Book Review from the September 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Far Right Today by Cas Mudde (Polity £14.99.)
The term ‘far right’ as used here refers to organisations which accept that inequalities between people are natural and positive. It covers both the extreme right (which includes fascism and rejects democracy) and the more numerous radical right (which is mostly populist and opposes liberal democracy, which in turn involves rule of law and respect for minority rights). In the EU, the far right has gained support in recent decades, from around one percent of the vote in the 1980s to seven percent in the 2010s. As Mudde says, they are ‘here to stay’. The radical right, in particular, is more or less part of mainstream politics. An example of an extreme right political party would be Golden Dawn in Greece, while the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) would be radical right.
The book deals with a lot of parties and other organisations, in many European countries but also the US, Brazil and India. Thus it is on the whole more of a helicopter tour, though a useful and informative one, than a detailed look at specific movements or individuals. While there are plenty of differences among them, many views common to the far right can be identified.
They are nativist, combining nationalism and xenophobia, and often advocate ethnocracy (where citizenship is based on ethnicity). They are authoritarian, wanting law and order, a strictly-ordered society where infringements are severely punished, though they are themselves quite often violent. Immigration and the ‘refugee crisis’ (Mudde’s quotation marks) are central issues, with so-called security of nation or race seen as vital and as having a cultural component. They advocate familialism, with the traditional family seen as the foundation of the nation and – yet more jargon! – femonationalism (‘the use of women and women’s rights in support of nativism, in particular Islamophobia’). Their support for the family implies opposition to abortion, but they are increasingly tolerant of homosexuality.
One issue about populism is that its supporters claim to oppose an elite, the definition of which is not usually clear. Mudde states that mainstream politicians are viewed by the far right as a corrupt elite who steal from ‘the people’. He says also that much academic research shows that voters for the far right are motivated less by economic anxiety than by ‘cultural backlash’, which refers to mass immigration and the supposed rise of a multicultural society. So it seems in fact that little support for the far right is based on the existence of inequality or resentment at the power of the one percent.
Mudde describes the radical right as reformist but the extreme right as revolutionary, though without explaining or justifying this latter label. His final conclusion is that the response to the far right should be the strengthening of liberal democracy. Instead, it would be better to argue for a truly democratic classless society.