The Boss In Their Own Country09-16-2023
Across Europe, right wing parties are moving from the fringes to the center of power. “In Hungary, Italy and Poland they hold power. In Finland, Sweden and Switzerland they have a share of it. In Germany polls put the Alternative for Germany (afd) party at 22%, up from 10% in the election in 2021. In France the National Rally (rn), the biggest hard-right party, has 24% support. Add in 5% for Reconquest, another anti-immigrant party, and the hard right becomes the biggest voting block in the country. In the Netherlands, too, a smattering of right-wing populists claim a quarter or more of the vote. Even newish democracies that for decades lacked big nationalist parties—Portugal, Romania and Spain—now have them.” This doesn’t include the victory of the Brexit movement in the UK and the continuing power of the MAGA movement in the United States. In India, Narenda Modi’s BJP Party is Hindu Nationalist and in Israel Benjamin Netanyahu presides over a government of Jewish supremacy. Around the world, ethnically and religiously nativist parties are taking control or at the doors of power.
The reasons for the rise of ethno-nationalism are many, and include economic insecurity, an epidemic of loneliness, and the algorithmic seduction of social media. Also leading to the rise of the right is widespread distrust and even disdain for elite, liberal technocrats who have presided over rising globalization that has brought very little advantage to most working class voters. Equally important is the rise of identity politics and modern anti-racist thinking that insists we give each race, each ethnicity, and each group their rightful share of power.
Racism has long ceased to be biological racism, a racism of hierarchy. The new racism is now a “differentialist” racism in the language of French thinkers like Pierre Alain Taguieff and Etienne Balibar. This “neo-racism” is based in anthropological approaches to culture that sees the preservation of every culture as a good. We are to defend and preserve immigrant cultures, Jewish culture, Amish culture, black culture, gay culture, trans culture, etc. We value plurality and we value diversity, as goods in themselves.
If every culture is worthy of protection, it is also the case for white culture or French culture or German culture. Identity politics thus feeds the very identitarian claims for provincial nationalism. We see this in the nativist parties gaining power across the continent. Writing about the rise of the right in Europe, The Economist quotes Klaas Slootmans, a member of the Flemish regional parliament in Belgium. Slootmans is from Vlaams Belang, a “right-wing party that rails against such threats to the Flemish way of life as Islam, immigration and—most pernicious of all—the French language.” He supports independence for Flanders. It may sound parochial, chauvinist and disruptive if not delusional, but it goes down well. People have a right “to be the boss in their own country,” Slootmans says.
The problem, as Arendt named it, is that of the nation-state, an entity she believed to be incompatible with liberal democracy and the rule of law. What liberalism requires, Arendt saw, was a belief in a state free from any national, religious, or ethnic identity. If Germany is first for ethnic Germans, if France is above all for Francs, if America is first and foremost for White Anglo Saxon Protestants, then all other persons and even all other citizens are second-class citizens. Arendt saw that nationalist politics was deeply incompatible constitutional liberal democracy. What she valued, above all, in the United States when she arrived as a stateless refugee was that the United States had no “nation” but only a constitutional “state.” She contrasted the state in the United States with the nation-state in Europe, and it was in the ideal of a federated-non-national state that she placed her hopes.