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.
- 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.)
- 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).
- 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:
- 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.
- 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).