If you trace the figure eight you see that it goes first one way then the other, to ultimately return to its point of departure. This seems to be what is happening to world politics as 2016 comes to a close.
Similarly to what happened a hundred years ago, socialism is unable to stand up to the world’s 1%. In the 1930’s, the German 99% become so frustrated that it backed a populist who brought on World War II.
At that time, Europe’s Jews were blamed for the misery of the working class. Today, Europe’s populists are trying to save their Christian communities from an overwhelming Muslim influence, while in the United States, they are accused of stoking hatred of Blacks and Latinos. Although outwardly, the two Atlantic communities appear very different, they are both facing the fact that Caucasians are an ever smaller minority on the world stage.
Today’s European populists are not carbon copies of Hitler and Mussolini, and whether or not they would turn out to be as disastrous, if they were elected remains to be seen. As for the US, during the past century, it has been in the world drivers’ seat. Now, a hundred years after entering World War I to make the world safe for ‘democracy’, it has gone from defeating fascism to combatting a broad swathe of ‘others’.
During that time, similar to what happened after the first world war, the European left has been too weak and divided to gain lasting benefits for the working class. From the nineteen-sixties to roughly the year 2000, the European Union was a worker’s paradise, compared to conditions in the US. To remedy this dangerous state of affairs, Wall Street power was brought to bear on Europe’s leaders, who caved to neo-liberalism.
Outgoing French President Francois Hollande is the poster child of this phenomenon: a dyed-in-the-wool socialist whose entire career was spent in the upper echelons of the party, he was no match for the European World Bank and the IMF. Since the left represents a significant share of France’s electorate, Hollande’s heinous support for US-led destruction of secular Syria, coming after his predecessor, Sarkozy’s Libyan initiative, was one of the last straws for his voters.
History never repeats itself exactly, and unlike the modern left, the twenty-first century right is different in significant ways from the traditional right which, in Europe, tacitly supported Hitler. The Manifesto of the New European Right, drafted in the late nineties primarily by the French philosopher Alain de Benoist, is unknown in the US, whose Alt Right reflects a laborious recovery from a polity based on slavery, but very familiar to Vladimir Putin, which is one of the reasons why one European right-wing leader after another has recently come out in favor of better relations with Russia: aside from emphatically supporting traditional families the new right sees the neo-liberal cultural model as a major threat.
Religion has always featured prominently on the European right: Catholic France has long referred to itself as ‘the elder daughter of the Church’, while Germany, as well as most of the countries to its east, has been peacefully divided among Protestants and Catholics. In the me-era, however, Europeans deserted their churches, leaving religion as a hollowed out rear guard that merely refuses to bless modernity, as epitomized in same-sex marriage.
Concomitantly, as part of the neo-liberal onslaught, the European bureaucracy in Brussels, determined to regulate every aspect of daily life (and not just food labels), has moved ever further from the people who live those daily lives. Europeans currently have a lot of resentment — more, I believe, than do Americans — so that when France’s Marine Le Pen, or Viktor Orban in Hungary denounce the increasing numbers of refugees from the Muslim world, people listen, because that presence is in addition to a myriad of other problems that start with 10% unemployment for workers, and continues with increasing red-tape for small businesses, which Brussels appears unable - or unwilling — to remedy.
Italy, which has had 70 Prime Ministers since World War II has just rejected the parliamentary reform package proposed by its young and dynamic Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi in an attempt to achieve some measure of stability. It would have cut the upper house of parliament by two-thirds, with 95 members elected by Italy’s regional councils and five designated by the President. Although Renzi entertains excellent relations with Vladimir Putin, his voters decided the proposal to replace Italy’s free-for-all with a more authoritarian regime, would put too much power in his hands.
In a double-header Sunday, when Austrians went to the polls, the question qA whether the populist candidate tipped to win was a member of the New European Right, or a follower of the Neo-Nazi far right that has buttressed the coup government in neighboring Ukraine since 2014. Ultimately, the vote went to the Green candidate, but that only throws the question to France, which will elect a new president next May, with Marine Le Pen a serious contender.
What Le Pen, Orban and Farage are saying is that they would be better able to deal with their respective country’s problems without Brussels regulations and refugee quotas that do not take into account either each country’s ability to produce or to swap centuries of Christianity for multiculturalism, in which immigrants practicing an entirely different religion are expected to adopt the host country’s customs. The hopelessness of this enterprise is confirmed by the fact that historically, it has indeed been the other way around. What is uncertain is how far they agree with New Right’s take on equality, that seeks to avoid strife:
The French New Right upholds the cause of peoples, because the right to difference is a principle which has significance only in terms of its generality. One is only justified in defending one’s difference from others if one is also able to defend the difference of others. This means, then, that the right to difference cannot be used to exclude others who are different. The French New Right upholds equally ethnic groups, languages, and regional cultures under the threat of extinction, as well as native religions. The French New Right supports peoples struggling against Western imperialism.
As for the United States, economic priorities made us a nation with built-in inequality four centuries ago, and the Ku Klux Klan that supplies much of the Alt Right’s credo couldn’t be farther from Europe’s New Right philosophers.
When Barack Obama was first elected, Europe was a relatively predictable place that tacitly recognized the US as the world hegemon. This year, Great Britain voted to leave the European Union, against the American president’s publicly stated wishes that confirm its role as the US Trojan Horse in Brussels. All but thumbing his nose at the lame duck president, Nigel Farage, the colorful leader of the UK Independence Party, (UKIP) made a victory tour that started with Donald Trump.
The President-elect knows nothing about the European New Right, but he shares the Russian President’s worldview that cooperation is better than confrontation. Soon he will discover that Vladimir Putin’s domestic policies correspond to those of his religious voters: defense of the family, religion and tradition, which are also shared by Hoffer, Le Pen and the rest of the world’s right. Alas, it is unlikely that he could impose a New Right philosophy on the ‘Alt’, which stood for ‘old’ as in ‘staid’ before it became ‘alternative’ and ugly.