Facing Down the Far Right in Europe: A challenge for progressive politics

This paper marks the beginning of a research project in which FEPS analyses the resurgence of right wing populism and extremism in Europe. It seeks to establish an analytical framework for practical use by those who are opposed to the broadly defined “far right”.

It looks at themes ranging from globalisation and nationalism to economics, party institutionalisation and the media in seeking to assess the impact of environmental factors and human agency on the growth or decline of the far right. ‘Facing Down the Far Right in Europe’ flags the need for more detailed qualitative analysis on a case study basis and forms a beginning of that process within FEPS.”

The recent resurgence of parties considered to be on the far right of the political spectrum has led to a growth in interest among academics, policymakers, the media and the wider public. While there is much received wisdom on the causes and effects, analytical literature often remains inconclusive.
Ultimately, there are numerous reasons why far right parties are more difficult to categorise than other political families. This paper therefore proposes a subjective narrative and aims to provide a framework for socialist and social democratic parties. To this end, the paper offers a “ladder of abstraction” in which parties beyond a certain threshold on the nationalist spectrum are conceived as “far right”.
Contrary to commentary which indicates that far right parties have adopted a left wing economic narrative, it is argued here that far right parties use economics as a tool to attain support among their perceived “in-group” while excluding perceived outsiders. Therefore, in this context, the left-right spectrum reflects one’s perspective on (in)equality, seen differently by left and right.
Finally this paper argues that social democracy needs to rediscover an adequate narrative on both globalisation and nationalism to offset the populist flag-waving and fear mongering of the far right. It also presents a difference of approach depending on the level of organisation and institutionalisation of the far right party in question. Thus, newer and less organised parties invite the cordon sanitaire approach while more case-based qualitative research is required to discern the best way of facing down more “established” far right parties.

Read the paper by FEPS Polical Advisor David Kitching