Why The Term Far Right Has Become Corrupted By Media Fantasists
Far Right has become an all-purpose term of abuse that is liberally applied to any movement that threatens the hegemony of the ruling elites.
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The politics of fear in action
No sooner did Europe’s farmers launch their protest before the mainstream media and centrist political commentators raised the alarm about yet another threat from the ‘far right’. ‘Brussels struggles to placate farmers as far right stokes protests’ notes The Financial Times.
Adopting a similar tone, Politico warned about ‘How the far right aims to ride farmers’ outrage to power in Europe’. France24 asks ‘as far-right harvests farmers’ anger across EU, can green reforms “include farmers in conversation”’?. And when it comes to scaremongering about the existential threat posed by the far-right, the BBC is never far behind. Raising the alarm, it stated ‘Germany’s far right seek revolution in farmers’ protests’.
If the mainstream media is to be believed behind every protesting farmer is an outside external far-right agitator. According to the reporters from the FT, ‘EU farmers egged on by the far right have taken to spreading muck outside government buildings, barricading roads and creating widespread havoc as Brussels fights to keep the agriculture sector on board with its green transition.’[
Do these reporters really believe that Europe’s angry farmers need to be ‘egged on’ by malevolent far-right agitators? Are they so out of touch with the predicament facing rural community that they cannot comprehend the fact that many farmers are literally fighting for their way of life? Whatever drives the anti-farmer propaganda it is evident that the fantasy of the spectre of the far-right haunting Europe has captured their imagination.
Fear mongering about the far-right is omnipresent and often acquires the form of a carefully cultivated political hysteria. The media can continually rely on a cohort of academic experts to provide content for the promotion of its politics of fear. ‘Farmers’ anger has become a major issue for the far right across Europe’, stated Kevin Cunningham, a political scientist studying support for the far right for the European Council on Foreign Relations[vi].
Just listen to Léonie de Jonge, a political scientist at the University of Groningen who is an ‘expert’ on the far right. She claims that ‘farmers’ issues can lend themselves to far-right ideology through nostalgia for the past’ and ‘”blood and soil” themes’.[That’s another way of saying that farmers’ protest effortlessly mutates into the politics associated with the Nazi slogan of blood and soil.
Evoking the memory of the venomous 1930s ‘blood and and soil’ ideology serves to create the impression that the far right constitutes a clear and present danger. Notwithstanding the fact that supporters of this ideology are conspicuous by their absence, the ‘just like the thirties’ idealogues are constantly highlighting the imminent threat posed by the far-right. Like all fantasies, this one does not have to bear the burden of proof. Indeed, the term far right has become a throw away word used to slander opponents. The designation far right serves as a mark of evil.
The invention of the narrative about the threat posed by the far-right is modelled on a caricatured version of 1930s political violence in Europe. Invariably the term far-right has become detached from its specific historical context and has become a free-floating expression of abuse that can be casually attached to any target. Historically, this designation referred to violent anti-democratic, authoritarian and xenophobic movements. In recent times the term has become subject to a form of concept creep so that viewpoints that were previously not considered far-right are now associated with it. The Encyclopedia of Politics: The Left and the Right asserts that far-right politics include ‘persons or groups who hold extreme nationalist, xenophobic, racist, religious fundamentalist, or other reactionary views1’. The reference to ‘religious fundamentalist or other reactionary views’ is significant for in principle it can refer to a wide variety of anti-modernist sentiments.
Equating far right with reactionary means that anyone with strong conservative views can be re-invented as a violent extremist. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a reactionary is a person ‘who is opposed to political or social change or new ideas’ . Thw possession of such views does not make proplr far right. The constant semantic expansion of the term far right means that it is only a matter of time before anyone right of anti-fa can be rebranded by it.
That the term far right lacks clarity and precision was demonstrated when Lord Pearson asked a Parliamentary Question in June 2023 demanding to know whether the British Government has “adopted a common definition of ‘far-right’; and if so, what it is.”2 Replying on behalf of the Government, Lord Sharpe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department cited an Intelligence and Security Committee report which defines Far Right as ‘an umbrella term to encapsulate the entire movement which has a Far-Right political outlook in relation to matters such as culture, race, immigration and identity. .
Apparently, the British Government uses the above tautological ‘definition’ of far-right. Except that this is not a definition but a statement of evasion. The definition of Far Right as a movement that has a Far Right political outlook merely repeats the banal statement that the Far Right is the Far Right.
One of the consequences of the invention of the threat posed by the far right is to erode the distinction between itself and the classical right. In this vein a group of academics assert that with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in 2016 the ‘far right has become a mainstay’, leading to the ‘blurring the boundaries between mainstream and far-right politics’. The erosion of the boundary between right and far right is not an act of nature. It has occurred because of the constant recycling of propaganda that has aimed to cast the political right into the role previously occupied by the far right. In this way anyone holding strong conservative convictions risk being rebranded as far right.
The claim that the ‘far right has become a mainstay’ is motivated by the recognition of the fact that the political and ideological hegemony of the centrist technocratic elites is fast unravelling. In previous times the political establishment could place dissident voices under a quarantine. But now, in Europe, the voices of populism can no longer be ignored. Hence the invention of the supposed menace posed by the far right. That is why one commentator warned about ‘the mainstreaming’ effect of far-right discourse on key issues such as immigration in global politics, particularly by ‘mainstream’ centre right parties’.
It is precisely because a democratically inspired populist outlook has placed mainstream centre right parties under pressure that the term far right has been mobilised to discredit this development. It is important to realise that the use of this term is not merely designed to slander opponents. In effect it aims to render widely held views on national sovereignty, tradition, immigration, relation between men and women or net zero, illegitimate. It is integral to a project of semantic engineering that seeks to isolate and criminalise the outlook of political opponents.
It is possible that some commentators have genuinely internalised the fantasy surrounding the menace represented by the far right. In an age of intense political polarisation where members of the media and other cultural institutions only talk to people like themselves many will be drawn towards a distorted representation of reality. The ease with which words of condemnation like racist, homophobic or fascist are hurled at people whose only crime is the possession of an opposing view shows just how much the language of politics has become corrupted.
However, regardless of whether or not the promoters of the politics of fear believe the story line they concocted what is at stake is the struggle to gain control of language. Whether the words that are used to describe different political outlooks convey a negative or a positive meaning really matters. If the vocabulary that seeks to discredit views widely held in society acquires a dominant influence than those holding such sentiments can become wary of expressing them, Casting the current protest of European farmers under the shadow of the far right aims to undermine the public’s support for their cause.
Thankfully you can only cry wolf so many times and people will soon begin to see through the scaremongering rhetoric about the far right. In the meantime, it is necessary to go on the offensive and challenge the corruption of our political vocabulary by anti-democratic semantic engineers. At thr very least those who promote the fantasy of an omnipresent far right should be taken up for their political illiteracy. They should also be exposed corrupters of our political vocabulary.
Carlisle, Rodney P. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Politics: The Left and the Right, Volume 2: The Right. Sage Publications, p.694