26 January 2019

The rise of the American and European Far Right. A doctrine, a conjuncture, a challenge for the future (I)

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

Image source: Mediafax

Being at the conference organized by the Danish Institute for International Studies, whereat have participated several specialists, about the rise of the European and American far right in last years’ electoral processes, allowed me to have a direct contact with a debate regarding the importance and the consequences of this phenomenon. The speculated ideas and concepts sought for answers, but also raised many other questions about an increasing phenomenon, which goes from Orban’s prime-minister illiberal democracy to the victories of the conservative populist groups from Germany and Italy, the liberal democracies critics, or the possible public debate to take place at the euro-parliamentary elections from the following year. I have selected for DMS some of the ideas debated during this conference, focusing on the historical experience of this political and ideological direction in particular cases (US, Italy, France), on the particular solutions which were offered and its future growth potential.

The international context of the New Right rise

We have witnessed some spectacular electoral victories, in the past few years, for a series of parties and leaders who are part of the new anti-illiberal new right. The most recent results were registered in Brazil, after the election of president Jair Bolsonaro, and the ulterior evolutions are showing that this is just the beginning. Despite the visible manifestations opposing some states’ actual order and political classes, there is an ideology and some actions tools which got to be asserted in the past few years, as consequence of some beneficial economic and security circumstances.

US - how did the movement that got Trump in the White House has been ideologically developed

In the US existed, although past tense is not correctly used, a movement called “paleo-conservatism”. Although it did not have a popular agenda in American media, we are talking about the main tv channels, or in the scientific university debates of that time, it was able to enter American conservatory circles from the beginning of the 80’. It was incorporated also in the consolidation of the political movement represented by “Tea Party”, continuing with the “ultra-right”, up to the apparition of “Trumpism”, named after the current US president’s name.

For a better understanding of the ideological and philosophical foundation of this direction, we can refer to these two names: Paul Edward Gottfried and Sam Francis. The first one was the friend and counsellor of the ex-presidential candidate of the 90’, Pat Buchanan. He is also the inventor of “paleo-conservatism”, opposed to “new conservatism”, promoted by the American Republican party.  He is also the inventor of the recently term “ultra-right”, used during president Obama’s first mandate.

Sam Francis was one of the conservative editorialist of Washington Times, who was also writing for other conservative magazines too. He was the counsellor of the same conservative candidate, Buchanan, and one of his electoral campaign strategists. After his death, he left a handwritten manuscript, which was published in 2016, “Leviathan and its enemies”. The book is considered to be one of the best appearances in the past 20 years, The Guardian calling it “the book of a generation”, one of the “most threatening ever written”. The first remarks of David Brooks, New York Times editorialist, who also says that it is one of the “best books written in the last 50 years” are referring to the candidate`s, at that time, then president Trump’s program, concluding that everything that Donald Trump have said and done, was previously envisioned and stated by Sam Francis.

Francis’ ideological-philosophical construction is founded on the following key-arguments:

  • the world is more and more dominated by the illiberal management, functioning through the “new class’” (a term related to ideologies, communists and Bolsheviks);
  • after the birth and development of the transborder working class, created by the industrial revolution of 19th century, in the 20th century a new class appears and gets extended, composed of people with developed technical abilities, having high-level operator positions and appointments  across the systems they are creating;
  • the fields these “operators” come from (in Romania they would probably be compared to the “white collars”) is miscellaneous: companies executives, lecturers, university professors, lawyers, programmers, journalists, bureaucrats in different corporatist structures;
  • this new managerial elite is interested in extending the political, economic and cultural institutions they are controlling, in consolidating state’s dependency on these institutions and corporations, and in increasing the benefits;
  • in order to remain in the center of power, the “new class” is consolidating the dependency of the other professional and social categories on what the “elite” is producing or managing, at the same time, working on human rights, universal justice, social state, life’ s quality fields;
  • unlike the old liberal class, this one does not dominate through power’s means, tradition, capitalist property over the production methods, but by manipulating the cultural symbols, by controlling and centralizing the social organization mechanism, the development of a bureaucracy which distributes the benefits accordingly with the position one has across the class structure and the professional performances.


According to these two ideologists, it has been made an important change in 20th century’s complexity of liberal values. Hence, classic liberalism is focusing individual performances on power’s distribution, self-governance virtues / decentralization, the necessity to defence the civil society against state’s interference, meanwhile managerial liberalism aims to fight against biases, services providers and social benefits, migrants integration, the conviction of those who are opposing sexual, ethnical minorities’ liberties, women’s rights etc. This liberalism has some kind of a moralizer, therapeutic tendency, which is somehow going against the old, classic liberalism.

Its American ideologists think that this liberal form is the dominating social organization form on an international plan. Globalization is no longer a phenomenon / a revolutionary economic process, but also an uniformization of state’s leaderships and their corporatist elites, their cultural and educational institutions interests. Hence, the global extension of managerial liberalism is not longer ordered alike Marx’s theories by the production in the development centers, but by promoting and imposing institutions and corporations in spaces where they did not get to yet, firstly in third world states.

Another ideological approach is related to international right, which evolved from a mechanism which is regulating states relations, in a mechanism which does that, but it is also regulating the relations between states and their citizens. This is how the managerial liberalism tries to ease the political majority’s adversity, imposing values` primacy, because, thanks to their universality, they do not need the popular vote.

The promoters of paleo-conservatism are not going against these processes related to managerial liberalism, but they want a radical reformation of conservativism, through the incorporation of neo-liberal capitalism and the redefinition of the values attached to nationalism, social classes, equality between men and women and between sexual minorities.

These conservatives theoreticians, as well as the politicians who joined their ideas, are stating that they are talking on behalf of those who feel isolated by the liberal project, placed somewhere in the midst of the social structure, with no capabilities or qualities to join the managerial elite. A summary portrait define them as Americans, whites, one job only, uncertain about it, who are starting to diverge from the new cultural, educational and economic institutions of their state. For them only it has been created this new, populist conservatism, which aims to take state’s institutions control, and not only, by using the current structures in a democratic process promoting the values of the middle class.

The paleo conservatives want to replace the liberal regime with inside action. These values should be promoted slowly, through interaction with educational institutions, youth centers, clubs, women’s associations, professional associations, syndicates, the army, police etc. The goals is to create American middle class’s consciousness, in order to avoid being exploited by the liberal elite, which could transform this common consciousness in a political programme. Instead of looking for a providential conservative candidate, as Pat Buchanan proved to be insufficiently convincing, paleo conservatives are aiming to develop a common consciousness of a large social category that could, at some point, take the power. This have actually happened, with a more persuasive candidate, Donald Trump.

The New American Right and Kremlin’s model

During this power takeover process, which lasted almost two decades, America / the United States lost, ideologically speaking, that abstract “land of all possibilities and opportunities” values, being transformed into an America which is promoting another type of hegemony, based on a community wherein unity goes first and which does not have space for those who cannot get adapted. This seems to be “America First” slogan`s message.

America should not be only the first of all nations, but also to be first regarding the level of individual consciousness and social groups. Opposed to liberal project, which allows the globalization of economies, the use of democratic exercise to refresh the political and administrative class, the paleo-conservatism option is promoting the national agenda, is trying to deglobalize decisions and institutions and even to use the elected democratic majorities to impose a single set of cultural and economic values.

This ideology succeeded in many other Western countries, US, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Brazil, although its finality is quite ambiguous in a world which is more and more interdependent. The differences are, sometimes, quite big, but there is a dialogue inside this right groups community, alike the model of the other ideological and political directions, conferences, seminaries, whereby are promoted ideas and are trying to go global. An eloquent example is the one promoted by the ex-counselor Steve Bannon, who is counseling conservatives leaders and European groups, like Boris Johnson, the ex-pro-Brexit British Foreign Affairs Minister, the right movements from Italy, Great Britain, Sweden.

The common enemy of the New Right is the liberal order, but, of course, the national circumstances are important also for how these groups are built and how are sending their messages. Yet, the problem they are facing is not ideological, although many of world’s contested arguments can be viable. What the New American Right, but not only, cannot consolidate, for now, is a project to stop globalization. The international evolution is too obvious and too much based on technology, on economic spaces openness, to be combated only ideologically. They can build fences and walls to stop immigrants, but they already have started to travel by plane, lately.

What they definitely cannot accomplish is the change of the current political directions, in order to incorporate also some answers for the issues that the New Right is raising. Hence, the center parties are ideologically going towards the right, and the traditional right is trying to push this newcomer to the extreme, to decrease his electoral appetence. Even the left parties are embracing some of the populist messages of this ideology.

Even across this debate which takes place, mainly, inside the Western liberal democracies (for now!), Russia sometimes it is summoned, for what is happening in the Russian space, in “Putin’s Russia”, because it is a model that many of New Right’s groups would have wanted also in Europe, or maybe even in the US. Hereof comes, probably, Trump’s ambiguous attitude towards Putin, who is US’s enemy in Syria, in Eastern Europe, Iran, in the nuclear non-proliferation process, but with whom he shares the same ideas when it comes to criticizing globalization, LGTB, cosmopolite liberalism. This is why the discussion about Russia financially subsidizing some New Right’s groups is just a part, but not the whole picture. Providing the authoritarian model is a bigger achievement for Kremlin than the money transfer, and the consequences of this image transfer can be a lot deeper and stronger.



Manni Crone, Cercetător Principal, DIIS, Danemarca, Jean-Francois Drolet, Universitatea Queen Mary, Canada, Lisa Ginsborg, PhD, European University Institute, Italia.