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The counter-revolution of the Right

With eyes set on Russia and fighting a cultural battle of its own, an anti-liberal and anti-cosmopolitan project is consolidating itself both in Europe and the United States. Español

Far-right demonstration in 2012. Athens,Greece.Steve Jurvetson/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

"Europe needs a cultural counter-revolution," Polish leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski declared in September at a summit in Krynica – home of the so-called Eastern Davos. "This sounds like music to me," replied Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán with undisguised enthusiasm, and he added: "Brexit offers a great opportunity for this counter-revolution. We must assert that national and religious values are important and defend them... Immigrants could get to displace the inhabitants of Europe." This last sentence is a copy-and-paste of the grand remplacement (the great replacement of the French people by the immigrants) conspiracy theory by far-right French writer Renaud Camus, which has become a sort of "structure of feeling" of a new multi-faceted anti-cosmopolitan front which, according to journalist Marc Saint-Upéry, is marked by what he calls "civilizational paranoia".

It is true that in the last decades, cosmopolitanism has been captured by the elites and the markets. The crisis of the Left has weakened the old internationalism to the point of its near disappearance - today it is only partially retained by the alter-globalization movements. And it is precisely the globalization of finance and its capitalist realism that has encouraged the emergence of a kind of anti-cosmopolitan International which plays in a nationalist, antidemocratic and often nativist key.

Viktor Orbán: “We must defend European religious and national values”

Orbán promotes an "illiberal or non-liberal democracy", with Putin’s Russia as a role model, even though to a large part of Eastern Europe Moscow is historically a troublesome neighbour. Putin admires Stalin as a Communist-nationalist and draws upon anti-Communist conservative and anti-democratic Ivan Ilyin, while he rejects cosmopolitan Lenin. Thus, the philosophical concept of the human being as a "citizen of the world", which is shared by liberals and socialists alike, of the citizen who does not identify himself only with his homeland and does not regard the rest of humans as "strangers" – a concept defended by Anglo-Ghanan author Kwame A. Appiah in Cosmopolitanism. Ethics in a world of strangers (Katz, 2007) - is under fire.

"The Franco-German axis is in the doldrums; Spain (...) is absent; the Dutch, formerly so Europeanists, are retreating; Renzi is crying in the desert; Belgium ceased to exist long ago, and the United Kingdom has fallen into the hands of the barbarians who stayed behind Adrian’s wall" – this is from an ironic piece by José Ignacio Torreblanca in El País. Before this void, a new Warsaw-Budapest axis, with bifurcations in other Central and Eastern European countries - and some Western countries too - has taken up the issue of rejecting non-Christian refugees as a spearhead for a wider anti-liberal and anti-cosmopolitan project.

Breeding ground

These former Communist countries are actually a good breeding ground: the absence of a colonial past, the emergence of fascist nationalism in the 1930s and, then, almost half a century of isolation behind the "iron curtain" have generated a lack of interaction with "strangers" and a distrust of anything foreign, which produces a brew that is being exploited today by the nationalists. And this is happening at a time when  their governments are embarking on an authoritarian and conservative drive directed at their own citizens.

This drift has encountered some resistance - such as the mobilization of more than 200,000 Polish citizens who took to the streets in May in defense of democracy -, but not enough. "Hearing, day in and day out, at all times, the new patriotic and clerical discourse, gross lies, insults ... and seeing neo-Nazi shows of force in the churches are causing demoralization, not rebellion," wrote Polish policy expert Jean-Yves Potel in his Mediapart blog.

Nevertheless, recent mass protests by Polish women have managed to stop a parliamentary initiative that sought to tighten further the already restrictive abortion law in Poland, and new mobilizations have been announced. Orbán, on the other hand, stumbled with the recent anti-immigration referendum, which had to be annulled because turnout did not reach 50%. Those who did vote (about 40%), however, were almost unanimous against immigration, and the Hungarian leader enjoys the support of the opposition far-right Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik).

Jaroslaw Kaczynski: “Europe needs a cultural counter-revolution”.

Slawomir Sierakowski makes, nonetheless, a distinction between the two leaders. In an article in Project Sindicate, he argues that "Orbán is a cynic" while "Kaczynski is a fanatic." The latter has joined the "illiberal International" by conviction, while the former does so only as a means of staying in power. "Homo Kaczynskius is a Polish creature obsessed with the fate of the country, showing his teeth to his critics and opponents, particularly if they are foreigners. Gays and lesbians cannot be real Poles. Every foreign element within Poland is a threat". But they feed each other back. And the growth of the European far right - like Marine Le Pen’s, who publicly distances herself from her fascist father in order to make her project look more respectable – strengthens the new anti-cosmopolitanism. "Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was recently aiming at a comeback in 2017, was already adopting part of the vocabulary and the positioning of the Orbán/Kaczynski axis. In the UK, Boris Johnson, for his part, has shown affinity with their methods. Will they be joined by others?” asks Sierakowski. Britain’s Theresa May, for one, is looking for a launch pad.

Against political correctness

For now, on the other side of the Atlantic, a heterogeneous right-wing anti-globalization movement has also become established. French journalist Laura Raim wrote in Revue du Crieur an in-depth analysis of the American right-wing, which largely supports Donald Trump and fights against the "tyranny of the politically correct." Several of its advocates group themselves in the so-called Alt-Right. Traditional conservatives are panicking: it is the first time that a great-party candidate acts as loudspeaker for these hitherto marginal sectors. Exotic Trump took the party by storm, thanks to the votes of the rank-and-file, and they are still discussing what to do.

This heterogeneous far-right block includes dissenting neo-reactionaries who are disappointed by the traditional libertarian "anarcho-capitalism", and believers in a new oligarchic elitism which would restore the foundational civilizing objectives. But it includes also populist white nationalists who are less hostile to the state. "Americans must overcome their phobia of dictators," said in 2012 neo-reactionary thinker and programmer Curtis Yarvin, who curates Unqualified Reservations, a blog the subtitle of which is "Reactionary Enlightenment." As Raim points out, however, part of this core distrusts Trumpism, which they consider both statist and populist. "Alt-Right and Trumpism are too political, statist, nationalistic, democratic, populist and often critical of capitalism for us to identify with them," says neo-reactionary Nick Land.

Their cousins, the white supremacists, do like Trump's message. This “tribe’s” goal is to restore the greatness of Western civilization, which today is trapped, according to them, in "egalitarian mediocrity", consumerism and egalitarianism. They reject the so-called "end of history", and the Make America Great Again slogan sounds like music to their supremacist, macho and "anti-politically correct" ears. To them, while blacks and Latinos can legitimately defend their race, when whites do the same, they are immediately criminalized as racist. In international relations, they oppose the Bush-era neo-conservatives’ "democratic and messianic imperialism" and their free trade treaties. For many of these heirs of "paleo-conservatism", the world is divided between globalizers and anti-globalizers.

Curtis Yarvin: “America must overcome its phobia of dictators”.

The enemies to fight, recalls Raim in her article, include the Ivy League elite universities, the New York Times and Hollywood, which they consider "responsible for the universal egalitarian consensus in public debate." The great paradox in all this is that while the global Left feels defeated by triumphant capitalism, for the Alt-Right, on the contrary, the Left is the great winner in the global ideological battle, and many of them long to have an Antonio Gramsci in their ranks to bolster their cultural battle. Of course, for these groups, almost everything that is not Alt-Right is Left and Socialism, and the world today is controlled by a leftist and goody-goody oligarchy.

The reciprocal sympathy between Trump and Putin is not alien to these structures of meaning, in a world in which a new reactionary anti-cosmopolitism is reaping a harvest from globalization malaise, elite rejection and the reinforcement of a financial and corporate elite that has captured cosmopolitanism for its global business interests. A world in which the substitution of social class for identity which progressive politics has done leaves out masses of white (and unemployed) workers who cannot identify themselves with any "minority", but are poor anyway and can even qualify - as they do in the United States - as white trash.

When Hillary Clinton said - though she later apologized publicly - that you could put half of Trump’s voters into what she called a "basket of deplorables", Trumpists hit back with a recreation of the Black Lives Matter motto against police violence: Deplorable Lives Matter.

This article was published previously by lalineadefuego.

About the author

Journalist, economist and Doctor in history. He currently serves as editor-in-chief of the journal New Society (Friedrich Ebert Foundation).  He was the director of Le Monde Diplomatique-Bolivia and member of the editorial board of the weekly Pulse. He is the co-author of the The Revolution of Evo Morales and Debating Bolivia.

Periodista, economista y Doctor en Historia. Actualmente se desempeña como Jefe de Redacción de la Revista Nueva Sociedad (Fundación Friedrich Ebert). Fue director de Le Monde Diplomatique-Bolivia y miembro del consejo editorial del semanario Pulso. Es coautor de La revolución de Evo Morales y de Debatir Bolivia.


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