Time to retire the ‘far right’ slur

Jun 14, 2024 by

by Joanna Williams, spiked:

Millions of Europeans have not suddenly turned into fascists. We need a new political language.

As the EU establishment struggles to make sense of last week’s revolt in the European elections, one thing is clear: our outdated vocabulary is not up to the task of describing today’s political landscape.

Gains for France’s National Rally, Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) have been described as a ‘far-right surge’ in newspapers and TV reports, not just across Europe but around the world. Even before the election results came in, labels like far right and extreme right were bouncing off commentators’ keyboards. All agree that the far right is on the rise and ordinary people need to worry. This is Europe’s ‘Trump moment’, explained Politico. Some go further. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally is described as ‘neo-fascist’, while academics calmly ask if the AfD is the new Nazi Party. ‘Fascism has arrived’, declared French author Emilia Roig when the election results became clear. Yet with almost a quarter of Europe’s voters having backed a party branded ‘far right’, it is worth asking how accurate this label is and what purpose it now serves.

‘Far right’ reasonably describes the predecessor of France’s National Rally. Established in 1972, the National Front (as it was known until 2018) united several far-right groups under the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who had a record of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. In 2011, his daughter, Marine, took charge and sought to ‘detoxify’ the party. She expelled extremists, including her own father in 2015, after he made comments dismissing the Holocaust. She also denounced fascism and anti-Semitism, before renaming the party. Giorgia Meloni joined the Italian Social Movement, a party founded by supporters of former fascist leader Benito Mussolini, when she was 15. She was, at that point, a known presence in post-fascist circles. In 1994, the Italian Social Movement rebranded itself as the National Alliance. Twenty years later, Meloni became president of its youth wing. Following a party split, she then went on to co-launch the Brothers of Italy, now Italy’s biggest party, in 2012.

Both Meloni and Le Pen have moved their parties in a considerably more mainstream direction. This means that Germany’s AfD, founded in 2013 and second-placed in last week’s EU elections, holds the dubious distinction of being labelled ‘worse than the rest of Europe’s far right’. Given the party’s short history, commentators have had to make do with political scandals in the present. In May, the AfD’s lead candidate in the EU election, Maximilian Krah, told an Italian newspaper that not all members of the Nazis’ elite SS unit were war criminals. In addition, Krah stands accused of having questionable ties to China and Russia.

[…]  The labels ‘right’ and ‘left’ do not help us understand what drives politics today. In the past, far-right views were firmly associated with anti-Semitism. But in an age of Queers for Palestine, when boycotting Israel is an obsession of the campus left, and when activists throw paint at banks thought to have links to the world’s only Jewish state, it is now perceived as right-wing to defend Israel’s right to exist. Or take Net Zero. Once the left argued for raising the living standards of the working class. Now, the green consensus on the left demands that people are priced out of owning cars, heating their homes and foreign travel. The same inversion has happened in relation to cultural issues. Those who argue for protecting women’s sex-based rights, or a colourblind approach to racial equality, soon find themselves being labelled right wing or even far right. When all popular opposition to the status quo is branded ‘far right’, the phrase no longer carries much meaning.

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