of (far-right, in this case) movements, instead of fixing the downsides of fast traveling and easy-access information. But since, as mentioned by Freedman, right-wing groups are actually dependent on social medias that give them the visibility needed, it certainly won’t stop writers from molding news to convey provocative assumptions or targeting minority groups (as shown by the story on Roma in Czech Republic reported by the study of Slavíčková and Zvagulis). The tactics employed by those who wish to put forward their political group’s ideas are caught in the wheel of social media, already too big and too fast to hope to keep any control on whatever is thrown in it. The point outlined in Freedman’s article about wanting to minimize regulatory controls show how populist parties rely on social media (it then benefits them that regulations are kept at a minimal degree), but at the same time, those who are opposed to the movement (those targeted by the anti-elite narratives, presumably) actually contribute to the visibility on medias. Online platforms are at the heart of how information is introduced, consumed, and used. In this line of thought, regulations on their content are necessary, in order to complement other solutions to limit the possible negative impacts.

I think that, at first glance, the regulations proposed by the Digital Services Act are rational and well-founded. They appear to be more about not hiding information, so that it would ensure that there is no market dominance, and that costumers and companies are all protected when they navigate on websites. It seems to me that it is evidently predominantly a reaction to the misuses of how web platforms allow to display content, a short-term solution, compared to media literacy courses, for example, as it would directly affect the content, and not the way that the viewer deals with it. But I would be afraid that a guaranty that all the online material on said and said website is reliable would be reassuring, to the point where the viewer feels that he doesn’t need to exert his critical judgement. And since loopholes and other type of tinkering with rules always happen, or grey zones (such as not including the Roma side of the event in a news article, as explained by Slavíčková and Zvagulis) can be exploited, stating that online services are reliable might put judgement to sleep. Maybe adding a disclaimer that despite efforts to provide trusted information, critical judgement is still advised would help? I would think that no regulations will be inclusive or ahead enough to prevent any misuse or hiding of information. It would only be a reaction, a short-term solution until another loophole is found. It is still a good and needed plan, but I believe it has to be combined with a stress on the use of critical judgement whenever people are exposed to information online.

Mainstreaming the Far-Right in Media

By Jackie Howell

Media in all of its forms have played a key role in facilitating the spread of far-right populists’ messages. While media is not the cause of these movements, tabloid media, elite media sources, and social media platforms are responsible for their part in spurring the far-right’s current momentum. These platforms give populists a voice, regardless of the media source’s intentions.  They frame certain narratives that the far-right manipulate to fit within their agendas. Far-right populists can thank the media for their visibility in mainstream news. From tabloid media circulating populists’ ideas to elite media playing a repeated message of outrage and ridicule of far-right leaders and supporters, media has given the far-right the attention they crave most – a direct line to the people.

This week’s readings illustrate how communication is key to spreading the far-right’s anti-immigrant and nationalist rhetoric. Media outlets frame narratives that influence the public’s perception of minorities, as demonstrated in the case against the Roma community in the Czech Republic. The use of tropes in media can manifest harmful stereotypes and emotive terms that evoke hatred toward minorities. Also, mainstream media’s constant repetition of its televised news cycle helps ferment these stereotypes, as repeating news stories increases the media outlet’s target audience.   

In the digital age, social media platforms have become an easy way to spread populist messages. Before social media, far-right leaders relied on in-person rallies, printed manifestos, and organized meetings to spread their agendas. New forms of media are tools that can help spread messages for others to digest regardless of their location. Social media platforms are easily accessible for users of nearly all ages. This allows the far-right to reach their target audience by connecting with users that share, retweet, or post similar messages, creating an online community of far-right supporters.

Social media platforms allow the far-right to spread their culture of conspiracy theories, white nationalism, and anti-elite sentiment. Memes, videos, and blog posts allow the far-right to unite and share ideas, support sister movements, and spread via hashtags and reposts. The far-right can radicalize and influence social media users, and in turn, users can post their manifestos for others to read and copy. For example, eco-terrorists like the El Paso shooter and the Christchurch shooter (and even the mass murderer in Norway) left behind manifestos to provide a mass murder guidebook for others to follow and study.    

As the course comes to an end, this week’s readings reflect on the most contemporary issue regarding far-right populism: far-right in the digital space. It is fitting that at the beginning of the course, Trump’s Twitter account was suspended, which raises the following questions: how can media and social media platforms prevent the spread of harmful messages? Is it even possible to stop or slow the spread of misinformation, racist propaganda, and far-right memes? As we move further into the digital age, it will be interesting to see how liberal democracies police the digital space without fueling far-right populists’ anti-elite rhetoric.

References

Freedman, D. (2018). Populism and media policy failure. European Journal of Communication, 33(6), 604-618. DOI: 10.1177/0267323118790156

Slavíčková, T., & Zvagulis, P. (2014). Monitoring anti-minority rhetoric in the Czech print media. Journal of Language and Politics, 13(1), 152-170. Doi: 10.1075/jlp.13.1.07sla

von Moltke, J. (2019). The Meme is the Message [lecture video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7e7lSGlSWs

Words Matter: How the Czech Print Media Enabled ‘Othering’ of it’s Nation’s Citizens

By Austin Pellizzer

In this final week of reflections for the Populism and Authoritarianism in Contemporary Europe class, we looked at how both old and new media has shaped national narratives. One prominent example of this is the Tess Slavíčková and Peter Zvaguli article Monitoring Anti-Minority Rhetoric in the Czech Print Media: A Critical Discourse Analysis. In this work, the authors describe how they used analytical steps via AntiMetrics to track hate speech within Czech Print media against its Roma citizens (153). By analyzing three points: 1) hate speech and media, 2) hate speech and public opinion, and 3) hate speech and body politic (153), we see how media outlets can utilize linguistic aspects and recollections of accounts to polarize inter-ethnic conflicts and create a type of ‘othering’ amongst its population (157). However, while this article was able to shed light on a facet of research imperative to understand, three questions regarding this method have come to mind. 

Firstly, with this article coming out in 2014, a year before the migrant/refugee crisis that shook the EU and continent, the authors alluded to the idea that the Czech Republic’s far-right was weak (156). Would this have changed in the wake of the humanitarian events of these past years? Secondly, when measuring this phenomenon of hate speech in national media (152), how did the researchers define the term? Since hate speech continues to be a highly controversial topic, the definition has been one of contention. Thus, it would be beneficial for the reader to get a sense of their measurement of this term and how they came to a clear and definite consensus. Lastly, with the Czech population deeming the ‘other’ to be the Roma population (152), would this ostracizing be now directed to the migrants or both? Considering the many gaps in this article due to the timeline and explanations, it is clear that Slavíčková and Zvaguli’s work would need to be updated to fit this contemporary and ever-changing environment.

Conspiracy Theory No Laughing Matter

This week taking a look at conspiracy theories, my initial thought was that it would just a funny thing to listen and read about. I feel everyone at some point has explored some conspiracy theories from the moon landing to the grassy knoll/ JFK assassination. In all my time reading about these things i had never taken them truly seriously and thought them to be just an exploration of alternative scenarios….for fun. However while watching the short Vice video on Q Anon gaining momentum in Germany, it really started to show how their is a fine line between being slightly curious to it completely taking over a persons psyche. One moment specifically came when a man named Miro was describing the collapse of his marriage, what struck me was the previous notion i had that someone who took these theories for face value might have experienced something that would drive them to follow such a thing but in the case of Miro’s wife, this was not the case. Even a former vegan chef, Atilla Hildemann merged the Q Anon conspiracy with his own animal right morals.

This raises another important issue on how Q Anon conspiracy theory, originally an American phenomenon, has made its way across the Atlantic to Germany where it has the second most followers and will no doubt will spread across Europe. While followers of this are still small in numbers they still appear in the UK and Italy where the pandemic and helped tremendously in gaining followers. While its easy to dismiss such ideas as nonsense, what is important is to not take these followers as just another fringe group. Every day more and more people fall into the mindset of believing such things and to dismiss them means ignoring an ever growing population that could mobilize and create allot of trouble in the future, more so than they already have.

Far Right Exploitation of Media

By Absalom Sink

The core questions around which this week’s readings revolve are:

  1. How does social media construct particular conditions for populist formations?
  2. How is networked society different from what came before?

To try to answer these questions, I’ll lean on three of the readings in particular: Niko Hatakka’s “When Logics of Party Politics and Online Activism Collide”, Des Freedman’s “Populism and Media Policy Failure”, and Nicole Doerr’s Bridging Language Barriers, Bonding Against Immigrants”.

Doerr’s article focuses on the use of visual imagery by the far-right to transcend linguistic and national boundaries to create transnational linkages between groups and individuals and mobilize support and solidarity. As her example, she uses the Swiss People’s Party’s “Black Sheep” poster from 2007 and the subsequent adoption of its imagery first by the far-right, fascist-descended Lega Nord and later by Germany’s Neo-Nazi NPD. With each subsequent iteration after the first, the imagery is adapted to a new local or national context, but the core symbolism—the black sheep being kicked out by a trio of white sheep, originally a visual metaphor for the expulsion of “criminal” foreigners after their prison sentences are concluded—remains the same. By the time the image trickles down to grassroots NPD supporters, they have modified the message by multiplying the black sheep (such that they outnumber the white sheep), while adding peritext that harkens back to the Nazi party, and calls for the expulsion not just of the “criminal other” but their entire kin networks (ie. families) as well. Here, memetic transmission via social media—blogs, in particular—is key to the spread imagery, and crucially does not rely on mutual linguistic intelligibility. Even lacking the peritext of the original poster, the visual shorthand of the image suffices to grant it tremendous cultural currency across a loose and shifting network of far-right groups and individuals.

For his part, Freedman focuses on the presence, or rather absence, of government. He lists a quartet of policy failures that are crucial to the rise of far-right populism and its coopting of media, and which are rooted in a blind liberal faith in the “logic of the marketplace”. Essentially, the neoliberal preference for a laissez-faire approach to regulation in which market forces alone determine the direction of media and communications evolution has resulted in the concentration of media ownership, the failure to check a tech industry driven purely by profit motive, failure to safeguard the “fourth estate” that is investigative journalism, and the gutting of public service media both by budget cuts and elite capture. Essentially, Freedman argues that the rise of far-right populists has been tied to their ability to exploit the above four policy failures, and compounded by lawmakers’ unwillingness to enact appropriate legislation. The second of the four enumerated failures is particularly pertinent to our questions this week; certainly traditional media is a factor in far-right radicalization, but the openness, low barrier to entry, and almost complete lack of oversight in social media by Big Tech means that any sufficiently motivated individual has access to a soapbox, and the means to reach like-minded individuals.

Finally, Hatakka’s article focuses on the early years of the previously “centre-left populist” Finns Party ideological capture by a more radical right through their alliance with the anti-immigration Hommaforum, and its subsequent ideological drift to a position more in line with European radical-right groups. His argument hinges on the very real difference between old-school “collective action”, and what has been termed the “connective action” made possible by online discourse. In contrast to traditional activist networks, “connective action networks rely on self-motivated sharing of personalized ideas, plans, images, and resources” in online settings. Taking action is thus not part of a “collective identity”, as it might once have been, but an individual act of self-expression, a completely different paradigm. Hatakka portrays the quasi-alliance between the party and the forum as something of a ‘deal with the devil’ for the party’s founder, Timo Soini. On the one hand, access to the large, politically engaged and well-educated user base of the forum helped propel the party to a historic highpoint in the 2011 parliamentary election, taking 19% of the vote and the seats. On the other, anti-immigrant messaging on the forum and outside of it—including by new candidates for the Finns Party, chosen from the forum’s user base—led to increased media scrutiny for the party and a series of minor scandals for Soini to deal with, as the party message strayed further and further from its previous economic core. The piece is even more worrying in light of events that came after the article’s publication: Soini resigned as party leader in 2017, and Jussi Halla-aho—the man whose blog formed Hommaforum’s anti-immigrant nucleus—became party leader and brought the party within a single seat of winning a plurality in the 2019 parliamentary election. In a sense, Hatakka’s article is a cautionary tale about engagement with new media that befits the current political climate.

Works Cited:

Doerr, Nicole. “Bridging language barriers, bonding against immigrants: A visual case study of transnational network publics created by far-right activists in Europe.” Discourse & Society 28, no.1 (2017): 3-23.

Freedman, Des. “Populism and media policy failure” European Journal of Communication 33, no.6 (2018): 604-618

Hatakka, Niko. “When Logics of Party Politics and Online Activism Collide: The Populist Finns Party’s Identity under Negotiation.” New Media & Society 19, no. 12, (Dec. 2017): 2022-2038.

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

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.