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World

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La politique sauvera-t-elle la démocratie du populisme?

by Jean-Yves Camus

Will Politics Save Democracy from Populism?

Translated Monday 9 January 2012, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Jean-Yves Camus, associate researcher with IRIS (the institute for international and strategic relations) analyzes the current rise of far-right populism across Europe, and its changes — from traditional fascism, through post-fascism, to its present two models, the more dangerous in his opinion being a merely nominal, "illiberal" democracy — a democracy that still has the forms of a multi-party political system and a market economy, but in reality becomes authoritarian, keeps a tight rein on the media and promotes an ethnic conception of society and the nation.

In many European countries - the Netherlands, Switzerland, Hungary, Belgium, France, among others - the Far-Right is gaining ground in the polls. Whether fueled by reactionary obsessions or generated by a technocratic era labouring under the yoke of the markets, populism is thriving thanks to the crisis. In order to defeat it, politics must re-empower the people.

The question of how to block the rise of far-right populism in Europe can no longer be solved by the traditional methods of the anti-fascist struggle. Indeed, since at least the the beginning of the present century, parties and movements of this type that do well in the polls no longer spring from the fascist tradition, which is now merely a token residue on the political scene. On the contrary, it has turned into a para-terrorist mode of action (like the German Nazionalsozialistiche Hintergrund for example) whose eradication must be left to the police. The sole exception to this rule is Hungary’s Jobbik and its Magyar Garda militia, even though these look back nostalgically to Regent Horty’s reactionary dictatorship than to the fascism of the Arrowed Crosses proper. We have even moved beyond the era of the “post-fascism” embodied by Gianfranco Fini in the years that followed the setting up of the National Alliance, since this party eventually became a mainstream conservative party and has curbed public liberties far less than have Berlusconi’s neo-liberal policies.

Far-Right populism today follows two distinct models. On the one hand, there are xenophobic parties like Geert Wilders’ in the Netherlands, or the UDC in Switzerland, or in Scandinavia, with the possible addition of Italy’s Northern League. These are movements that mobilize supporters in the name of national identity, mainly among sectors of the population that are the hardest hit, both economically and symbolically, by neo-liberal globalization and the structural modification of the European population. The challenge to the Left is threefold.

First the Left must tackle the question of identity by proposing a national narrative based on the values of integration, which also implies doing away with the cultural relativism that characterizes Anglo-Saxon multiculturalism. Second, the Left must bridge the now enormous gap between the people and the ruling élite; this will necessitate a complete and drastic overhauling of the exercise of power (through participative management, legal curbs on the merging of public and private interests, and a maximum number of terms for councillors and deputies). Third, since those parties glorify the merits of the State as protector and re-distributor, a determined break with the intellectual tyranny of neo-liberalism, supposed to be the only way out of the crisis, a break which in reality calls for an alternative model to the financial economy, and one that can no longer accommodate the myth of infinite growth.

In addition to this, it is absolutely necessary to understand that in Western Europe, Far-Right populism has succeeded in hijacking the Left’s ideological package on social issues. Pim Fortuyn’s stroke of genius consisted in building a postmodern movement that de-constructed multiculturalism in the name of Islam’s alleged (and radical Islam’s real) intolerance of individual liberties. These involve the freedom of conscience, secularism, equality between men and women, homosexuals’ rights, the right to have no religion, and lastly the right to security from terrorism and the violence directed against certain minorities, in particular the Jews. Oskar Freysinger indeed started his speech at the convention against Islamization, organized on December 10, 2010 by the so-called Bloc identitaire (identity Block) and Riposte laïque (Secular riposte), with praise of the "country of Voltaire" [1] and all those who attended the event noted the presence among the public of many secular militants whose Islamophobic conversion was partly made possible by the acceptance, by certain Leftist movements, of “cultural difference”.

To conclude, it is also possible that the very notion of the Far-Right no longer reflects the real dangers that threaten democracy in Europe. Of course it is necessary to fight against it, but are we not witnessing the emergence of a danger at least as ominous, namely the “illiberal” democracy on the model of the prototype imposed by Fidesz and Viktor Orban in Hungary? In other words, a democracy that retains the forms of multi-party and electoral democracy and of the market economy, but which in fact grows authoritarian — one that makes a changeover of political power more difficult, keeps a tight rein on the media as well as on artistic creation, promotes a fundamentally organic and ethnic conception of society and the nation. Instead of the traditional Far Right, we may be in for another form of government that is a democracy in name only, where “governance” is exercised by unelected technocrats whose main achievement is to promote the idea that public affairs are a science modeled on the laws that govern the functioning of the neo-liberal economy whose dogma must go unchallenged. In which case, democracy keeps politics and ideologies out, leaving behind a disenchanted world. An ideal situation that can make the fortune of a Far Right that dangles dreams, or even utopia, before despairing citizens.

[1A great figure of the French Enlightenment who committed himself in particular to the fight against intolerance.


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