Europe is now entering a new era, characterised by the emergence of the ideology of the "New Right”. Andreas Püttmann, political scientist and journalist, explains the reasons for its rise.
Nationalist and authoritarian politics, for a long time discredited by disastrous experiences of national socialism and fascism, have returned and are about to extinguish the cultural hegemony of social democracy and liberal politics. The resurgence of far right parties is particularly prevalent in Central and Eastern European countries which, owing to the dominance of communism until the 1990s, do not have a long tradition of liberal democracy. Equally, far right politics is on the rise in countries that have not known authoritarian regime for generations. By contrast, countries in Southern Europe who have a recent history of suffering under fascist regimes, are less sensitive to this trend: here hard left populism has more success.
The "New Right" that inspires far right populism distinguishes itself from the fascist “Old Right” by giving itself an intellectual image, and seeks to engage with political conservative circles, whilst at the same time promote their radicalization. Cognisant that this strategy is not enough to win a majority, the New Right also develops cheap anti-elite arguments, denouncing supposed enemies inside and outside national borders, whether Islam, the European Union, or the United States. The New Right baits the less educated working and lower-middle classes, which have previously tended to vote for left-wing parties. In so doing, it has successfully perforated the reservoir of support for social democratic and left-wing voices.
Exclusion of foreigners and ethno-pluralism
Polarisation through scaremongering, an arrogant and sometimes aggressive assertion of our “own” as against the foreigner, or the “other” is the cement which binds the various factions of right-wing populism. “Ultimately, everything can be summarized in a sentence: the elite are pro-immigration, and we who form the base must avail ourselves. It is us against them. This is a class struggle that functions beyond socio-economic issues. At this level, the upper middle-classes agree perfectly with the working classes: racism and xenophobia are welded together in different environments” (David Schalko).
Viewed from the perspective of a history of ideas, the New Right is an explicit revival of the “conservative revolution” that occurred between the two world wars in opposing enlightened principles. It is against pluralism, liberalism and the notion of equality of all persons, the principle on which human rights are based. Although it does not follow a classic “biological racism” it upholds a concept of "ethno-pluralism" of ethnically or culturally homogeneous nation states. True democracy will not consist of equal citizens, but of a unified “national community”. This concept acts as a “hinge” between conservatism and the far right.
Against the egalitarian and liberal movements of feminism and so-called "homo-sexualization" - a major preoccupation the religious right in Eastern Europe - the New Right champions “male” values and virtues. Democracy, the rule of law, liberalism and parliamentarism are denounced as limited, soft, and effeminate.
Political historical revisionism
To strengthen “national identity” a certain revision of political history can prove useful since a “cult of guilt” attacks the vitality of a people and its self-confidence as a nation. The state of society is described using pessimistic language of cultural “disintegration” and “decadence”. Only by means of recourse to concepts of nation, people and their “roots” can a new way be opened up for an era in a healthy « body of a nation ». There is here an ideological fascist element in the revival of conservative discourse about values, although it exceeds targeted utopia.
The New Right “has the same enemies than fascism” but “its solutions, forms of organization and speech are significantly different” (Roger Griffin). It is difficult to determine whether such moderation is linked to conviction, or whether it is purely tactical and transient. Further, as the history of authoritarian regimes shows, radicalization is always possible.
Thinkers of the New Right and populist demagogues gladly champion freedom of expression and oppose being gagged by the “politically correct”. But in reality, they only mean their own freedom of expression, as evidenced by the governments of Poland and Hungary. Once in power, not only do they practice a politics (policy) different in content, but they also try to manage the rules of politics (polity) to their advantage. Interfering with the independence of the judiciary, especially the constitutional court, and the public media is emblematic of such governments. In the end, it is a question of a fight against freedom on behalf of freedom, that is to say a fight for self-determination.
Andreas Püttmann is a political scientist and freelance journalist