How “right” are the “far right”?

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A Front National rally. Photo:  By NdFrayssinet (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Across Europe there have been a number of political parties who are regarded as being on the “far right” or “extreme right” of the political spectrum due to their opposition to immigration and nationalistic attitudes towards citizenship and the nation state.

Although it depends on what news sources or political scientists you consult, far right parties in Europe are generally thought to include France’s Front National, Hungary’s Jobbik, the Greek Golden Dawn, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPŐ), the Sweden Democrats, the Danish People’s Party and the British National Party (BNP).

Some centre-right figures are unhappy about the use of the term “far right” to describe extremist groups and parties as it implies that centre-right politics is a moderated, watered-down version of an ideology which has been viewed as fascistic and racist.

Under the headline of ‘Europe’s extremists aren’t really on the right’, The Spectator, following the European Parliament elections in May 2014, wrote the following:

‘… from Sweden to Greece, the nasty parties have, in important ways, become more far-left than far-right. The parties which triumphed this week are those which offer a perfectly logical combination of xenophobia, nationalism and state authoritarianism.’

The Spectator has a point. A closer examination of far right parties reveals that many have embraced statist, protectionist and big government style policies traditionally favoured by social democrats, socialists and other ideological leftists.

The different sides to these parties’ platforms are summarised in The Weekmagazine:

‘These parties are right-wing in a very European sense: they tend to be nationalistic, favouring promotion of Christian values and strict limits on immigration but also support a strong welfare state for native Europeans. Their overarching theme is that the benefits of a country should go to the Europeans who were born there and pay taxes there, not to newcomers.’

This form of “welfare chauvinism”, a term used by news site The Conversation,and defined as ‘welfare for all, provided they’re us’ was documented in an interesting article published by the Guardian in the summer about the far right in Scandinavia. The Danish People’s Party (DPP), according to the paper, were promising larger increases in spending than the then-governing Social Democrats through extending eligibility for unemployment benefits from two to four years, reversing the cut made by the Social Democrat government. The DPP’s leader pledged to divert resources away from refugees and asylum seekers and into improving elderly care, promising ‘one hot bath per week’ for the elderly and infirm living at home. In neighbouring Sweden, the Sweden Democrats have pushed for a “more generous policy regarding primary school teachers’ pay.” Schools and healthcare are mentioned as priorities for the party while a party spokesperson is quoted by the Guardian as saying that they represent ‘traditional Scandinavian social democracy and nationalism.’ There are noticeable similarities between the DPP and the Sweden Democrats and other parties in Europe categorised as “far right”. France’s Front National have a protectionist, anti-globalisation agenda designed to protect native workers, businesses and industries and have advocated for the renationalisation of key state assets.

The Hungarian Jobbik, a party infamous for its anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric, state on the English version of their website that they are opposed to ‘globalised capitalism’ and promise to deliver universal free mobile internet and free dental care for all citizens. They would also allocate revenue generated through a ‘hamburger tax’ to promote active and healthy lifestyles. The British National Party’s economic nationalism is not too dissimilar to Jobbik’s or Front National’s. In recent general election manifestos, the BNP have voiced their opposition to laissez-faire capitalism, globalism and Thatcherism and have pledged to renationalise public transport, utilities and Royal Mail as well as increased public ownership in financial and banking.

By combining their traditional nationalistic, anti-immigration and anti-EU stances with liberal economic policies, these parties might be looking to bolster support among working-class voters. If this has been the intention then the strategy seems to be paying off in some quarters – both Front National and the DPP have attracted substantial working-class support in recent years.

Whatever the reasons, this blend of different ideologies and policy positions should make us rethink how we go about defining and categorising “far right” parties. Political scientist Cas Mudde, who studies the far right, claims that these parties share a common set of characteristics: nativism, populism and authoritarianism.

Terms like “nativist populist” or “authoritarian populist nativist” are clunky and cumbersome and are not the ones which headlines writers would readily use but this provides a good start on how we analyse and categorise parties on the “far right.”

 

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