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Far Right Political Actors in Europe (October 2019): History

by Simeon Mitropolitski


The rise and normalization of Far Right parties, movements, and political ideas in different European countries is not a recent phenomenon. Beaten on the battlefields of the Second World War, marginalized from the postwar political and economic consensus of moderate welfare parties in the West of the Continent, banned altogether from the political landscape in the East, overthrown by democratic revolutions in the South, left behind by the liberal institutional project of European Union, the Far Right for many decades looked like a thing of the past, almost on the verge of extinction. The gradual transformation of postwar social consensus into neoliberalism in the West, the end of Communist Party monopoly in the East, and the rise of Euroscepticism gave new life to old nationalist ideas that filled the void left by shrinking social and socialist states and the new pan-European and global challenges.

An important cluster in academic research has focused on explaining this rise and the normalization of Far Right political forces and ideas with deep historic drivers. The most important premise, not necessarily explicit, of this school of thought is that the European Far Right is part of the national character of many European nations. To understand this malignant formation, therefore, it is necessary not only to focus on its contemporary metastases but also to dig deep and find the source and the nature of the cancer.

For this reason Peter Davies in The Extreme Right in France, 1789 to the Present and Gabriel Goodliffe in The Resurgence of the Radical Right in France take a long journey to post-revolutionary France. Although their historic approach looks similar, these authors identify different drivers in history that account for the Far Right phenomenon: Davies focuses on the interrupted intellectual tradition of rejection of the French revolution and republicanism; Goodliffe singles out the class structure and the creation of social losers of modernization.

France may arguably have the longest Far Right tradition in Europe, but other countries usually come to mind as representing the Far Right in power with all its atrocities. Within the vast literature on this topic, Lee McGowan in The Radical Right in Germany and Mark Robson in Italy: The Rise of Fascism 1896–1946 follow a similar approach, focusing not only on the personal regimes of Hitler and Mussolini, but also on the large historic context, including both social forces and ideas, that made these regimes possible and that makes Far Right possible even after the end of Second World War.

No European country is immune to Far Right politics. Even the paradigmatic case of liberalism, Britain, does not escape from the general trend. Using critical discourse analysis, John Richardson in British Fascism presents the rise and development of Far Right ideology as communication with mainstream politics that constantly provide Right extremists with social issues that nourish it. Finally, part of academic studies are moving away from the biggest European countries and focusing their attention on smaller states. The edited volume The “New Man” in Radical Right Ideology and Practice, 1919–1945 has special chapters dealing with Romania, Portugal and Croatia.

Works Cited