Women in Far-Right Movements

 By: Willem Nesbitt

The inclusion of women in far-right movements is nothing new. As seen in Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies, women played a prominent role within the Nazi regime, slotting into the role of “adoring wives and robust mothers” (Lower, p. 39), but also participating in Nazi mass murders in concentration camps. What is new to the modern far-right movements, however, is the level of prominence in which women are able to attain. Angelique Chrisafis, Kate Connoly, and Angela Giuffrida detail the numerous women who work at the forefront of their nation’s far-right political parties, ranging from Marine Le Pen in France, to Alice Weidel in Germany.

                Opening with an anecdote of AfD MP Corinna Miazga being told “she would be better suited to being a pole dancer than an MP” by a male colleague, the authors of the Guardian article exhibit one of the many ironies surrounding women within far-right movements, detailing how members of the AfD were upset she dared reveal this transgression, more worried about the bad light being cast upon the party than the fact that she was insulted in the first place. This single anecdote exhibits that although modern far-right movements now allow women into their upper echelons, very little has changed in the way of attitude towards them, and the AfD’s gender ratio sitting at only 87% male and 13% female demonstrates how the inclusion of women is still only a very small minority.

Broken system

Wendy Lower’s book, Hitler’s Furies, is a chilling ascending tale, from, as she puts it, witnesses, to accomplices, to perpetrators, culminating with the last sentence: they got away with murder. Sadly, I think that the trials and investigations of the 1950s and the 1960s and the results, especially where charges are dropped because of a lack of convincing elements, are not specific to this time period, nor accused women. The Nuremberg and Lemberg trials mentioned in the last chapters, regarding the motivations and fate of the women, reminded me of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia trial held in La Hague. The process, accusations and testimonies are described in the novel They Would Never Hurt a Fly by Croatian author Slavenka Drakulić. Although she does not, like Lower, focuses exclusively on the crimes committed by women, the atrocities reported and the outcome of the trials unfortunately point to the same conclusion. People that had murdered, planned and conducted genocide, would try to turn the system to their advantage, by lying, denying, using false alibis, pretending to have forgotten, accusing others (even accusing the presumed victims!..), up to the point where even a good amount of testimonies was not considered a sufficient proof. The particular case of Johanna Altvater, who murdered children, really struck me. The fact that she was acquitted because of insufficient evidence, even though there were witnesses, is plainly frustrating and discouraging, and makes me question what more proof would be needed. I think this is taking the “innocent until proven guilty” a little too far, and that it translates into modern day trials. We probably all have heard or followed a case where the accused was found not guilty because of a reasonable doubt. Even though evidence point to him, and the judge and prosecutor know so, the law is made so that the accused are more protected than the victims. And in cases where victims have been dead for years, well, of course, proof like a body is not available, which is to the advantage of the accused. And this was my moment of anger against the legal system that is not getting better.

Another point that I found interesting in the book and that happens to be a recurrent aspect of war is the feeling of helplessness. It is most apparent in the narrative of watching through the window Jews being rounded up to presumably be shot. Although it does trigger an inner indignation, the witness rightfully thinks, but what can I do? And that can probably apply to every horrifying event where witnesses, made accomplices against their will, simply had no option but to let it happen, because of the fear (which was proven justified) of being punished if they spoke up and tried to stop things or help out. And I think that this helplessness, enhanced by the Nazi propaganda, plagued a lot of people, witnesses, accomplices and perpetrators, and victims, prisoners of a system that, once started, can’t be stopped, at least not from the inside where the helplessness prevails.

Gender and Genocide: How Women in Germany Contributed to the Nazi Killing Machine

By Austin Pellizzer

 In the book Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower, Lower discusses in-depth the way women as a whole were not just complacent in the slaughter of millions of people under the Nazi regime, but rather, they played an instrumental roll in perpetuating the Nazi system both at home and abroad in the East (6). 

By giving women heavily controlled agency (11) to serve the State in significant ways such as on the Eastern front, in the medical corps, and or behind a desk, there were also social expectations they needed to uphold (21). Hitler believed that the roles of women were both in the movement and the home. He stated, “What man offers in heroism on the field of battle, woman equals with unending perseverance and sacrifice, with unending pain and suffering,” …”Every child she brings into the world is a battle, a battle she wages for the existence of her people. The National Socialist Community of the Volk was established on a firm basis precisely because millions of women became our most loyal, fanatical fellow-combatants” (22). As we can see, there were sharp contrasts and gendered roles prescribed from the highest levels of the Reich. These women were expected to fall in line with the Nazi policies and suppress their feelings. While also producing the perfect Aryan offspring (22) to support the thousand-year Reich.

With this, one question stuck out to me throughout the chapters that dealt with the ideas of performative gender and To what extent did these women have to walk a fine line between being a mother and embodying female Aryan ideals while taking on a hardened and ‘masculine’ trait of being ruthless and a murderer? Did these women have to police themselves to ensure one did not perform more of one gendered characteristic over the other? Did these women change their demeanour based on their social environments? And, what were society’s perceptions of these evil women who committed such unspeakable atrocities?

Works Cited

Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin, 2013)

Women joining the far right is far from new

Michaela Bax-Leaney

There is consistent and repeated historical precedence for the participation of women in far-right movements. And yet, as we again find ourselves witnessing more and more women flock to the far-right, the thought pieces inevitably crop up. Why, we ask, why are women drawn to these movements? Surely it must be an anomaly, or the result of some perfect circumstantial storm. Yet in doing so, we undermine not only the autonomy of women, but also their culpability for these actions.

Furthermore, we need only look to the past, as historians López and Sánchez, Lower, among many others continue to show us – women have long participated actively, of their own volition, in the causes they support, and those causes have and continue to include ones on the far-right. We saw this in instances such as Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Phyllis Schlafly, in the 2020 miniseries Mrs. America, as the dramatized (and real life) Schlafly railed against the Equal Rights Amendment and in large part contributed to the formation of the ‘Moral Majority.’

Yet as López and Sánchez write, these stories seem to continually confound us because they seem to reject every understanding within women’s and gender history. If, as they say, we have reached a point in historical scholarship where woman-centred narratives are being sought out and told, it is often under the assumption that these narratives in some way tie back to the fight for women’s liberation. But women and their history deserve more nuance, and frankly more accountability than that, with historical and modern discourse recognizing the context and precedence for participation by women in causes other than the liberal feminist movement of the day. Furthermore, that this participation is not necessarily inherently linked to their gender.

From Erika Ohr to Catherine, the Cashier: A Look into the Women of the Far Right and their Own Women’s Rights Movement

By Bryce Greer

Erika Ohr, a sheepherder’s daughter, was approached by nursing recruiters in 1938 while she worked as a domestic servant for a priest in Swabia. To her, she felt left out, a stranger, who then was forced to join the Nazi Party’s League of German Girls. Yet while here, she became inspired by two Red Cross Nurses who told their story of leaving behind the farms to make a name by their choice of profession. For Ohr, this was her choice to leave behind her old life. To her, she wanted more. Not unlike Ohr, Catherine, a cashier at a budget supermarket in Paris in the contemporary, wanted more. To Catherine, “the elite in power hasn’t got a clue what life is like for real people.” To Catherine, then, the answer to her “more” was Marine Le Pen and the far-right. In both accounts, the far-right had an appeal for women to make their own choices and to begin their own movement – one that was active but not like what we should perhaps now call a left-wing women’s movement through feminism.  

This week’s readings showed a nuance to women’s rights movements, and equally showed a disillusioned failure by academics in understanding the role of women in the far-right. Rather than just a passive victim, some themselves find their own agency in the right just as well as men, and many still feel left-behind. Ohr’s story in Lower’s Hitler’s Furies is one of many that showed a sense of belonging for women in professions through the Nazi movement. Emphasized by Lower was the idea that the far-right fed on idealism and energy of young people, yet for women this idealism came to surface through a wish of ambitious want in life. The aspiration, Lower now calls cliché in the contemporary, was its own revolutionary movement in the 1930s.

The ambitious life is one that becomes equally valued in the Auxilio Azul Maria Paz movement in Madrid, as written about by Lopez. An all women organization, the Auxilio Azul showcased the active working of women in fascist movements despite the prescribed misogynistic world that fascism sought. Even so, the group, although differing from contemporary belief, were women who fought “to live the quiet, domestic, traditional, Catholic lives… and saw their own reality.” (Lopez, 713) To take into this consideration then, the pro-Franco women in Lopez’s reading were agents of their own movement to sacrifice for the right of others to live “ordinary lives” that were patriarchal in nature.

With Catherine’s story being told alongside the current women in power of the far-right, Chrisafis’s question on why women of the far-right are turning to groups that traditionally opposed feminism, is seen now through Franco Spain or Nazi Germany. This was a time before feminism really found its movement, and yet women still had their own movements for agency and rights. In Lower’s work, it was Jewish men that became a sexualized form of anti-Semitism that allowed women to become their own protector of their body and rights. Today’s far-right continue this blame and add Muslims and any other immigrant to their mix now as well. And despite a misogynistic world of the far-right, women like Le Pen, Hochst, or Miazga have shown the active role they can play to appeal for the far-right and women’s rights. To combat misogyny is universal, and women of the far-right have found their own active movement outside of the “leftist” feminism.

Works Cited:

Angelique Chrisafis, “From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: How the European far-right set its
sight on women” The Guardian January 29, 2019
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/29/from-le-pen-to-alice-weidelhow-the-european-far-right-set-its-sights-on-women

Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez. “Blue Angels: Female Fascist
Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9.” Journal of
Contemporary History, vol. 53, no. 4, (Oct. 2018), pp. 692–713.

Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin, 2013)

Women in the Far-Right

Sara Dix

The role of women within far-right groups, both in the past and the present, is quite unique and interesting. Lopez and Sanchez discuss the role of women during the Spanish Civil War which shares similar patterns that are discussed in Lower’s book about German women that had roles within the Nazi regime. Even in modern times, women continue to be extremely important for far-right groups.

During the Spanish Civil War, the milicianas were young women dressed in worker’s overalls who marched alongside other women and men to defend the Republic. However, even in academia, there are few studies done on the Nationalist women who participated within the Civil War as historians mainly focused on the more active conservative women who were active participants in politics. This was also the same for German women in the Nazi system. However, Lopez and Sanchez emphasize that women were most important for espionage, counterespionage and information processing. So, they did maintain important roles. As for those during the Third Reich, women became nurses, prison guards, and secretaries as support under the Nazi regime.

Even in modern times, women are increasingly more involved as far-right groups are shifting to appeal to female voters. Just like in the Spanish Civil War and during the Nazi regime, far-right groups focus on the working-class and women who feel they are being left behind along with their male counterparts. Not only that, but more far-right groups are willing to accept women and LGBTQ within their policies. It’s interesting because far-right groups are typically seen as being conservative and completely against any liberal idea that doesn’t follow the typical patriarchal hierarchy.

Works Cited

Angelique Chrisafis, “From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: How the European far-right set its sight on women” The Guardian January 29, 2019

Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez. “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 53, no. 4, (Oct. 2018), pp. 692–713.

Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin, 2013)

Female Spanish Nationalist Covert-Ops, Nazi Women Input, and How We Must Challenge the Generalizations of Female Activity in Right-Wing Movements and Fascism

Academics, including historians, are not insulated from implicitly or explicitly avoiding or even actively preventing female perspectives and stories from being heard. This is especially the case when female experiences and perspectives challenge our generalizations of historical events and how these generalizations confront the role of women in seemingly male-dominated  movements, such as fascism. Not only is this visible in history (Lopez and Sanchez 2018; Lower 2013), it is also apparent in contemporary right-wing movements (Chrisafis 2019).

Lopez and Sanchez (2018) argue that historians have underestimated pro-Franco women’s participation in anti-Republican underground activities, because of a false distinction between a ‘real’ Fifth Column, where men were predominant, and the supportive roles, where women were crucial and often the majority (692). The article argues that Nationalist women played a key role in intelligence and resistance activities against the Spanish Republic and abroad.

Although the Republicans were aware of female Nationalist resistance, sabotage, and espionage, they could not comprehend that Nationalist women could have their own organizations and agency. This resulted from a mix of misogynistic contempt for their capabilities and paradoxically, fear. Moreover, the Republican conception of femininity, meant they were reluctant to punish women as harshly as men. The Republicans paradigm of the female spy was either the hyper-sexualized femme fatale-type, or the ‘light-headed’ gossip who manipulated her man or was manipulated by him (Lopez and Sanchez 2018: 707). This misogynistic perception helped female Nationalist’s objectives, as many operatives escaped detection. The majority of Nationalist female actions and their significance have been semi-forgotten due to historical and social biases, but also because of methodological limitations. After the eventual fall of the Republic in 1939, the vast majority of Nationalist female operatives adhered to quiet, domestic, and traditional Catholic lives. As Lopez and Sanchez (2018) conclude, these Nationalist females fought for this reality.

            Lower’s book Hitler’s Furies (2013) captures female activity in fascism at a broader and deeper level of analysis. Nazism mutated with the synergy of idealism and youthful energy, created an obedient mass movement and assertive force (Lower 2013: 16). Pseudo-racial science, female comradery, and the political and economic instability of the Weimar Republic influenced female participation and/or tacit consent in Nazism. There were also historically rooted in conservative cultural traditions. These traditions became mixed with Prussian militarism that “cultivated a culture of total wars and ‘final solutions’…. Integrat[ing] women into a martial society as patriotic nurturers and combatants (Lower 2013: 29). Women ‘empowered’ by Nazism camaraderie (through the Hitler Youth League of German Girls and the Nazi Women’s Organization) were not ‘feminists’, but “agents of a conservative, racist revolution” (Lower 2013: 24).

In 1934 Hitler declared crushing the Jewish intellectuals and female activists that ‘spoke of emancipation’ and that Nazism would “emancipate women from woman’s emancipation” (Lower 2013: 24). For Hitler, female equality was a Marxist demand, and stated that equality would only put women in a precarious situation where they could not strengthen their position, but only weaken it (Lower 2013: 22), as women were inferior in Nazi ideology. For these conservative and Nazi women, their enemy was not the oppressive male, but the Jew, asocial, Bolshevik and the feminist, as many in the younger generation women saw the suffragettes as passé.

            According to the regime, an Aryan woman’s main battle was for births, sacrificing their bodies in the service of the state and selective breeding. This gave zealous women power in socially policing, for a dictatorship does not require a massive secret police force when one’s neighbours are willing to do the surveillance work of the regime, out of fear, conformity, fanaticism, and spite. In particular, women policed pregnancies, preventing genetic disorders, including alcoholics, and the depressed, prostitutes with venereal diseases, Roma, Sinti women, and Jewish women. Thus, the “civil war for perfect Aryan babies was underway even before the outbreak” (Lower 2013: 23) of the war. This female involvement explicitly implicated women in the regime’s atrocities and its genocidal institutional and cultural structures.

            In Chapter 6, Lower (2013) mentions Ruth Kempner’s post-war study on the Denazification of German women, determining that 600,000 were still dangerous because they were politically active leaders and indoctrinators. After the war many Nazi women did not see themselves as guilty, this might be explained by an immoral perception of duty, loyalty, or secrecy. But also, this was a self-defence strategy, for the Final Solution was a ‘defensive’ act against the encroaching power of a globalizing Jewry (Lower 2013: 162). This exhibits clear indoctrination, that may be explained by Theodor’s Adorno’s work, that authoritarian personalities result from moral socialization in a child’s upbringing. However, as Lower (2013) states, minimizing the violent behaviour of women creates a false shield against a more direct conformation with genocide and its disconcerting realities (Lower 2013: 158). Herman Weissing, Chief Officer for the Investigation of Nazi War crimes in North Rhine-Westphalia explains, he did not encounter anyone who could be described as psychopathic, for the individuals were not insane, it was the Nazi system that was crazy (Lower 2013: 161).

            Although the Nazi and Franco leadership and military were dominated by men, women played a far larger role in ‘supporting’ fascism. Although women were largely implicated in fascism along intricately social and propagated gender lines, for instance in the female sectors of concentration camps, their position as birth-givers and socially policing ‘female roles’, women were also active in covert operations and physical torment by killing Jewish children and/or ‘rejected’ individuals.

Historians have largely dismissed the sophisticated and tangible value that women had in fascist movements. This exhibits a flaw in historical analysis and how historical evidence and methodology has been gathered. Moreover, the dismissal of the role women played in right-wing movements is limited by our own liberal biases and a dichotomy that female agency is largely a left-leaning equality driven process. Whereas, history has shown that counter-revolutionary women’s movements have also been intricate in right-wing and fascist movements.

Works Cited:

Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin, 2013). Chapter One and Chapter Six.

Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez. “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 53, no. 4, (Oct. 2018), pp. 692–713.

Angelique Chrisafis, “From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: How the European far-right set its sight on women” The Guardian January 29, 2019.

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.