Developments of Far Right Ideologies

1. Introduction

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Political scientists, in recent years, have been concerned over the revival of extreme right political movements in Europe and other parts of the world. Even as extreme right wing ideologies continue to be identified by the general public with the discredited fascist movements that swept Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, they also continue to fascinate political experts and the public with their myriad hues, complexities and the morbid attraction they hold for people in different political settings.

Just three-fourths of a century back, in the first quarter of the 1900s, waves of leftist movements buffeted the countries of Europe and threatened to overwhelm not just the bastions of free trade and capitalism, but also the democratic models that, to some degree, worked in the UK and the USA. The aftermath of the First World War, depleted European treasuries and the great American depression had led to large-scale unemployment, poverty and economic despair in most states of Western Europe. With life being uncomfortable, unfair and difficult for millions of people, the political environment was open to upheavals and led to the spread of Communism, and to the emergence of fascism, as well as its widespread acceptance. These two political ideologies, one left and the other right, deeply opposed to each other, went on to dominate the political processes of Europe until the Second World War. The war ended in the military defeat and eclipse of fascism, as well as its virtual obliteration from the political lexicon. The vengeance of the victors ensured that the word became a worldwide slur, shunned by all political parties.

Fascism owes its origin to the Italian leader Benito Mussolini and takes its name, both from the word “fascio”, meaning union or league, and from fasces, a Roman symbol of magisterial authority that suggests strength through unity. Its ideology, while originally represented by the political movement led by Mussolini, later came to stand for a generic class of authoritarian ideology that received widespread acceptance and support in Western Europe.

While fascist parties and governments faced the charge of commitment of enormous crimes against humanity after the end of the Second World War and their extinction led to widespread relief, the eighties and nineties witnessed resurgence in parties with broadly similar extreme right ideologies. The resurrection of the extreme right in Europe in the last two decades has also led to the expression of new thoughts, which focus on strong opposition to immigration and on the disenchantment of certain sections of society with the contradictions and challenges created by the democratic system.

Britain’s problems with xenophobia and right wing violence have their equivalents all over the Continent, from Antwerp to Vienna. I could just as easily have begun this book with descriptions of the right-wing street terror of the East German university towns of Jena and Erfurt, or the widespread surmises-probably untrue-behind the soccer hooligan violence of the European Cup in 2000. Or the right-wing electoral surges that occurred from Romania to the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. Or the racist prejudice and violence visited upon asylum-seekers and immigrants in places as far apart as Paris and Budapest. A host of extreme right-wing phenomena-though hardly anything resembling the fascist and Nazi upsurge of the 1920s and 1930s-are on the march all over Europe. [1]

Many European countries, including the UK, have political parties with neofascist political ideologies. However, a number of factors, like the absence of a defining common ideological treatise, (like the communist manifesto that governs leftist thought) as well as significant differences in their political and social approaches, have led some political scientists to surmise that extreme right wing ideologies do not share a common theme. The representation of every isolated xenophobic reaction to be a manifestation of neofascism has also added greatly to the confusion enveloping the issue. It is the aim of this essay to study the history, nature, incidence and practice of extreme right wing political thought, and analyse whether this impression is valid, or whether all extreme right movements do share common and distinct ideology.

2. Commentary

Right wing ideologies sprouted all over Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. Apart from Italy under Mussolini, Germany’s Third Reich under Adolf Hitler, Portugal’s Estado Novo, Hungary’s Arrow Cross Perty, Romania’s Iron Guard and Spain’s Falange were among the parties and governments considered to be fascist. In recent years fascism and modern concepts of extreme right ideologies have been studied in detail by researchers like Roger Eatwell, Roger Griffin, Piero Ignazi and Cas Mudde, their work contributing significantly towards opening up the area to greater scrutiny.

The rise of extreme right wing ideologies is associated mostly with the fascist movements in Italy and Germany, which culminated in seizure of governmental power. Its’ rise in Europe, however, actually commenced with the end of the First World War, and the descent of an uneasy peace on the war ravaged continent.This peaceful interregnum was, as is well known, marked by a number of deveopments that led to the collapse of democracy in most European countries; other than France and Britain. The Bolshevik Revolution and the formation of the Soviet state had already sent shockwaves through the landed gentry, the bourgeoisie and the businessmen of Europe. This “fear of communist takeover, imaginary or otherwise, coupled with widespread unhappiness over the Versailles Treaty, terrible economic conditions, huge unemployment figures and the desire of minorities to assert themselves created conditions that seemed to herald the doom of capitalism”[2] and invite ambitious and power hungry individuals to come forth, promise grandiose futures, create easily distinguishable punching bags, weave extravagant dreams of national glory and take over the reins of power.

Mussolini came to power on the back of a political career that began in 1912 and culminated in his assumption of the Prime Minister’s office, and dictatorial powers, in 1922. Even though he entered politics as a socialist, his journey to power was marked with many shifts in ideology, which saw him, at different stages, allying with the landed bourgeoisie, espousing women’s suffragette, wooing capitalists and breaking worker strikes; all this, before the takeover of power by his Fascist Party led to a more detailed elaboration of Italian extreme right wing ideology. “The Party, along with big business, the Church, state, army, Fascist unions, and corporations became one of several semi-autonomous power centres in Fascist Italy.”[3]

While Mussolini became the archetypal fascist and encouraged the rise of fascist movements in other countries including the Nazis in Germany, the Heimwehr in Austria, Mosley’s party in the UK and the Falange in Spain, his form of fascism differed from extreme right ideologies prevalent in other countries of Europe; which in turn were influenced by local political and social conditions. Similar differences in right wing ideology espoused by various parties in Europe exist even today. The progressive vulgarisation of fascism over the years and its representation as a badly put together collection of half-baked cliches and reactionary attitudes has served to make extreme right ideology a collective object of derision, the misconceptions over its principles being further exacerbated by continual mindless referrals that sometimes border on the ludicrous.

George Orwell wrote in 1944: the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley‘s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else … almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’. [4]

However, many political scientists thinkers do believe that extreme right wing ideology, when used in a proper and accurate context, is well defined and has specific features. Robert Pearce argues that the ambit of orthodox fascism specifically includes (a) an extreme form of nationalism, where humans are important but only as part of a nation, (b) social Darwinism, which stipulates that struggle between nations is inevitable, (c) theories of racism, which operate on hierarchies of races and brand some as inferior; (d) anti-positivism, or rather, the belief that humans are influenced more by myth and intuition than by logic and reason, (e) the notion of the heroic and wise leader, and (f) the idea of the corporate state, a constructive middle path between capitalism and communism.[5]

Roger Eatwell of Bath University has also put forward a number of stipulations that he feels should form a minimum fascist agenda. Eatwell states that the importance of the new man and the creation of new elite are at the centre of fascist ideology. This concept of elitism, illustrated by Mussolini’s belief in trenchocracy and Hitler’s obsession with breeding a race of super teutons, is common to all fascist and extreme right political thought. In fascism, the new man is required to battle for his country and be instrumental in the build-up of the state.

Fascists placed emphasis on integrating man through a form of manipulated activism in both the political and economic spheres. They were encouraged to attend mass celebrations, which unquestionably had a quasi-religious appeal for some. The Dopolavoro and German copy, the KdF, organised events such as mass holidays, for example to the island of Rugen, which had the largest hotel in the world in 1939. Professional sport too became a form of popular control. State-subsidised sport could also provide more individualised and even commercially-related pleasures, such as motor sport in which Alfa Romeos, Mercedes and Auto Unions vied for dominance – and national prestige – on Europe’s circuits.[6]

Apart from a strong focus on the development of manhood, fascism was distinguished by an emphatic sense of nationalism, a strong belief in the importance of race, a virulent opposition to communism and the significance of the state in regulating political, social and business activity. The importance of the state arose primarily from the contempt that leaders of fascist movements felt for the ability of the masses to play any constructive role on their own. The inordinate use of myth and propaganda by fascist governments also emphasises this proclivity of the elite to think of the masses as gullible and easily led herds. The use of myth was thought to have a much stronger effect in galvanising public opinion than the use of reason and logic, be it to foster belief in the concept of racial superiority, the necessity for persecution of Jews, the imperativeness of going to war, or for increasing production in factories. While anti-Semitism reached demoniacal proportions in Nazi Germany, the importance of racial purity and superiority was also evident in Italy, where coloured people, rather than Jews, were targeted for persecution.

While fascism, per se, was based on the specific value systems elaborated in the preceding para, the extreme right movements that emerged in Europe in the 1980s were influenced by certain contemporaneous developments that resulted in some modifications to the traditional approach. Right wing extremism, though still not a serious threat, has gained significant acceptance in the recent past in countries like France, Germany, Austria, Belgium and Italy. Le Pen scored very well in the French presidential elections of 2003. Many European extreme right parties, for example, the Flaams Blok in Belgium, the Alleanza Nazionale and Lega Nord in Italy and the FPO in Austria have succeeded in increasing their electoral base. Germany and Austria, in particular, have seen strong growth in the development of neo fascist support.

Since unification, a violent xenophobic youth culture and an extreme right movement with neo-Nazi edges have taken hold and spread in Germany, especially in the states of the former GDR, temporarily, they established so-called nationally liberated zones in which they try to seize power and authority by means of sustained violence, and they are supported by occasional regional electoral successes. [7]

The political development of the new right differs from country to country. In Europe, it appears to have moved away from conventional neofascism to firstly, incorporate resentment against immigration and dilution of cultural heritage in its agenda, and secondly, use democratic representation to push for anti immigration policies, based on nationalist and populist emotions.

According to (Piero) Ignazi, the new extreme right politically signifies, articulates and successfully mobilizes a formerly silent counter-revolution of a return to authoritarian-nationalist and conventional moral values, directed against culturally pluralized, postmaterial libertarian values, individualized lifestyles, and postindustrial sociocultural modernization.[8]

In 2000, Jorg Haider’s FPO became Austria’s second strongest political force. Moreover, the party also succeeded in entering government, albeit as a junior partner; the first case of power coming to the hands of the extreme right in a West European country after the demolition of the Italian and German regimes. In a state that considers itself to be one of the biggest victims of Nazism, the FNP and the FPO, both parties that belong to the extreme right, base their electoral appeal on a mixture of ethnic pride, national identity, xenophobia, and anti Semitism. It is pertinent to note that Austria has also had to face significant increases in immigration, legal and illegal, after the fall of the iron curtain and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Cas Mudde, who in his book, “The Ideology of the Extreme Right” has made a detailed analysis of five rightist parties, concludes that four features, built around the core of nationalism, form the essence of right wing extremism.[9]

The state should implement a policy of internal homogenization and create a mono-cultural society through the deportation of foreigners
The world view is defined by a pervasive xenophobia, in which anything different is seen to be threatening and includes external and internal enemies
All parties studied support a form of socioeconomic welfare chauvinism
Well-ordered community life is essential for the protection of citizens and society.

Roger Eatwell states that in addition to using xenophobic insecurities, extreme right parties also attempt to broad base their appeal by supporting tradition and conservatism in social life.

Certainly extreme right groups tend to defend traditional values. The FPO, for example, developed in the late 1990s the idea of a Kinder Scheck, a form of new child benefit designed to help keep women in the home (previously welfare programmes had not figured in FPO campaigns, other than through its stress on immigrant parasites). They also tend to be hostile to forms of sexual liberation, such as homosexuality. Extreme right groups also tend to be nationalist, although a notable minority stresses ethno regionalism as the primary source of identification (the homogenous, relatively limited geographic region is often portrayed as a ‘natural’ rather than bureaucratic barrier to immigration)[10]

The extreme right, in the 1920s and in recent times, has worked primarily on the insecurities of people who feel threatened and insecure by seemingly uncontrollable social, environmental and economic developments. This happens, mostly by using conspiracy theories and by projecting social contradictions onto an intangible and hazy enemy. These ideologies continue to appeal to the social paranoia of threatened sub-groups by projecting the benefits of a well-ordered authoritarian world peopled by ethnic and nationalist communities over the numerous uncertainties and social challenges raised by democratisation, the implementation of universal values and modernisation of culture and society.

3. Conclusion

It has become increasingly evident that electorates have not been able to entirely reject extreme right ideologies, even after the ostracisms heaped on them after the Second World War. Extreme right ideologies continue to exist, not just under the dictatorships of despots like Idi Amin, but also in the democratic and affluent economies of Western Europe. Neofascism takes much of its inspiration from the fascist theories of the 1920s, when people were aroused on the platforms of superiority of race, creation of superior men, anticommunism and delusions of nationalist grandeur. Modern day ideology continues to stress upon the importance of ethnicity, if not race, and mostly all extreme right ideologies converge in their aim of removing outsiders. While the concept of the mythical ideal man is not thought of, any longer, as a serious possibility, extreme right ideologies work on a sense of ethnic nationalism, the desire for homogenization, and the relative safety of an authoritarian and socially conservative state, ruled wisely by a powerful and able leader.

Extreme right movements have not become powerful enough to capture power and run governments, the exception being Austria where the FPO participates in Government as a minority partner. As the ideologies of extreme right parties are still restricted to inflammatory rhetoric, it is difficult to predict the modifications these ideologies may have to undergo, when faced with the real and inherently globalised and democratised world. An illustrative example is the case of the FPO in Austria where the party, classified as a ghetto party in the late fifties, achieved substantial electoral success and joined government, albeit in the face of fierce opposition from many EU states; who joined hands to keep the FPO leader Jorg Haider out of office. It is common knowledge that during the period the party was out of power its political position was anything but responsible.

The FPO opted for an aggressive campaigning style and employed political rhetoric that was often unbridled. Its core electoral issues included political corruption, over-foreignization (Uberfremdung), (immigrant) criminality, the alleged arrogance of the EU and a celebration of the supposedly exemplary values of the ‘little man’. The fact that during this period the FPO had no political responsibility whatsoever for national politics and was dismissed by its competitors as qualitatively unsuitable for government (not least precisely because of the unrestrained nature of its campaigning style), only made it all the easier for the party constantly to engage in irresponsible electoral outbidding of the then governing parties.[11]

Interestingly, the FPO has lost a fair amount of support after it joined government. While this may possibly be due to the fact that governmental responsibility has required a toning down of irresponsible rhetoric, experts feel that the slump in popularity could also be due to the open hostility showed by the other EU states to the FPO’s participation in government in Austria.

It is quite difficult to assess how these organisations will ultimately place themselves, or even to predict whether anti Semitism will replace the current anti Muslim feeling in Europe. However, it does seem apparent that most extreme right ideologies have a number of common tenets, possibly because they arise from the same universal insecurities, which concern trespass, a distrust of outsiders, a comfort in association with one’s own kind and an inherent desire for the stability provided by a father figure. It would also be quite logical to surmise that as all extreme right ideologies work on these insecurities; their solutions will also tend to be similar, modified only because of local political and social equations.


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