What is ‘far-right’? With the progress of Marine Le Pen to France’s presidential run-off, the term has been liberally used — as it has been over recent years across the West. Golden Dawn in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary, and the Sweden Democrats are all said to be far-right, to name but three.
The fact that the first two of those groups engage in intimidation, racism and overt displays of political violence would ordinarily distinguish them from a peaceful democratic party opposed to mass immigration like the Sweden Democrats. Yet everywhere there is the same name creep. The website Breitbart is frequently called far-right, as is the administration of Donald Trump. So too is Richard Spencer, a self-proclaimed white supremacist who last year whipped up a crowd of supporters doing Hitler salutes. Is nobody interested in the differences?
There was a time when the term acted as a useful cordon sanitaire, marking off actual fascists and neo-Nazis from the legitimate political ‘right’. But across Europe sections of the far-right, like the far-left, became more moderate. At the same time, the short-term political advantages of designating all opponents ‘far-right’ proved irresistible for some partisan campaigners.
Today there are groups that campaign against Ukip as ‘far-right’, leading one to wonder what political language they would use if the jackboots came, all their imprecations having been expended on corduroyed ’Kippers? Such overuse of the term has eroded the boundaries it created, making many people suspicious of all such designations. Many people — especially young people — are less suspicious of the National Front than they perhaps ought to be because they have seen people who do not deserve the label ‘far-right’ being branded in precisely such a way.
Over recent years, while travelling across Europe to research my book on the migration crisis, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity and Islam, I have come across a number of the parties generally termed ‘far-right’. Some clearly demand the label (if it means, essentially, ‘fascist’). Others — among whom I would include the Sweden Democrats — it seems to me are being smeared by the term. They have a past on the political extremes, as many parties on our continent do, but if we allow movement on the political left, surely we must allow it on the political right? Perhaps we are resistant because, as Cavafy said of the barbarians, we seem to need them. They are a force against which we can orient ourselves in an era when few other things in politics seem certain.