Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Dangers: the far-right vs. the neoliberals?

by DoDo Sat Jun 13th, 2009 at 04:45:57 AM EST

Following the EP elections, the question arose, is there a Europe-wide rise of the far-right?

Is there a danger, is there something to worry about?

Or, could one say that neoliberalism is more dangerous?

I discussed these issues in reply to a comment in In Wales's Look left and right diary, which I converted into a diary below.

Promoted by Sassafras


I. The danger from the far-right

The danger emanating from the far-right must be considered on at least three levels.

  1. There is the question of whether the far-right have the potential for directly endangering democracy itself (and thus all of us) by a full takeover, like their ancestors did in the thirties.

    This question must be subdivided further. One question is: is there an immediate danger? (This, in effect, also translates as: is there a strong Europe-wide increase of the far-right?) Here I agree with the danger sceptics in answering no. (As for Europe-wide rise: as I wrote in a Salon last month, growths in some countries are offset by contractions elsewhere, not to mention that some of the growths [Austria, France, Romania] followed collapses and did not reach the onetime peaks.)

    The other sub-question is: is it possible that one day, the growth of some far-right parties doesn't stop at 10, 15, 30% but swaps over into a majority? In this, I vehemently disagree with negative answers: I think arguments denying this possibility all rest on an extrapolation of current trends. But public opinion can change, can be changed. (That did happen during the fascist takeovers between the wars, too.)

  2. The second level of danger from the far-right is indirect influence corroding democracy and rights. Methinks there can be no question that that exists.

    One way this indirect influence can emerge is if the far-right is a junior partner in a coalition, or if the survival of a minority government rests on its vote. There are four examples for the former: the previous ÖVP-FPÖ/BZÖ coalition in Austria, the previous PiS-LPR-Samoobrona coalition in Poland, Berlusconi's coalitions in Italy, and the current Smer-HZDS-SNS coalition in Slovakia. Examples for the latter: Rasmussen's first and third (current) government in Denmark, Barroso's first government in Portugal, Balkenende's first in the Netherlands.

    The other form of indirect influence is the adoption of far-right rhetoric and policies by mainstream parties even when those hold majorities on their own -- a move of the Overton Window. Examples are aplenty; I will just refer to the example cited in the comments to In Wales's diary, French interior minister then President Nicholas Sarkozy adopting far-right leader Le Pen's xenophobic discourse in France (as rhetoric, and as policy).

  3. The third level is whether the far-right endangers some people directly. Again, methinks the answer is a clear yes.

    Everywhere, the far-right endangers people identified as members of minorities they rail against. [Note: what matters is not whether you are actually member of a minority, but whether a racist believes your appearance fits the bill.] For these endangered people, the critical mass is not a government majority: you are bound to meet upon a discriminating asshole every day even if they aren't more than 5%.

    It is true that xenophobic rhetoric doesn't always swap over into violence. However, you can't separate the current series of murders of Gypsies by molotov cocktail and gun in Hungary from Jobbik's anti-Gypsy campaign, nor LAOS's campaign in Greece from what happened in the last two weeks, and so on.

To round up the section on the far-right, I want to warn against treating them in isolation, against treating their development as if it were autonomous process governed by static internal factors. The far-right's success or failure in growing to a critical mass is not independent from warnings about their growth.

It is not simply the historical memory of Nazism (which, BTW, is lacking to an apalling extent from the youngest generations, and also for older ones in formerly 'communist' countries) that keeps their heirs in check: it is just those thousands who are willing to make a stand against them, protesting, arguing, throwing eggs, campaigning, or digging up all dirt that exposes them for the scum they are. It was the activism of a previous generation that (in particular in Germany) got a dissection of Nazism into the education of the children of the sixties-seventies in the first place.

So I advise against stopping being vigilant about the far-right just because this vigilance was successful before; against dismissing all warnings as a call on ghosts to make sensational headlines, just because previous warnings were successful in putting the ghost back into the bottle.


II. Advocates of dangerous ideologies: far-right vs. liberal parties

Now, one may argue that in today's world, neoliberalism endangers much more people directly than fascism. One (like the commenter I responded to in In Wales's diary) may also consider liberal parties which adopted neoliberalism as their ideology as parallels to fascist parties. How justified is that? Let me explore the question on the example of the German liberal party, the Free Democrats (FDP).

I don't disagree that the present FDP is a bunch of loons advocating a dangerous utter-cloud-cuckoo-land ideology. However, they are by far not alone in doing so.

There are just as (if not more) dangerous neolibs on the pro-market wing of the main conservative party alliance of Germany (consisting of the Christian Democrats CDU and their Bavarian sister, the Christian Socialists CSU).

In particular, let's remember Friedrich Merz of the CDU; and also the previous boss of the CSU, Erwin Huber (and, arguably, the previous federal economy minister from the CSU, Michael Glos). Just as or even more important are advocates outside party politics: think-tanks and economic institutes, bankiers, media company Bertelsmann and its foundations, columnists (f.e. FT columnist Wolfgang Münchau); most of whom are CDU voters BTW. Though he mixed his message with the critique of market fundies lately, a special mention is deserved for the just re-elected Bundespräsident (figurehead federal president), former IMF boss Horst Köhler, who was a CDU member.

Now, one would be justified to claim that this is analogous to the indirect influence of the far-right -- would the FDP not have been a relatively recent convert to neoliberalism itself; that is, would it have been the source of the malaise.

The FDP's neoliberal turn dates to the nineties, and the faltering of the social liberal wing was gradual. In 1994, one of them, Hildegard Hamm-Brücher, was the FDP's candidate for Bundespräsident. Another left-liberal, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, is still prominent in the party as law specialist and Bavarian boss (though with no influence on economic policy; but see what I quoted her with in this diary).


III. Coupling neoliberalism and the far-right

As a final note: the dangers of neoliberalism and the far-right aren't necessarily independent from each other. I see two forms of this:

  1. Neoliberalism and the far-right take turns

    It is a relatively well-known notion that far-right parties can bloom on the ruins of society created by neoliberalism; e.g. masses of desperate people. In effect, that also happened in Thirties Germany: the Great Depression was born from the irresponsible boom years of the Twenties. However, it can happen in the other direction, too: after the collapse of extremist nationalist populism, people may put parties advocating 'mainstream' policies and conformity to 'sane' 'Western' economic concepts into power.

    You'll find a good example of a move in both directions in Poland. In 2005, desperation in the wake of a series of governments with neolib policies (the last of them a corrupt and disintegrating post-communist centre-left one) boosted the votes of right-wing populists. The ideas and policies of the hard-right main party in the new coalition government, PiS, would count as far-right in some more advanced democracies; while the junior partner LPR (League of Polish Families) was just insane. Then this government disintegrated as they lost all credibility internationally and nationally -- and was succeeded by a PO government, elected by a majority of urban voters, and advocating even more radical neolib reforms than before.

  2. There can be symbiosis between neoliberalism and the far-right.

    Again, there is an example right at the start: Pinochet's Chile. In Europe, though the original fascists stole from Socialism, some of the current extremists are also tax-cut radicals. Examples include Austria's Haider (well, at least in rhetoric, even if not in Carynthian practice) and his parties, and the present Dutch 'anti-Islamist' formation, PVV, and the Republikaner in Germany (as opposed to the DVU and the NPD).

Display:
On a sidenote: in Central Europe, conservatives (from hard-right to far-right) may use anti-Communist rhetoric heavily, but they usually consider liberals as the main enemy (for pre-WWII historical reasons).

Thus, what an irony, I got to hear the claim that the local liberal party (left the EP getting 2.16%) is worse than the currently most successful far-right one (got into the EP getting 13.77%) - from a far-right colleague of mine.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 05:36:43 AM EST
It's the third option I'm really worried about for the "mature Western democracies." When we have conservative parties espousing the most off-the-wall insane neoliberal policy and at the same time expanding the police state (politikerna vill faktiskt lyssna på dig, as Piratpartiet says...).

But what I find genuinely worrying is the way the obviously far-right parties (DF in the Danish case) are giving the more cultured, but equally far-right, parties (like the Danish conservatives) political air cover by allowing them to appear moderate and cultured.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 07:54:12 AM EST
as I said over in In Wales' diary.

Not contradicting anything that is said here, I think what I was trying to say that the neo-liberal platform is much more acceptable to the voter than neo-fascism is.  Although this crises should have debunked that platform and ideology, it obviously hasn't.  The far-right, as far as I can tell, has been debunked for WWII.  Anecdotally, in my circles at least, Germans identify more with being European than German.

At least until the World Cup rolls around...

Don't get me wrong, I do not advocate ignoring far-right movements or sentiments, but I see more people willing to go along with the damaging free-market ideology than with the NPD platform.  I truly can't speak for other countries as I don't live nor have I visited those countries.

But in my experience, the hysteria of the "far-right" direction of Europe is overblown, especially with recent comments over at Big Orange.  I was taken aback with the "oh noez, Europe is turning fascist because of the financial crises" comments and diaries.  That's why I mentioned the conjuring of ghosts as sensational headlines.

I just don't see that as the threat at this point in time here where I live.  I do see a willingness to believe in free markets as a bigger threat as it is more acceptable and even considered desirable.

Nevertheless, I do not advocating ignoring these groups, they need to have an eye kept on them and if they do anything illegal, prosecuted.  In the meantime, they to be continually discredited as they have in the past as you state in the diary.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"

by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 09:00:36 AM EST
the hysteria of the "far-right" direction of Europe is overblown, especially with recent comments over at Big Orange.  I was taken aback with the "oh noez, Europe is turning fascist because of the financial crises" comments and diaries.

Ah, I see where you come from. This is a regular occurence in US media/blogger commentary I confronted a few times, too. And in the current wave, I was similarly annoyed by recent articles trying to fit far-right developments into the single simple narrative of the economic crisis. It does play a role in some cases, but more in an indirect way.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 01:30:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One big difference is a full acceptance of the democratic process as the only way to effect change, and the idea that such changes are inherently reversible through the same means. That's what was key in the evolution of the Italian Communists, not their policy prescriptions. The European neolibs are fine on that account, the far right isn't.

Also a quibble-clarification. When the East European right talks about the evil liberals they mean it in both the American sense with respect to non economic issues, and in the European 'neoliberal' one for economics.

by MarekNYC on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 09:10:06 AM EST
On your first point, I agree overall; however, I do not think that neolibs think that the democratic process is the only way to effect change. They accept election results and don't apply violence; but the There Is No Alternative meme is very strong. They argue for (when in opposition) or attempt to implement (when in government) policies against electoral promises or (wide) public opinion majorities. This is a crucial point in their view on referenda, too (e.g. they oppose referenda as something preventing the government from doing what it wants or as an outlet for demagogues and stupid plebs when it affects a liberalising economic reform).

On your quibble-clarification, I should have stated that myself -- it's obvious for us two but neither for Western Europeans nor for Americans.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 01:25:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't really see the difference between the criticisms you address towards the neolibs and the behaviour of the SD's in promoting the welfare state in the postwar period - TINA, institutionalization, delegtimization, and last, but really not least what could be called 'disaster social democracy' - the exploitation of the ur-disasters of twentieth century Europe to push radical socio-economic change (WWI, Communism, fascism, Great Depression, WWII). And I also don't really see these practices as somehow beyond the normal democratic game. The key difference between the neolibs is an acceptance of democratic legitimacy when push comes to shove. That's something you don't have with the extreme right nor with the classical communist movement.
by MarekNYC on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 04:24:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One big difference is a full acceptance of the democratic process as the only way to effect change, and the idea that such changes are inherently reversible through the same means. That's what was key in the evolution of the Italian Communists, not their policy prescriptions. The European neolibs are fine on that account, the far right isn't.

To an extent...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 02:28:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(I wouldn't classify B as neolib. Closer to fascist in fact.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 03:37:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Murdoch is fundamentally the same story as Corruptioni. If we're calling Corruptioni a fascist, then we're calling much of the structural, institutional support for neoliberal policies fascist as well.

A case can be made, of course, and at any rate there's a sliding scale.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 03:51:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Murdoch uses his media empire to preach neoliberalism; while he has no government post. B doesn't -- and is not at all a consequent neolib in government.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 03:54:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you mean "consistent". This is one of the more confusing German/English differences - I was puzzled for a long time as to why the Germans were so concerned with consequences, until I realized that I didn't understand the German. The meanings are similar enough that one can confuse them for a long time. Did you learn German before English, or is the Hungarian word similar to the German?

Eventually/Eventuel is the other one that seems to confuse everybody.

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 04:09:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
NOW I am confused :-)

German has konsequent, Hungarian has konzekvens, both from the same Latin root, and the same meaning: to follow through on something, to be faithful to some principle. (Related, but not identical in meaning with Ger. konsistent resp. Hun. konzisztens.) I did not realise there is a difference in meaning with the English consequent -- and still don't know from your comment what the difference is :)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 04:22:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I see your point - I may have confused meaning with what is idiomatic. Somehow using "consistent" in this context feels right, while "consequent" says (at least to me) "German speaker!". Your argument seems to make logical sense, but the English language isn't always logical...
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 04:31:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Consequent (English version): As follows from. E.g. "consequent to the attack on Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany."

Konsequent (Germanic version): Consistent, in keeping with principles/established rules. E.g. "Alan Greenspan ist nicht konsequent in sein logik."

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 05:15:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(BTW, I started to learn German and English at the same time, but one immersed in the culture and among native speakers, the other in foreign language class.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 04:25:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Murdoch uses his media empire to preach neoliberalism

Fox News is also Murdoch. As are a couple of the British papers in the same genre as Bild-Zeitung.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 05:19:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. And? Don't those preach his neoliberal and arch-conservative views, too?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 05:28:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They do rather a lot more than that. A guy like Bill O'Reilly is often skirting the ragged edges of most European laws on hate speech. And he's an anchor on a continent-wide cable TV station.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 06:25:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep, O'Reilly is a fascist.

IOW, you want to prove that Murdoch is a fascist, too? Well, I have nothing against that; but there is little neoliberal ideology in Berlusconi, is my original point.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 07:09:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's true. But I didn't have a link to any of Murdoch's escapades that was both snappy and work-safe.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 07:11:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What distinguishes B from Mussolini is the scope of his actions. M professed a certain ideology of the state while B has no abiding concept of the state. B's actions are motivated exclusively by his urge to consolidate and extend his power while most politicians, M included, perceive(d) power as a means to put into act a program (Machiavelli dixit).

The supreme court judge emeritus Gustavo Zagrabelsky described berlusconismo in this way as Nihilism, the drive for power in itself.

As for B's opportunistic remark that he is a liberalist, he has been derided by European liberals- Poettering, as I recall some years ago. B built his power on corruption, irregular government concessions, money laundering and obscure windfalls of incredible amounts of money from unknown sources. That has nothing to do with modern capitalism nor liberalism. 1880's robber baron capitalism, yes.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Jun 13th, 2009 at 05:56:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
B came to power in order to avoid prosecution, right?

As I see it the state threathened a hostile take-over of his fortune, so he did a hostile take-over of the state. Now he uses it to build his power ever more. Not much of a political program, but he can not let go or he might get prosecuted again...

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jun 13th, 2009 at 07:27:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As I see it the state threathened a hostile take-over of his fortune

Looming charges of fraudulent bankruptcy. He was deeply in debt yet had a near monopoly of national TV.

but he can not let go or he might get prosecuted again...

He is too old to serve time even if he were condemned in a future trial. He presently has his involvement in the Mill's affair pending, but that would soon be quashed by the statute of limitations. The only other crimes he could have going are those that he is presently committing, for which he cannot be investigated so long as he is in power. Time passes, evidence disappears. An ideal setup, his self-inflicted immunity, to commit crime.

B came to power in order to avoid prosecution, right?

Also, a big also.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Jun 13th, 2009 at 08:29:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That has nothing to do with modern capitalism nor liberalism. 1880's robber baron capitalism, yes.

I often think that "modern capitalism" is just 1880s robber baron capitalism in technicolour.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jun 13th, 2009 at 08:10:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This diary is, for me, very interesting. An insight, "if you will". I'm always thinking about ecosystems - the indivisibility of ecosystems, and the flow of energy within them.

It's been a strange day. In the morning a workshop with a company running a startup MMORPG - Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. It's a WWII game, with accurate logistics (garnered from historical battle orders), in which there is a chance to change virtual history. That alone is a really interesting area. But what really struck me - and bear with me while I sketch in the details - is that these proprietary games are starting to connect with each other.

Let me give you an example. The game of my clients is basically an infantry simulation fought over land territory. But of course war in WWII was not restricted to land. If a commander in this game needs to take out, e.g. three 88 gun emplacements, he can call up an air simulation in another proprietary game which will take the removal of these emplacement as a mission, and report back what the mission has achieved.

This can only exist because protocols are in place for the exchange of map, environment and logistic data. Simulation meets simulation. This could lead to games such as 'Espionage', 'Convoy', 'U-Boat' which would specialize in particular missions and methods, but be able to import and export data to enrich other 'specializations'. The entire network would then become an even bigger simulation, with no group able to dominate (or even really understand) the flow of the 'ecosystem'. This sharply rapped me on the head in the style of Ivanovich Gurdjieff.

What I'm trying to say, that is relevant to this diary, is that we are seeing a mammoth battle between hierarchical and non-hierarchical systems, and that non-hierarchical is so alien to generations who have endured years of w*st*rn teaching, that fear of chaos brings people to the false comfort of hierarchical systems (read fascist, anti-islam, right. neo-con whatever you want to call it). And thus one of our main narratives on the left should be to explain the benefits of what they might call, negatively, 'chaos'.

But chaos is only the unstructured process of adaptation. And adapt we must. I don't know how to do this - how to 'sell' it - but the narrative has to be much smarter than it is now. Simply because it is up against generations of bias.

What I like about this diary (back to the thread) is that it starts to describe a part of an ecosystem.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 06:50:09 PM EST


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]

Top Diaries