A general view of the hemicycle during of a plenary session on BREXIT vote of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium on January 29, 2020. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis.

On Chantal Mouffe’s ‘Democratic Agonism’ and EU Democratic Deficit

Conflict constitutes an essential part of a healthy democratic society and should not be eradicated from it. Nevertheless, the “others” must not be intended as enemies to destroy but as adversaries whose ideas can be fought – even with ferocity – without ever questioning their right to defend them. Adopting a “competitive struggle” – as Chantal Mouffe calls it – implies mutual consensus towards institutions and socio-political values, even if it allows political actors to disagree on them, in the light of a “conflicting consensus.”

By Luca Mancin

According to social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986), societal and political environments are characterized by contentions and intra-groups relations. Politics does not make an exception with its long tradition of struggles and conflicts that gave birth to the so-called antagonistic paradigm (Schmitt, 1996), namely a political hostility that cannot be solved but through a mortal dispute. Though antagonism it can be softened and transformed into what Chantal Mouffe (2013) calls democratic agonism, where dissensus is present but the opposition occurs within shared values and pluralism is safeguarded.

By applying democratic agonism to the integration of the European Union (EU), focusing specifically on post-functionalism, it is unavoidable to deal with the broad concept of Euroscepticism, namely a critical and opposing attitude toward the EU’s economic and political integration. More specifically, this commentary investigates how a democratic agonism among softened Eurosceptic parties within the European Parliament can represent a remedy to the EU democratic deficit. Post-functionalism, indeed, tackles European integration from a national outlook. Hence it is a pluralistic and variegated approach to the EU affected by cultural and socio-political differences by mirroring potential incompatibilities of European politics. Might Mouffe’s democratic agonism precisely offer a solution to overcome such obstacles by promoting a pluralistic image of European politics through a pluralism of peoples and cultures within shared socioeconomic and political values?

The Democratic Agonism Paradigm

‘Why do you kill me?’ 

‘What! Do you not live on the other side of the water? If you lived on this side, my friend, I should be an assassin, and it would be unjust to slay you in this manner. But since you live on the other side, I am a hero, and it is just.’

This sentence, contained in Blaise Pascal’s Thoughts (2011: 51), perfectly describes the human attitude to categorizing the social world in a dichotomic manner. After all, Sigmund Freud as well, in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930: 114), wrote that “It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness.” A claim that recalls what Carl Schmitt (1996) argued about the Manichean structure of politics that relies on the contraposition between “friend” and “enemy.” Such behavior is also observable in the social identity theory elaborated by Tajfel & Turner (1986). According to this model, people create us/them divisions in their social environment and behave in the function of their membership group. 

Social identity theory relies on three steps. First, people categorize themselves and identify two parties – the in-group (“us”) and the out-group (“them”); secondly, the in-group’s members adopt the features that are believed to characterize that group; finally, the in-group compares itself with the out-group by exalting themself and belittling the other.

As anticipated above, the Manichean division between “us” and “them” is central in Schmitt’s (1996) work. The German philosopher maintained the crucial political distinction between “friend” (Freund) and “enemy” (Feind). Therefore, for him, the political enemy is “the other” or “the stranger” (der Fremde). The concept of enemy regards a group of people fighting and opposing – it is the Greek πόλεμος (pόlemos) or the Latin hostis (the public enemy). According to Schmitt, then, “the political” has two characteristics: 1) a polemical component embodied by a concrete conflict, and 2) the identification of “politician” in the sense of a political party.

The “us” versus “them” dichotomy is one of the main features of Eurosceptic and populist parties – as suggested by Cas Mudde (2004), who described populism as an opposition between “the pure people” and “the corrupt elite.” Manichean rhetoric polarizes citizenship and orients it towards a common enemy by finding a suitable scapegoat for each problem (Banning, 2006). We often notice this strategy investigating Eurosceptic and populist vocabulary and discourses, which propose an undetermined people opposed to a vague elite – the EU, the establishment, the bankers. So, an antagonistic approach allows citizens to identify a common enemy, but it denies any chance of constructive criticism and political compromise since it does not consent to establishing a fruitful political debate. Then, it is essential to find an agonistic alternative that permits dialogue and institutionalization of the conflict.

With this in mind, we draw on Chantal Mouffe’s (2013) work, which produces sublimation and institutionalization of Schmitt’s antagonism – which does not allow space for a confrontation between the two contenders that is not deadly. By contrast, Mouffe’s solution aims to overcome the limitations of a mortal political conflict by moving it into a political arena regulated by shared values and principles within institutions. By doing this, Mouffe proposes an agonistic model of democracy, whose purpose does not consist of reaching a consensus without exclusion because that would involve a “we” without a “them” – which is impossible. Mouffe recalls the idea of “radical negativity” – a form of negativity impossible to overcome and that prevents the full achievement of objectivity. Such radical negativity leaves open the possibility of an antagonism: recognizing the existence of radical negativity means recognizing the multiplicity and the divisions of the people. Societies cannot overcome such divisions but only institutionalize them.

Mouffe’s model of political society has its roots in the concepts of “antagonism” and “hegemony.” Antagonism indicates a conflict with no rational solution, while hegemony describes every society’s constitutive and ineliminable negativity. The hegemonic feature of human communities involves that every social order relies on a contingent articulation of power relations without an ultimate rational foundation. Consequently, societies are always the product of a series of practices attempting to establish a determined order in a contingent context. Hence, Mouffe declares that the central political issue consists of establishing an oppositional us/them compatibly with a pluralistic acceptance. The conflict constitutes an essential part of a healthy democratic society and should not be eradicated from it. Nevertheless, the “others” must not be approached as enemies to destroy but as adversaries whose ideas can be fought – even with ferocity – without ever questioning the right to defend. Adopting a “competitive struggle” – as Mouffe calls it – implies mutual consensus towards institutions and socio-political values, even if it allows political actors to disagree, in the light of a “conflicting consensus.”

But what happens if we apply Mouffe’s democratic agonism to European integration theories?

European Integration and Democratic Deficit

Integration theories analyze how to increase political cooperation within the EU by dealing with the EU integration results and the development of its institutions (Diez & Wiener, 2018). Among the several diversified EU integration theories, the post-functionalist outlook is relevant for this commentary. Such a theory, elaborated by Hooghe & Marks (2009), tackles the European Union from the national level of member states by stating that their domestic level politics shapes and affects EU integration and politicizes EU policies. The focus, the authors argue, is precisely on the conflicts at the level of the national citizenry, which constitute the driving forces of European integration.

Indeed, post-functionalism has spread after the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and runs parallel to the shift from a “permissive consensus” to a “constraining dissensus” (Hooghe & Marks, 2009). By this term, scholars mean the greater awareness of citizens concerning European issues in the post-Maastricht Treaty period, followed by a broader politicization of the EU’s matters. Such a mutation has been a critical turning point for the European integration process, coinciding with the normalization of Eurosceptic parties (Bijsmans, 2020; Brack & Startin, 2015), which exploited the decrease of EU support and the increase of room for manifesting such a discontent (de Vries & Edwards, 2009). Besides, the diffusion of post-functionalism highlights the growing issue of the EU democratic deficit by making popular discontent concerning EU-related issues heard through national politics.

Whether the European Union is democratic or not raises broad debates (Beetham & Lord, 1998; Schmidt, 2006). The democratic deficit is the idea that “EU institutions and their decision-making procedures suffer from a lack of democracy and seem inaccessible to the ordinary citizen due to their complexity” (EUR-Lex)[1]. Such a democratic deficit might have different causes (the lack of genuine representative democracy in the EU, the absence of a common European demos, and the democratic deficit at the national level). Some scholars argue that the EU needs more profound politicization to create political debate to overcome the democratic deficit (Bellamy & Kroger, 2013; Føllesdal & Hix, 2006). These suggestions might entail pan-European elections, the President of the European Commission elected by the European Parliament, or a broader Europeanization of the public sphere. By contrast, other scholars maintain that the EU is as democratic as it could/should be because it aims to produce Pareto-efficient outcomes (Majone, 1994; Moravcsik, 2008). Namely, the EU creates a situation where the allocation of resources is such that improvements cannot be made to the system (i.e., the condition of one person cannot be improved without worsening the condition of another).

A general image of the EU’s democratic deficit, its causes, and potential remedies allows us to investigate whether the increasing number of softened Eurosceptic parties improved the democratic environment of the European Parliament – in terms of debates and participation – by producing a “democratic agonism.” Indeed, Chantal Mouffe (2013) considers it one of the possible solutions for the future of the EU integration since it would preserve the pluralism of identities and allow a “conflicting consensus” within the shared and common values of the Union.

Softened Euroscepticism as a Remedy to EU Democratic Deficit

Addressing the EU democratic deficit through Euroscepticism requires orientating within the complex and vague field of this topic (Szczerbiak & Taggart, 2017). Taggart has generally defined Euroscepticism as “the idea of contingent or qualified opposition, as well as incorporating outright and unqualified opposition to the process of European integration” (1998: 366). Taggart & Szczerbiak (2002) elaborate a further differentiation between “hard” and “soft” Euroscepticism. The first term indicates an opposition per se to the EU, while the second one depicts a qualified opposition to the EU – namely, a rejection of specific integration fields. However, as Kopecky and Mudde (2002) point out, it is still a too broad definition.

While these two broad categories represent necessary starting points, it is crucial to offer more specific definitions of the soft version to tackle this issue properly. Hence, I argue we should consider the category of “Eurorealizm” or softened Euroscepticism by referring to a political position that has been named in two different ways within the literature of this field. One is the term “Europragmatizm” (Kopecky & Mudde, 2002), which depicts a positive attitude towards the ideological image of the EU, but also an opposition to the principles of the European integration process. Similarly, such a political habit recalls the term “revisionist” (Flood & Usherwood, 2005), namely the desire to return to earlier stages of the EU. Finally, concerning Vasilopoulou’s (2011) work, we can consider such a position as a “conditional Euroscepticism” since it accepts a cultural definition of Europe and is aware of the importance of multilateral cooperation at the EU level but rejects the current EU’s political practice and future integrational steps.

Once we have defined what we mean here by softened Euroscepticism, we can examine how these stances can represent a (partial) remedy to the EU democratic deficit. It is essential to draw on Milner (2000), who talks about “healthy scepticism,” considering Euroscepticism as a litmus test for the awareness of critical citizenry concerning the EU’s issues. More recently, De Wilde & Trenz (2012) reconduct Euroscepticism to the EU’s integration process by stating that it is a natural element of the opposition to the European political project. Besides, it embodies a contestation of the European polity, and it might help address problems about sovereignty, democratic deficit, and responsiveness by being part of the more extensive process of legitimation and democratization of the Union. For this reason, Brack & Startin (2015), analyzing how Euroscepticism is currently a mainstream aspect of European politics, ask whether it can help in terms of a remedy to the EU democratic deficit. The literature offers two answers to this question. Firstly, Brack & Costa (2017) maintains that Eurosceptic conflicting opinions inside the European Parliament show the high degree of democratic pluralism of the Union itself. Secondly, Krouwel & Abst (2007) underline the positive aspect of populist Eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament since these actors represent a stimulus for an active citizenry. After all, a healthy democracy relies on political contestation and critics, and, to a certain extent, Euroscepticism triggering political discontent can reveal itself as a positive aspect of a democratic regime.

Such theoretical statements find a practical realization in contemporary general Eurosceptic parties’ tendency to soften their position and take up a position of what we defined above as “Eurorealism” (Balfour et al., 2019; Taggart, 2019). In other words, nowadays, Eurosceptic parties are still critics of the European Union but do not assess the exit from the EU as a feasible solution. Here, looking at the question of Eurorealism and examining whether it can fuel democratization of the EU through Mouffe’s (2013) democratic agonistic paradigm implies a European Parliament with a pluralistic trim, where conflicts are present and essential but regulated within shared values and principles. The transposition into the European Studies literature of Mouffe’s approach can be traced in Nicolaïdis’ (2004) concept of “demoi-cracy.” By this term, he means a combination of pluralistic nations and peoples working together to overcome the democratic problems in the EU but maintaining their essential socio-cultural differences and ideological divergences. Only through the maintenance of these unavoidable and natural “geo-philosophical faults” – as the Italian philosopher Massimo Cacciari calls them (1994 & 1997) – it is possible to safeguard the “field of conflicting forces”, as the Polish philosopher Krzysztof Pomian once described Europe.

Conclusion

This commentary applied Mouffe’s theory on democratic agonism (2013) to post-functional theories of European integration. It argued that approaching Euroscepticism through the lens of democratic agonism rather than antagonism shows how pluralism and shared values can address the EU democratic deficit. In particular, it was argued that democratic agonism would allow the increasing number of softened Eurosceptic parties to elaborate constructive criticism toward the Union’s trim without menacing an exit of their member states from the EU. Such a solution would safeguard cultures and peoples’ pluralism in what Nicolaïdis (2004) called “demoi-cracy” and constitute a compromise for the “conflicting forces” featuring the European Union politics. In the EU, then, there would still be a “competitive struggle,” not between “friends” and “enemies,” but between adversaries whose positions can be fought but must be respected in the light of a “conflicting consensus.”

References

Balfour, R.; Basagni, L.; Flotho-Liersch, A.; Fusaro, P.; Gelhaus, L.; Groenendaal, L.; Hegedus, D.; Von Homeyer, H.; Kausch, K.; Kutschka, T.; Matrakova, M.; Rempala, J.; & Tani, K. (2019). Divide and Obstruct: Populist Parties and EU Foreign Policy. German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Banning, M. E. (2006). “The Politics of Resentment.” JAC, 26(1/2), 67–101. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20866722 

Beetham, D., & Lord, C. (1998). Legitimacy and the European Union. London: Longman.

Bellamy, R., & Kröger, S. (2013). “Representation Deficits and Surpluses in EU Policy-making.” Journal of European Integration35(5), 477-497.

Bijsmans, P. (2020). “Euroskepticism, a multifaceted phenomenon.” In: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Oxford University Press.

Brack, N., & Costa, O. (2017). “Transnational and Pan-European Euroscepticism.” In: B. Leruth, N. Startin & S. Usherwood (Eds.). The Routledge Handbook of Euroscepticism (pp. 551-569). Routledge.

Brack, N, & Startin, N. (2015). “Introduction: Euroscepticism, from the margins to the mainstream.” International Political Science Review36(3), 239–249.

Cacciari, M. (1994). Geofilosofia dell’Europa [Geo-philosophy of Europe]. Adelphi.

Cacciari, M. (1997). Arcipelago [Archipelago]. Adelphi.

De Vries, C. E. & Edwards, E. E. (2009). “Taking Europe to Its Extremes: Extremist Parties and Public Euroscepticism.” Party Politics. 15(1), 5–28.

de Wilde, P. & Trenz, H.J. (2012). “Denouncing European integration: Euroscepticism as polity contestation.” European Journal of Social Theory15(4): 537–554.

Diez, T. & Wiener, A. (2018). “Introducing the Mosaic of Integration Theory.” In: A. Wiener & T. Diez (Eds.), European Integration Theory (pp. 1-24). Oxford University Press.

Flood, C. & Usherwood, S. (2005). Positions, Dispositions, Transitions: A model of Group Alignment on EU Integration. Paper presented at the 55th Annual Conference of the Political Studies Association University of Leeds, 5-7 April 2005.

Føllesdal, A. & Hix, S. (2006). “Why There is a Democratic Deficit in the EU: A Response to Majone and Moravcsik.” Journal of Common Market Studies, 44(33), 533–562 

Freud, S. (1930). Civilization and its DiscontentsThe Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXI (1927-1931). The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents, and Other Works, 57-146. Available at: https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Freud_SE_Civ_and_Dis_complete.pdf

Hooghe, L., & Marks, G. (2009). “A Post-functionalist Theory of European Integration: From Permissive Consensus to Constraining Dissensus.” British Journal of Political Science, 39(1), 1–23.

Kopecky, P. & Mudde, C. (2002). “The Two Sides of Euroscepticism. Party Positions on European Integration in East Central Europe.” European Union Politics3(3), 297-326.

Krouwel, A. & Abts, K. (2007). “Varieties of Euroscepticism and Populist Mobilization: Transforming Attitudes from Mild Euroscepticism to Harsh Eurocynicism.” Acta Politica42, 252–270.

Majone, G. (1994). “The Rise of the Regulatory State in Europe.” West European Politics, 17(3), 77–101.

Milner, S. (2000). “Introduction: A Healthy Scepticism?” Journal of European Integration22(1), 1-13.

Moravcsik, A. (2008). “The Myth of Europe’s ‘Democratic Deficit’.” Intereconomics, 43(6): 331–340.

Mouffe, C. (2013). Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically. Verso.

Mudde, C. (2004). “The Populist Zeitgeist.” Government and Opposition39(4), 541–563. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1477-7053.2004.00135.x  

Nicolaïdis, K. (2004). “The new constitution as european “demoi‐cracy”?” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy7(1), 76-93.

Pascal, B. [(2011) 1669]. The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal. The Online Library of Liberty. Available at: https://oll-resources.s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/oll3/store/titles/2407/Pascal_1409_EBk_v6.0.pdf

Schmidt, V. A. (2006). Democracy in Europe. Oxford University Press.

Schmitt, C. (1996). The Concept of the Political [1932]. Chicago University Press.

Szczerbiak, A. & Taggart, P. (2017). “Contemporary Research on Euroscepticism.” In: B. Leruth, N. Startin, & S. Usherwood (Eds.). The Routledge Handbook of Euroscepticism (pp. 45-60). Routledge.

Taggart, P. (1998). “A Touchstone of Dissent: Euroscepticism in Contemporary Western European Party Systems.” European Journal of Political Research, 33, 363-388.

Taggart, P. (2019). “Party-based hard Euroscepticism in the 2019 European parliament elections.” In: N. Bolin, K. Falasca, M. Grusel, et alEuroflections: Leading academics on the European elections 2019 (p. 26). Demicom report no. 40. Sundsval: Mittuniversitetet.

Taggart, P. & Szczerbiak, A. (2002). Crossing Europe: Patterns of Contemporary Party-Based Euroscepticism in EU Member States and the Candidate States of Central and Eastern Europe. Paper prepared for presentation at the European Consortium for Political Research Joint Workshops, Turin, March 21-27, 2002.

Tajfel, H. & Turner, J.C. (1986). “The social identity theory of intergroup behavior.” In: S. Worchel & W.G. Austin (Eds). Psychology of intergroup relations. Nelson-Hall.

Vasilopoulou S. (2011). “European Integration and the Radical Right: Three Patterns of Opposition.” Government and Opposition46(2), 223-244.


[1] The definition is available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/glossary/democratic_deficit.html.

Photo: Matej Kastelic.

ECPS Academy Future Leaders Program (July 4-8, 2022)   

Euroscepticism and far-right politics: The populist challenge to EU norms, institutions and values 

Are you an early-career academic researcher in the social sciences or humanities at Bachelor’s or Master’s level? Are you passionate about European politics and understanding the dynamics that shape it? Are you looking for a way to expand your knowledge under the supervision of leading experts, seeking options to have your work published by a European research institute, or simply in need of a few extra ECTS credits for your studies? Then consider applying to ECPS Academy Future Leaders Program! The European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS) is looking to select a handful of outstanding young researchers for a unique opportunity to assess the populist challenge to European politics in a five-day, interactive Summer course led by global experts from a variety of backgrounds. This rigorous program will provide a state-of-the-art introduction to a number of key issues in the field of populism studies and enable successful candidates to explore their own ideas under the supervision of our experts. You gain not only an opportunity to have your work published and a handful of ECTS points but also a unique opportunity to broaden your horizons and deepen your understanding of the challenges facing European politics in the 21st century.  

Overview  

European politics have witnessed, over the last 20 years, a subversive wave of Eurosceptic, nativist, populist far-right politics. Beginning as a phenomenon on the socio-political fringes, populism has found fertile ground in the post-industrial economies of the West, attaching itself to nationalist and de-modernising movements threatening core European values of democracy, openness, tolerance and non-discrimination – and, in the process, taking many democracies by storm. In Donald Trump and the successful ‘Brexit’ campaign in the United Kingdom, many saw right-wing populism reaching its political apex and the 2010s to be the ‘populist decade’, marking populism’s entry into the political mainstream; today, although Covid-19, in a sense, undermined support for right-wing populist governance, the economic and social uncertainties that remain mean the spectre of exclusionary populism is never far.  

This trend threatens the European Union on both the institutional and the normative level. EU values such as democracy, freedom, human rights, justice, and equality are under greater threat today than perhaps at any point in the Union’s 50 years of history. Understanding the drivers and the impact of populist right politics on liberal democracy is key to tackling the most critical challenges facing European identity, institutions and values. The ECPS Academy Future Leaders Program seeks to empower future generations by helping the exceling young scholars of tomorrow to understand the nature and dynamics of the populist moment, and thereby facilitate the development of constructive and effective responses. As Europe celebrates the EU Year of Youth in 2022, our five-day Future Leaders Program offers young people a dynamic, engaging and interdisciplinary learning environment with an intellectually challenging program presented by world class scholars of populism, allowing them to grow as future academic, intellectual, activist and public leaders. 

Over the course of five days, interactive lectures by world-leading practitioners and experts from a number of backgrounds will introduce populism from a variety of angles and explore the fundamental questions and potent tensions its popularity raises. The lectures are complemented by discussions, group interactions and assignments on selected key issues to develop critical and openminded engagement with some of the most pressing questions of European politics, and to introduce participants to cutting-edge qualitative and quantitative approaches to populism reflective of the state of social science research today. Participants have the opportunity to collaborate with those from different socio-political contexts, developing invaluable cross-cultural perspectives and facilitating a knowledge exchange that goes beyond European borders.  

Who should apply? 

This unique course is addressed to outstanding candidates interested in gaining a more comprehensive and critical understanding of how the rise of far-right populism, and related trends like Euroscepticism, nativism, authoritarianism and exclusionary politics subvert the European Union’s basic pillars and essential European values. A select group of participants will be chosen based on merit, with applications welcomed from students pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees of any discipline, as well as early career professionals between the ages of 18 and 30. You will be selected on the basis of a letter of motivation, a CV and a research proposal of between 500 and 1000 words. The proposal should give a brief analysis of populism’s relationship to one or more core European value, and ideally outline a plan to investigate this relationship further. Drawing upon and correctly citing academic sources is desirable.  

We value the high level of diversity on our courses, welcoming applications from people of all backgrounds. The deadline for submitting applications is June 20, 2022. Reflecting the properly pan-European character of the ECPS Academy Future Leaders Program – but unfortunately also the difficulties of organising in-person events in times of pandemic – the 2022 Program will take place on Zoom, consisting of two sessions each day.  

Topics and Lecturers

  • “Populism in Europe: Origins and causes of the populist moment,” by Paul Taggart, Professor of Politics, University of Sussex.
  • “Nativist Populism: Political discourse between othering and inclusion,” by Ruth Wodak, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Discourse Studies, Lancaster University.
  • “Populism and nationalism: Challenges to the idea of European Union,” by Daphne Halikiopoulou, Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Reading.
  • “Populism and the rule of law,” by Bojan Bugarič, Professor of Law, University of Scheffield.
  • “Populism and economic performance: Implications on institutions and good governance,” by Ibrahim Ozturk, Professor of Economics, University of Duisburg-Essen.
  • “Russia’s populist discourse and its invasion of Ukraine: Challenges for the EU,” by Neil Robinson, Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Limmerick.
  • “Populism and participation: Democracy by the People, for the People? by Susana Salgado, Professor of Political Communication, Principal Researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon
  • “Populism and new media: Understanding challenges online and offline,” by Dr Eviane Leidig, Research Fellow, International Center for Counter-Terrorism.
  • “Populism and gender: Gender identity in populist discourse,” by Dr Haley McEwen, Researcher, Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, University of the Witwatersrand.

Evaluation Criteria 

Meeting the assessment criteria is required from all participants aiming to successfully complete the program and receive a certificate of attendance in the end. These evaluation criteria include full attendance, active participation in lectures, and the successful completion of an individual written assignment, ideally (but not necessarily) linked to your research proposal.  

Participants are expected to write an article or essay on a topic of their choice based on one of the themes discussed during the program. They are expected to plan and produce original work that presents arguments in a clear and balanced way drawing on multiple sources and incorporating and citing them consistent with academic standards. For this process, they will be supervised by one of our in-house experts to complete this assignment successfully. The articles will be between 2,000 and 3,000 words and need to be submitted within a month from the end of the program; selected papers will be considered for publication on the ECPS website and ECPS Youth blog. 

Credit 

This course is worth 5 ECTS in the European system. If you intend to transfer credit to your home institution, please check the requirements with them before you apply. We will be happy to assist you in any way we can, however, please be aware that the decision to transfer credit rests with your home institution. 

Certificate of Attendance 

Awarded after program to all participants based on the satisfactory participation in, and completion of, the course assignments. Certificates are sent to students only by email.

Please submit your application: [email protected] 

Brexit suporters, brexiteers, in central London holding banners campaigning to leave the European Union on January 15, 2019.

ECPS Youth Seminars — Political Psychology of Populism: Groups, Hierarchies and Emotions (Apr.4, 2022)  

 Date/Time: Monday, April 4, 2022 / 18:00-19:00 (CET)

Click here to register!

Moderator

Celia Miray Yesil

Speaker

Dr. Sandra Obradovic 

At this ECPS Youth Seminar, Dr. Sandra Obradovic is going to present the findings of a research paper titled “Understanding the psychological appeal of populism” which is jointly written by Obradovic, Séamus A. Power and Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington. According to the paper, psychology can play an important role in expanding our understanding of the demand-side of populism by revealing its underlying relational logic. Social psychological perspectives on populism are beginning to show how: 1) the division between us (‘the good people’) and them (‘the corrupt elites’/ ‘foreign others’) taps into core intergroup dynamics, 2) economic and cultural processes are construed in terms of basic status concerns, and 3) collective emotions become mobilised through political communication. Taking these insights into consideration, the authors reflect on psychology’s contribution to the study of populism thus far and chart out an ambitious role for it at the heart of this interdisciplinary field.

Dr. Sandra Obradovic is a social and political psychologist in the UK. She is a lecturer in Psychology at the Open University and a researcher at the Electoral Psychology Observatory at the London School of Economics. Her work examines how group boundaries are constructed and defined, and their impact on identities, intergroup relations, and political attitudes. In bringing this focus to research on populism she works with colleagues in Denmark and the UK, examining and comparing populist and mainstream rhetoric and highlighting the role of hierarchies, emotions, and temporalities in constructing the common people as under threat. At the Electoral Psychology Observatory, she works with colleagues on research on electoral atmosphere and hostility: how voters experience elections and its impact on interpersonal relationships and overall satisfaction with democracy.

Celia Miray Yesil is a ECPS Youth Group member, co-director of Voice of Youth (VoY) and master’s student of International Political Economy at the Warwick University. She gained her undergraduate degree in European Politics at King’s College London, studying the historical background of European nations and its relationships with the rest of the world.  In her undergraduate dissertation, Miray looked at the populist ‘language’ of the far-right leaders Marine Le Pen and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As for her master’s dissertation, Miray is considering focussing more on the impact of far-right populism in foreign policy, particularly looking at the political language and communication of populist leaders in the international political economy.

Click here to register!

 

ECPSYouthSeminar1

ECPS Youth Seminars #1 — Populism and personality: How voters perceive the dark personality of populist leaders

At this ECPS Youth Seminar, Professor Alessandro Nai is presentäng results from his recent research on how voters perceive the (dark) personality of political candidates. Who likes dark politicians? His research article investigates whether voters showcasing populist attitudes are more likely to appreciate candidates that score high on dark personality traits (narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism) and low on agreeableness. 

Professor Nai’s investigation leverages evidence from an international survey that includes expert-ratings for personality profile of 49 top candidates having competed in 22 national elections, matched with standardized survey data gathered in the aftermath of those same elections that include self-ratings of populist attitudes and candidate likeability (CSES data, N = 70,690). Even controlling for important covariates that drive candidate likeability (e.g., the ideological distance between the voter and the candidate), the results strongly confirm the expectations: populist voters are significantly more likely to appreciate candidates high on the Dark triad and low on agreeableness. The effects, especially for (low) agreeableness, are quite substantial.

Alessandro Nai is an Assistant Professor of Political Communication at the Department of Communication Science, University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on the drivers and consequences of election campaigning, political communication, and the psychology of voting behaviour. His recent work deals more specifically with the dark sides of politics, the use of negativity and incivility in election campaigns in a comparative perspective, and the (dark) personality traits of political figures. He is currently directing a research project that maps the use of negative campaigning in elections across the world. 

Moderator Celia Miray Yesil is a master’s student of International Political Economy at the Warwick University. She gained her undergraduate degree in European Politics at King’s College London, studying the historical background of European nations and its relationships with the rest of the world. Miray is considering focussing more on the impact of far-right populism in foreign policy, particularly looking at the political language and communication of populist leaders in the international political economy. 

A young African woman hugging a white northern woman after a protest. Photo: Sabrina Bracher.

Nice White Ladies: The Truth about White Supremacy, Our Role in It, and How We Can Help Dismantle It 

In her book, Jessie Daniels deconstructs whiteness and scrutinizes individuals’ contributions to and relationships with it, making “Nice White Ladies” an excellent work of literature for those who understand that the practice of anti-racism cannot be disentangled from self-work. However much one may already know about the subject matter, Daniels’ confronting, academic, and personal approach will surely provide her readers with fresh insights.    

Reviewed by Shirin Ananda Dias*

In her book “Nice White Ladies,” Jessie Daniels deconstructs white womanhood and details how it is historically and culturally linked to the inter-generational perpetuation of everyday, systemic, and institutional racism by white women in both the United Kingdom (UK) and, most notably, in the United States (US). Both by drawing on existent literature on race, gender, cultural and blackness studies and by giving detailed ethnographic and personal examples, Daniels details how white women – often with good intentions – contribute to the cycle of racism and demonstrates their complicity in the infliction of everyday micro-aggressions on communities of color. 

Although the book is largely a cultural critique, it also serves as a “self-help book” for those seeking to break free from the toxic chains of whiteness, which inflict pain and suffering not only upon BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color), but also upon white women and their families, through generational guilt and self-destructive defense mechanisms transmitted throughout decades. The book’s six chapters take the reader through Daniels’ personal and academic journeys, zeroing in on her experiences with white womanhood and racism throughout her life and academic career. She furthermore provides the reader with alternative constructive modes of ‘being white’ in a diverse and multicultural society.

In the first chapter of the book Daniels places white womanhood in historical context and lays bare, through a cultural and historical lens, how and why white women often feel threatened by and entitled to protection from the ‘other.’ Without vilifying the ‘Karens’ of today’s society, Daniels details how their (sometimes subconscious) feelings of white supremacy, entitlement to protection, and (lethal) power over the ‘other’ are surviving legacies of the colonial period. Within white supremacist society, black men were often lynched to protect white women –the underlying sentiment has survived through generations, resulting in instances of modern-day women weaponizing their white womanhood by using police and law enforcement against BIPOC. Daniels hereby demonstrates and emphasizes how white women’s actions perpetuate colonial cultural legacies to this day, and how they are consequently beneficiaries of colonialism and slavery.

In chapter two, Daniels illustrates how white feminists on both the left and right of the political spectrum tend to perpetrate and exacerbate racial inequalities through their supposedly universal and neutral feminist activism. From the pink pussy hats to the #metoo movement and other movements aiming for women’s liberation and “equal representation, compensation and power in the public sphere as men” (Daniels, 2021: 86), Daniels shows that these movements for women’s rights are far from universally inclusive. On the contrary, these feminist movements tend to engage in gender-only, (neoliberal) feminism that is oblivious to white privilege, race, and institutionalized racism (as well as other relevant intersections). Daniels therefore criticizes so-called liberal feminists on their lack of intersectionality and calls for the inclusion of critical race theory in feminist activism with the objective of the liberation of all women.

In chapter three, “The Shallow Promise of the Wellness Industry,” Daniels shows how women are targeted by all sorts of ‘self-care’ trends – clean eating, skincare products, yoga, mindfulness – which promise fulfillment and inner peace in a capitalist society.  In one sense, these trends are shallow in their failure to deliver true fulfillment; in fact, their intertwinement with the capitalist system ensures that fulfillment is ever out of reach. Daniels, however, focuses on a different source of shallowness: namely, that purveyors of the wellness industry create white-only spaces, and construct a specific normative identity, namely the white-hetero-lady who is in need of care. In creating and orienting itself around this identity, the wellness industry excludes communities of color and obscures the reasons for their struggles. Wellness is portrayed as a product for consumption, instead of something that is contingent upon larger structural issues like systemic racism and poverty.  Daniels also touches upon the wellness industry’s self-help books and criticizes renowned authors such as Brené Brown, for her work’s blindness to whiteness and white-shame, and Eat-Pray-Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, for romanticizing her soul-seeking journey to India without reflecting upon the white privilege that afforded her the means leave everything behind, travel, and ‘find herself.’ 

Chapters four and five discuss identity and kinship. In chapter four, “Love and Theft,” Daniels investigates the psychological and cultural reasons behind certain white women’s appropriation of BIPOC identities. Here Daniels discusses the women like academics Rachel Dolezal and Jessica Krug. She argues that it is the underlying emptiness that resides in whiteness, and, furthermore, white guilt, which drive white women to appropriate non-white identities, so that they can be seen and heard, or to deal with the psychological trauma of being white. Daniels furthermore details how white women, through ‘blackfishing’ or appropriating indigenous Cherokee identities, become the beneficiaries of policies like affirmative action, whereby their successes rest on the backs of those communities who need those policies most. 

Not all white women deal with whiteness and white guilt in the same way as the Rachel Dolezals of the world. Daniels shows how many white women engage in white saviorism in order to assuage their white guilt. An example she discusses is the adoption of BIPOC children by white families, where an undercurrent of white saviorism can perpetuate microaggressions towards communities of color, with the indirect message being that white mothers are more capable of motherhood. As is furthermore shown in the chapter “Protecting White Families,” white women often engage in practices that benefit white families and disadvantage communities of color, by raising their adopted children in a “color blind”, household, rather than a “color aware” one, thereby implicitly downplaying racism’s existence. One’s own contribution to and participation in cyclical institutionalized racism and racial segregation often goes unnoticed; well-meaning and protective mothers, who accumulate wealth within their white families and shield their children from education in multi-racial settings, which Daniels coins as the “new Jim Crow,” seem unaware of the implications of their actions. In all examples, from white women physically protecting their homes with guns from Black Lives Matter demonstrators to those well-meaning women who accumulate wealth and education for their white families, Daniels emphasizes and illustrates how white families are “one of the most powerful forces of reproducing white supremacy” (Daniels, 2021: 193). 

In the last chapter, “The Lie that is Killing All of Us,” Daniels details, through myriad examples of mental health cases (including her own mother’s), how whiteness not only poses a lethal threat to communities of color, but, even more so, how it threatens white communities. She argues that although white people are the beneficiaries of white supremacy (in that they have, for example, greater access to healthcare than communities of color do), white communities are also plagued by higher rates of depression than communities of color, and increasing addiction, mortality, and suicide rates. Daniels illustrates how nice white ladies suffer under the burden of white guilt. Building on this, Daniels illustrates the impact white guilt has on the individual and collective health of white people and communities. In this vein, Daniels demonstrates how feelings of emptiness – inherent to whiteness – are often the root cause for infliction of harm of others, and for self-destructive behavior. 

In the concluding section, Daniles refers back to previous chapters and provides the reader with detailed methods to develop an alternate, more constructive and justform of whiteness and white womanhood. Jessie Daniels herself strives to be “white without going white, to not take up all the space, to swerve away from the supremacy of whiteness” (Daniels, 2021: 234). The suggested liberators methods include, for example, rethinking social relationships with people who actively participate in the oppression of BIPOC, giving agency to women of color, and being their accomplice in dismantling white supremacy, amongst many other suggestions.

A potential critique of the book is that certain argumentations rather reductionist, such as Daniels’ proclamations that the Kardashians’ cultural appropriation derives from their white guilt, or that the suicide of a white health worker during COVID-19 was motivated by the burden of white survival guilt. This is where Daniels draws hasty conclusions and appears to disregard the complexity of the human psyche despite her background in critical social psychology. Although I concur that there lays trauma in whiteness, not all behavior is necessarily attributable to whiteness and its discontents. 

Despite this criticism, the book does insightfully deconstruct whiteness and scrutinizes individuals’ contributions to and relationships with it, making “Nice White Ladies” an excellent work of literature for those who understand that the work of anti-racism cannot be disentangled from self-work. However much one may already know about the subject matter, Daniels’ confronting, academic, and personal approach will surely provide her readers with fresh insights.  It is a work that I would highly recommend to both academics and laymen seeking to understand the complexities of white womanhood and racism. I would especially recommend the book to white women, as no matter how “woke” one might be, there might be a “Nice White Lady, whether big or small, in all of us.


Jessie Daniels, Nice White Ladies: The Truth about White Supremacy, Our Role in It, and How We Can Help Dismantle It, Seal Press, 2021, 304 pp., $28, ISBN: 9781541675865


(*) Shirin Ananda Dias is an alumna of SOAS university London, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in Social Anthropology. Her two main regions of academic interest are the Middle East and South Asia, where she indulges in political anthropology focusing on ethnic and religious nationalism and populism in the broader framework of globalization and contemporary international relations. She is currently enrolled in the MA program “Social and Cultural Anthropology” at the University of Amsterdam where she is finishing writing her master dissertation on the expression of Hindu nationalism in right wing Hindu nationalist Facebook groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


SocialMedia1

Digital Populism: The Internet and the Rise of Right-wing Populism

This article is an attempt to critically assess the utilization of internet platforms by right-wing populists. Analysing both primary and secondary sources, the author identifies several propaganda methods used by populists in digital venues to trigger insecurities in their target audience. Nativism and xenophobia are at the forefront of these propaganda methods. The increasing use of internet algorithms and artificial intelligence is also brought to the readers’ attention as abetting the spread of fake news and hate speech. The author concludes by drawing attention to initiatives and mechanisms that social media platforms should use to limit the damaging effects of such digital populist rhetoric.

By Sena Eksi

“Populism often asks the right questions but provides the wrong answer” (Mudde and Kaltwasser, 2017: 118).

Populism is defined as a stark social and political divide between the common people and the corrupt elite. The author of The Global Rise of Populism, Benjamin Moffit writes that populist leaders aim to represent the unified “will of people,” hence arguing that populism “is generally misused especially in a European context” (Moffitt, 2016: 101-102). Accordingly, populism is embraced both by left-wing and right-wing political parties, as well as other extremist groups along the political spectrum. Even though populist leaders seem—at least superficially—to have the well-being of their citizens at heart, with time, idiosyncratic politicians tend to corrupt the popular spirit and seek to realize their own goals by labelling themselves as the natural or sole representative of the true people.

Propaganda methods and mass media have always been used to spread new ideas, thoughts, and doctrines. A well-known example is the Nazi regime in Germany, which used propaganda through different sources of media to influence the German population. Today, digital media works as a modernized platform to disseminate all kinds of extremist propaganda nationally and internationally. This article will examine primarily the historical background of populism and the rise of far-right movements, as it is necessary to trace the origin of radicalized currents on today’s digital media. According to Anton Jäger, US populism scholar, “in its original form, populism was not racist; it was truly for and by the people” (Maly, 2018: 5). As evident by contemporary populist parties, this is no longer the case, as racist policies tend to dominate. Therefore, the primary focus of this article will examine how today’s populist voices use digital media—especially social media—as tools to spread racist messages globally.

We begin with the definition of populism. Jan-Werner Müller clarifies that: “[Populism is] a particular moralistic imagination of politics, a way of perceiving the political world that sets a morally pure and fully unified—but ultimately fictional—people against elites who are deemed corrupt or in some other way morally inferior. […] Populists claim that they, and only they, represent the people” (2016: 19–20). In this view, populist leaders offer an idealized vision to the voting public with a claim that they represent the only true “voice of the people.” 

Presenting themselves as political saviours by satisfying the needs of the population, populist leaders expand their sway among a greater share of the electorate to boost their political power. Populist politicians often use strong emotional appeals, including public discontent, to stir support (Hafner-Burton et al., 2017). Precisely because right-wing politicians trigger the public’s insecurities, highlighting the lack of national and personal security (mass immigration, for example), they steadily cultivate citizen appeal. As Ico Maly emphasizes: “Populism is nowadays being used [as] a synonym for demagogues, racism, authoritarianism and nationalism. The concept has therefore become a euphemism for far more radical ideological positions” (2018:6).

The article Right-Wing Extremists’ Persistent Online Presence: History and Contemporary Trends emphasizes a notable classification, when it comes to the right-wing actors: “we conceptualize Western right-wing extremism (RWE) as a racially, ethnically, and/or sexually defined nationalism, which is typically framed in terms of white power and/or white identity (i.e., the in-group) that is grounded in xenophobic and exclusionary understandings of the perceived threats posed by some combination of non-whites, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, members of the LGBTQI+ community, and feminists (i.e., the out-group(s))” (Conway, 2019). It is common for populist politicians to make use of nationalistic notions to create a picture of the in-group, an image that will be radically developed and internalized by right-wing extremist groups. Subsequently, they must exclude individuals who don’t meet the in-group’s criteria.

The reasons for the increase in (far-right) populism and the radicalization of the political firmament in many democracies across the world is due to a complex set of factors. Undoubtedly, however, the central cause, on a global level, has been the intersection of a crisis of democracy (Fitzi, 2019) and a more fundamental crisis of governance (Yuval-Davis, 2012). Overall, the “depletion of the welfare state, the deregulation of the markets and the deconstruction of political culture” (Fitzi, 2019: 7) have proved fertile ground for the expansion of populism. Even if populism was first notable in the Americas, these factors have also caused an increase in European populism. 

Since the end of the 1990s, a rolling set of global crises, including terrorism, climate change, financial crises, and now, the COVID-19 pandemic, have undermined citizen trust in “territorial governmentality and juridical control of nation-state bounded governance,” and heightened the sense of a world spinning out of control (Vieten, 2020: 4). Populists can readily step into the breach in such a context, with promises of a return to a golden past and a restoration of “law and order.” A notable example of such an approach is Donald Trump’s declaration to the United States on winning the 2016 election: “I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon […] come to an end. Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored” (Taylor, 2016).

Given that populist appeals manifest across the political spectrum, it is worth asking how populism has dovetailed in Europe with the return of the extreme right. For Inglehart and Norris (2016), populist tendencies in Europe increased due to cultural factors, such as the spread of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. With globalization, mobility increased, motivating people to freely choose and even abandon their national identities in favour of the “global supermarket” and of cosmopolitan identities (Flew & Iosifidis, 2019: 9). Thus, right-wing populists and their voters fear that their distinctive national cultures or identities may be destroyed. These cultural concerns expand and spread widely into society via the extensive use of social media. According to Iosifidis, globalization plays an important role in the rise of far-right movements. The new-social media spreads both the cosmopolitan and nationalistic views (ibid).

The more globalization was emphasized the more the nationalist borders and boundaries were materialized in social media discussions. Economic nationalism was one response in a globalizing yet increasingly unequal economic world. Inglehart and Norris, as well as others such as Judis (2016), have constructed populism as an economic reaction against rising inequalities. But beyond the economy, the ideologies broadcasted on social media created unconfirmed biases on many grounds, especially since the users of social media became the mass consumers of ideology. These included far-right arguments propagating the rationales for exclusivist policies. 

One of the main characteristics of far-right actors is their tendency to advocate for “exclusionist populism” and “their ethno-nationalist notion of citizenship, reflected in the slogan ‘own people first” (Betz, 1994; Rydgren, 2005, as cited in Muis; Immerzeel, 2017: 2). Limiting migration, introducing nativist policies (favouring one’s own language, traditions, and culture) are just a few strategies advanced by far-right politics. This exclusivity can be seen in the nativist claim that “states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group (the nation) and that non-native elements (persons and ideas) threaten homogeneous nation-states” (Mudde, 2007; Muis & Immerzeel, 2017, as cited in Muis; Immerzeel, 2017: 2). In most of cases, nationalist convictions are followed by racism and an ethnocentric and xenophobic vision leading to anti-immigration propaganda. Right-wing groups often prefer strong leaders, who reflect “the will of the people” by “stressing themes like law and order and traditional values” (Inglehart & Norris, 2016, as cited in Muis & Immerzeel, 2017: 2-3).

Summarizing, global frustrations with political establishments, concerns about immigration, economic insecurities, growing inequality in wealth distribution, and the dilution of “national identity, have brought about a broader concern that globalization is associated with a shift of power to transnational elites” (Flew & Iosifidis, 2019: 2). This explains why voters, especially European ones, are now attracted to populist leaders who promise security, an ethno-centric identity, and democracy. The fact that nine far-right parties have formed a new bloc in the European Parliament, called Identity and Democracy (ID), highlights this aspect (BBC News, 2019). 

Digital media has played a significant role in the rise of populism, often facilitating the circulation of far-right propaganda. Accordingly, I’ll next focus on the background of far-right extremism in media. A special consideration will be given to how far-right actors have mobilized across various platforms, particularly in Europe.

Populism in the Digital Age: Social Media as a New Far-right Platform

Before populist politicians speak in the name of the people, they must build a large audience. According to Professor of Government Kurt Weyland, it is firstly important to attract the citizens’ attention. For many citizens, their first impression of a populist movement is formed by the personalistic leaders. By managing politics in opportunistic ways, rather than following a strict program, populist leaders attract followers (Weyland, 2021). Secondly, the media contributes to the construction or destruction and distribution of the populist voice (Maly, 2018: 9).

To understand populism in the digital age, it is necessary to take the socio-technical assemblage, consisting of human and non-human players, into account (Maly, 2018: 17). Non-human players can be defined as the algorithmic functions of digital media. Maly, a professor of politics, goes one step further by subcategorizing these functions as “algorithmic activism.” He highlights the importance of this type of activism, most widely used by politicians: “this type of activism contributes to spreading the message of a politician or movement by interacting with the post to trigger the algorithms of the medium so that it boosts the popularity rankings of this message and its messenger” (Maly, 2018: 10). This algorithmic activism accomplishes a crucial function for a populist, who effectively spreads his or her message with the help of social media. Indeed, contemporary populism boosted by social media algorithms exploit both the public sphere and disrupts individual realities (Maly, 2018). An example of how such contemporary populism measures impact individual realities in the spread of hate-speech online; individuals who would usually not express hate speech in public feel like they have a comfortable and normalised online platform to do so.

International Security professor Maura Conway considers the beginning of far-right extremism on digital media to be the mid-1990s when the World Wide Web developed. This introduced the first cases of internet-afforded hate, initiated and promoted by humans (Conway, 2019: 4). Since then, existing far-right movements have replaced offline based ego-centric, xenophobic, nationalistic, and racist propaganda by voicing them online. Therefore, “the development of information and communication technologies” as well as the alleviation of European borders are considered the “new enablers” permitting far-right groups to “connect and cooperate” (Whine, 2012: 317). 

However, populism scholars are not only concerned about online hate speech but also about disinformation and radicalization. The US and other countries have undergone a series of attacks that can be connected to online disinformation and radicalization. Conway lists different incidents, including the terrorist attack on March 15, 2019, in Christchurch New Zealand, which she cites as the pioneer of such “mainstreaming” of disinformation and online radicalization. She emphasizes that the mosque attack, in which 51 people died, was peculiarly internet-centric, as it involved the distribution of a pre-planned online manifesto and a Facebook Live video stream. Other examples include the Poway synagogue attack on April 2019, the El Paso Walmart shooting in August 2019, the Halle shootings in October 2019, and a series of similar attacks, which only heightened attention on right-wing and their use of the internet to mobilize and radicalize (Conway, 2019: 12-13).

Accordingly, as research shows, many organized hate groups have also developed websites and forums. Some of these, such as those established by various Ku Klux Klan (KKK) branches, function as quasi “news” sites for a more general audience, while others offer more group-specific information (history, mission, events, etc.) (Conway, 2019: 4). Importantly, forums have also “acted as an essential medium for RWEs to air their grievances, bond, and form a collective identity by othering their ‘common enemies’” (Conway, 2019: 4-5).

In addition to playing a key role in facilitating the spread of hate speech, social media is also connected to the rapid circulation of “Fake News” (Wardle, 2017). When talking about “Fake News,” it is necessary to refer to Hannah Arendt, who emphasized in 1953 that the individual could become subject of the totalitarian state and be unable to distinguish between fact and fiction. The flattening of online news, between more traditional sites, social media, and “news” from RWE sites, has made it difficult for social media users to differentiate between fact and fiction, and has helped RWE spread hate and nationalism, galvanize supporters, and attract new ones. 

Twitter is considered a vanguard platform when it comes to polarizing fake news and hate speech in political discourses. Particularly, the German far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is known for its digital activism using the “hashjacking” strategy. Twitter “hashtags” were designed to create a “virtual community of interested listeners” when directing users to a particular topic. They also facilitate communication and engage debates surrounding specific hashtags. Although this can contribute to open and democratic discussion about a range of topics, extremists have exploited the hashtag to infiltrate their views into moderate discussions (Berger, 2016; Graham, 2015, as cited in Ahmed; Pisoiu, 2020). “Hashjacking,” hijacking a hashtag, uses someone else’s hashtag to promote one’s own social media activity (Darius & Stephany, 2019). Research by the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society showed that the Far-right AfD supporters hijacked rising hashtags in 2020, including #FlattenTheCurve or #CoronaVirusDE (Fox, 2020).  Most of the right-wing politicians use both their own party hashtags as well as the hashjacking method to strategically target opponent campaigns and to effectively polarize political discourse. As a result of their digital political communication strategy, they succeed not only online but also in elections (Darius & Stephany, 2019).

When it comes to data about the identified numbers of right-wing extremist accounts, the Twitter application programming interface (API) counts around 175 EU-wide profiles, mainly centred on neo-Nazi and white supremacist topics (Ahmed & Pisoiu, 2020). The field of interest of European-based accounts is centred on topics like antisemitism (holocaust denial, “Jewish world conspiracy,” etc.); defending European culture, identity, and race; and “white genocide.” In the European context, the high rate of activity of Spanish far-right populist accounts stands out, while the electoral success in 2019 of the Spanish far-right party Vox is a testament to their efforts (ibid). The increasing number of refugees and immigrants has contributed even more to digital polarization.

The rise of right-wing populist parties and activists is very concerning, as they not only induce radical activities but also contribute to the formation of narcissistic populations and introverted communities. By creating a self-centred in-group, out-group members are expected to be excluded socially, as well as politically. Moreover, besides the increasing number of asylum seekers, migrants, and “classical” refugees (those who fear persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group), it is predicted that within the next decades, most countries will also have to face different classes of refugees, specifically “climate refugees” (Tetsuji, 2021). Although immigration is common in every modern society, it is also often followed by xenophobic tendencies. With the arrival of social media 2.0 (simplified technology to allow its users to create, share, collaborate and communicate easily) and the uncontrolled spread of fake news, the formation of xenophobic communities and anti-immigration policies became unavoidable and inevitable.  

To limit the damaging effects of digital media, Wu (2016) suggests using Facebook, among others, as a “public benefit corporation.” To put it in another way, online platforms would aim to support their users’ activity to advantage for the online community and avoid harmful activities. Meanwhile Napoli and Caplan (2017) favour modified frameworks that reflect “the hybrid nature of social media platforms—content producers, but also investors in platforms’ to create connectivity, called ‘information utilities’” (Flew & Iosifidis, 2019: 24). By relying on the users’ sense of social responsibility, social media platforms would create an information exchange space, as a common good for the internet community. However, these proposals are utopic visions, as they rely on the idealized version of internet users, who aim to use digital media only for the well-being of global internet users.

An initiative taken by the European Commission along with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Microsoft produced relevant outcomes: introducing a “Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online” (May 31, 2016) and developing “a series of Europe-wide commitments to combat the spread of ‘illegal hate speech’ via the internet” (Conway, 2019: 16-17). 

Furthermore, Twitter’s reaction to violence and hateful conduct achieved meaningful results including the removal from the platform of far-right political group accounts including the American Nazi Party, the League of the South, and Britain First (Kuchler, 2017). However, even though accounts from the far-right group Britain First, such as Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, were suspended, it didn’t take long until they reopened new accounts. Many white nationalist groups also tend to create fake accounts. Recent examples are fake profiles linked to Identity Evropa, an identarian movement which anonymously pushed violent rhetoric related to ongoing protests in multiple states across the US (Collins, Zadrozny & Saliba, 2020). The fact that Twitter does not investigate users’ real identity to protect its users’ privacy, consequently, limits the monitoring of far-right activism and therefore is still in need of improvement.

The exposure to a diversity of ideologies on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, can open opportunities for dialogue. Even though the rise of right-wing populists cannot be prevented, digital media efforts, such as the project of the European Commission, can create significant barriers for right-wing activists on digital media. The rise of online far-right activism has been experienced across the world, and it is the responsibility of digital platforms to prevent such activities from taking place, ensuring all their consumers a safe experience.

Conclusion

This article confirms that populist far-right parties and movements can mobilize and organize on social media. Populism in its original form was meant to be “from the people and for the people.” Since right-wing populist leaders have become more influential, the term “populism” is now laden with negative connotations. 

While globalization is meant to create a more international and multicultural reality, far-right extremists are feeling threatened and use xenophobic propaganda to urge ethno-centric radicalization. Far-right digital media users, especially neo-Nazi and antisemitic groups, use digital media and algorithms to widen their sphere of influence while spreading (internet) hate. Their motives are the defence of in-group culture, identity, and race; “white genocide” is cited as one of their main motivations. 

Ultimately, the digital medium has contributed to the global spread of disinformation, hate-speech, propaganda, and radicalization, and it is increasingly difficult for digital platforms to monitor fringe extremist websites and activity. Due to the immensity of the World Wide Web, it will only grow more difficult to track and avoid radical activities, which multiply daily. It shall be, thus, the responsibility of both the citizen to critically evaluate digital data and of the digital platform owners to safeguard their platforms from online extremism.

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Frauke Petry

Far-right female extremism and leadership: Their power of framing reality in the European context

Female populist followers, members and leaders are becoming an unexpectedly increasing reality, especially in Europe. While social and economic insecurities create uncertainty, mo re and more female voters tend to rely on populist parties’ promises, especially when it is a female leader expressing them. By appealing to the women’s call for equality, security and liberty, the far-right feminist agenda turns to be an adequate reply. 

By Sena Eksi

Populism ancestry lies on the intention of the white supremacist milieu, or the common white people, to stand against the corrupt elite. Even if, the vanguard was pictured to be composed of unsatisfied white male, with time, women also entered the political frame. A new generation of women who didn’t consider their political, social, and economic needs to be satisfied by the patriarchal system, believed that being active in populist parties and movements would be the adequate alternative (Miller-Idris, 2020). 

According to recent studies in Poland, Greece, Hungary, Germany, Sweden and France, more and more females considered the far-right parties to be the right solution when it comes to rebalancing socio-economic and politic dissatisfaction (Taube, 2018). While there is an exponential increase of female right-wing supporters, who tend to vote for parties like Generation Identity or Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), “evidence suggests that the gender gap in far-right support is decreasing” (Iyer & Jain, 2021). Further, ever more women are engaging not only as followers, but also as members and leaders, even if the far-right concerns Western European countries when it comes to national security (Fangen & Skjelsbækb, 2021).

Consequently, reasons for this phenomenon become widely interest of studies, while this article will examine the most common ones, relying on contemporary examples in the European context. Besides this, the female population does not only rely on populist parties to see their political ambitions to be fulfilled, but they also tend to become leaders in the political sphere themselves. In this context, I will descriptively analyse how female leaders attempt to attract not only the attention of male, but also female citizens across Europe. Their methods and power of framing reality by appealing to feminist propaganda regarding anti-immigration policies will be of particular interest during this study. Main question is, hence, does a new era of far-right feminism arise in the Orient and develop in Europe?

Far-right Female Extremism and Leadership

Shifting in first moment the attention to the Oriental world, the growing Buddhist nationalist movement in Myanmar, known as Burma, is one of the most known ones, when it comes to recent examples of female extremist groups. The female supporters argue that they “find empowerment and opportunities within the movement that they don’t [find] elsewhere” (Provost & Whyte, 2018). Another reason for their participation is their feminist conviction, while many scholars argue that the classic right-wing female supporters deny being definite as feminists. Anthropologist Melyn McKay adds that the female members ‘have received a powerful platform to elevate the concerns of women and bring visibility to the struggles they face in daily life.” Summarised, the members of the Burma movement argue that their activity within the populist group help them to overcome their daily struggles, that they must face as women in a patriarchal environment.

Unlike in the European context, right-wing female supporters in the Oriental world differentiate themselves from traditional values and their “oppressive gender norms,” appealing to feminist convictions. Therefore, the right-wing movements offer female members “opportunities to experience some form of empowerment through political action, participation and even leadership” (Provost & Whyte, 2018). 

A new far-right feminist genesis blossoms in the Orient, while they perform as a symbol of emancipation and independence for women. The belief that they could perform as actors of the change they want to see in society becomes, hence, main stimulation to become members of far-right parties. However, could they be defined as real feminists, just because they oppose themselves against traditional issues and a society dominated by machismo? Maybe they are just fed by xenophobic agenda of feminism or believe that by being pictured as feminist activists, they could create a counter-reform to patriarchal politics. Focusing on the reasons why female voters join the far-right sphere will help us to understand to what extent both oriental and occidental women share feminist convictions by supporting extremist parties.

Why Female Voters Join the Far Right

On a global level, commonly it has been argued that the female followers are concerned about ‘domestic issues’ (Shruti & Prithvi, 2021). A 2016 study confirmed that “women aged between 18-40 years of age are most concerned about equal pay, equal opportunities in professional life and good quality childcare facilities” (Shruti & Prithvi, 2021). In addition, also social exclusion and financial strain have been determined as important factors favouring right-wing tendencies. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that right-wing populist -as well as right-wing extremist parties- promise respecting family and gender policy within their programmes, according to “The Triumph of the women?” study. By drilling into these arguments’ feminist convictions are identifiable, among others, being economically independent -and not reliant on the male- and access to equal opportunities on the labour market.

In this regard especially in the last few decades far right parties opted for a welfare-driven policy agenda, focusing on social issues to gain female support (Shruti & Prithvi, 2021). It is well known that nativism, etno-centric and xenophobic regulations are the core elements of far-right parties’ agenda. Accordingly, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) attempts to increase the birth-rate of the native population by assuring German mothers a child allowance of €25.000 in Germany. Germany is followed by Poland, where the right-wing conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) guarantees native families with two children a monthly payment of €120 per child until they are of legal age (Shruti & Prithvi, 2021). It is to be expected that these pro-nationalistic initiatives will produce a widespread echo around the EU, while other measurements to push the native birth-rate are assumed.

Contrary to these promises, UN special rapporteur Karima Bennoune warns in her report (2017) of growing populist ultranationalism that disregard key principles of equality and the universality of human rights. Furthermore, the rise of far-right politics poses serious risks to gender equality, as well as to women’s rights, according to Bennoune. However, the number of far-right female leaders in politics is unexpectedly increasing, while an insight into their political discourses and their parties’ agenda will be part of examination in the following part. Referring to their power and methods of framing reality will be hence the final aspect to be considered. 

French National Front party leader Marine Le Pen, is maybe one of the most known ones when it comes to female far-right populist faces. Daughter of the right-extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen, who considered the Nazi gas chambers as “a point of detail of the history of World War II,” Marine grew up in an ultra-nationalistic environment. Even if she expelled her father from the party to soften the party’s far right image, she is considered on the vanguard in terms of her nativist statements. Additionally, in common with other far-right politicians she used women’s rights demands as a tool to achieve support for her Islamophobic campaigns. A series of New Year’s Eve sexual attacks in Cologne and Hamburg, Germany (2015) attributed to immigrants –without substantial evidence– were hence a particular occasion to receive the citizens’ approval on a referendum on immigration. Expressing: “I am scared that the migrant crisis signals the beginning of the end of women’s rights” (Provost & Whyte, 2018), she successfully convinced the population when limiting the number of immigrant-arrivals.  

Labelling immigration as a national problem is part of the political discourse of most populist parties. In this regard, particularly female citizens feel themselves effected by the number of immigrants, while it is not surprising, that they tend to count on populist parties when regulating refugee numbers. Goethe Institute researcher Gutsche argues that “women sense they are the lower rungs of society and find themselves having to compete against refugees and migrants (Taube, 2018). Therefore, it exists a continuous struggle of losing out job opportunities to immigrants, which leads the female population to support the anti-immigrant rhetoric of right-wing parties. The latter in return achieve a wider range of national voters.

Furthermore, besides women’s fear of immigrants taking their jobs, refugees are often blamed of being sole perpetrators of sexual violence. Right-wing groups argue that the women’s’ safety will be at risk as long as immigrants –especially from Muslim countries– enter into the country (Chrisafis, Connolly & Giuffrida, 2019). Even if data shows that most cases of sexual violence are committed mostly by native men (Chrisafis, Connolly & Giuffrida, 2019), the power of far-right politicians framing reality, lead listeners to accuse migrants groundlessly. Therefore, the comments of research assistants Shruti and Prithvi (2021) result significant: “Nonetheless, it is not data but persuasiveness of narrative that shapes public opinion; and right-wing groups leveraging fears of immigrants being sexual predators while also pegging themselves as the defenders of women rights has been a powerful narrative driving more recruitment of young white women.”

Accordingly, by portraying themselves as the defenders of “women’s rights”, far-right populist groups illusionary achieve international-wide sympathy and electoral success. “These women are there to give these parties a more open, modern guise and to appeal to female voters,” explained Gutsche. “These are not progressive parties; there is no real gender equality.”

Feminist far-right leaders act, therefore, as wolves in sheep’s clothing, betraying the female population when promising social, political, and economic equality and autonomy, as well as freedom to control over their lives. They just act as marionettes of the dominant masculine far-right party members.

Contemporary Germany is home of most female right-wing populist leaders, leading as front runners when it comes to homophobic currents. Ex-leader of the AfD party, Frauke Petry, is known for her anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant policies, whereas she ensured her party to enter the German parliament in 2017 (Provost & Whyte, 2018). The party’s ad campaign launched at 2017 further comprises a step on the discrimination scale, including posters saying: “Burkas? We prefer bikinis,” displaying two women in skimpy bathing suits. Other ads had an image of a pregnant woman’s body, with the words: “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves” (Provost & Whyte, 2018). Another anti-immigrant grievance, accompanied by nativist proclamations of the party appear surreal to a rational person, whilst it becomes apparently a European-wide reality.

In Poland, Deputy Prime Minister Beata Szydlo of PiS is another example in the anti-immigration political frame. Criticized for using an appearance at former Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp to highlight her anti-migrant policies, is just another nuance of her convictions. Moving to the north-east Europe Pia Kjaersgaard, co-founder of the far-right Danish People’s Party, is known for her strong anti-multiculturalism and immigration views, while her views also have been defined as racist by anti-EU activist Karen Sunds.

Summarised conservative agendas, as well as anti-immigration and Islamophobic policies are common characteristics of groups “ranging from the English Defence League in the UK to Stop Islamization of Norway/Stop Islamization of Europe in Scandinavia, to the Golden Dawn in Greece draw on a rhetoric of progressive gender values” (Provost & Whyte, 2018). To counter the Islamic threat, linked to Immigration, these parties offer gender equality and women’s emancipation. In addition, due to the immigration from Muslim countries these far-right currents claim that their true national values (democracy, safety, liberty, equality) tend to be threatened. Consequently, extreme-right parties picture a dangerous and economic threatening external world, that menace traditions and values, while promising a conservative, introvert, and protected society, if elected.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, female populist followers, members and leaders are becoming an unexpectedly increasing reality, especially in Europe. While social and economic insecurities create uncertainty, more and more female voters tend to rely on populist parties’ promises, especially when it is a female leader expressing them. It results that far-right males utilize female party members as pioneers to gain support also among the female voters. By appealing to the women’s call for equality, security and liberty, the far-right feminist agenda turns to be an adequate reply. 

Due to the female leaders’ power of framing and shaping reality, they obtain consensus when uniting the citizens on a common national identity. Therefore, foreign beliefs, lifestyles, and customs need to be excluded. Consequently, a new nativist population arises, whereas to the local culture and traditions are given priority. 

Labelling immigrants as sexual predators and a threat to local security are one of the few accusations used by female populists to differentiate between “insiders” and “outsiders.” By utilizing the anti-migration rhetoric to garner political support, women’s right is being instrumentalised to generate “equality.” The question is when the targeted group of female citizens realizes that the camouflaged ethnocentrism strategy relies on falsified commitments, instrumentalised by the patriarchal far-right policy. 

References

Bennoune, K. (2017). Statement at the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council. United Nations Human Rights Office of The High Commissioner. April 3, 2017. https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21423&LangID=E (accessed on October 27, 2021).

Bennoune, K. (2017). Statement the Seventy-second session of the General Assembly Item 73 (b & c). United Nations Human Rights Office of The High Commissioner. October 25, 2017. https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22331&LangID=E (accessed on October 27, 2021).

Chrisafis, A.; Connolly, K. & Giuffrida, A. (2019). “From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: how the European far-right set its sights on women.” The Guardian. January 29, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/29/from-le-pen-to-alice-weidel-how-the-european-far-right-set-its-sights-on-women (accessed on October 27, 2021).

Fangen, K. & Skjelsbækb, I. (2021). “Editorial: special issue on gender and the far right.” Taylor & Francis Online. January 5, 2021. 

Iyer, P. & Jain, S. (2021). “An unlikely match: Women and the far right.” Observer Research Foundation. January 4, 2021. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/unlikely-match-women-far-right/ (accessed on October 27, 2021).

Miller-Idris, C. (2020). “Triumph of the Women?” Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. 2020.

Provost, C. & Whyte, L. (2018). “Why are women joining far-right movements, and why are we so surprised?” Open Democracy. January 31, 2018. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/women-far-right-movements-why-are-we-surprised/ (accessed on September 2, 2021).

Taube, F. (2018). “Women increasingly drawn to right-wing populist parties: study shows.” Deutsche Welle. August 30, 2018. https://www.dw.com/en/women-increasingly-drawn-to-right-wing-populist-parties-study-shows/a-45284465(accessed on October 27, 2021).

Brexit Betrayed Rally organised by UKIP in London on September 12, 2019. Photo: Rupert Rivett.

Are deindustrialization and European integration fostering populism?

Deindustrialization and deeper European integration seem to be two of the several hazardous factors leading to the development of populism in Europe. Considering that neither deindustrialization nor European integration is expected to cease, populism will likely remain on the political spectrum.

By Daniel H. B. Gamez*

This article focuses on two postulates and, making use of extensive literature, tries to shed some light on the reasons for the increase in support of populism in Europe. The first postulate is that if industrialization in Europe has brought democracy support and stability, then, deindustrialization could contribute to the rise of populism and political instability. This postulate rests on modernization theory, which suggests a causal relationship between economic development and democratization (Liñán, 2017).

The second postulate has to do with political internationalization and deeper European integration, considering that many populist movements have opposed the European Union (EU) (Rodrik, 2020). In other words, the more we advance in economic and political international integration, the more vertical leadership and less direct democratic control are required, and the more likely populism will emerge. 

Deindustrialization and international integration are two fundamental issues for democracy and stability in the EU. Because both are currently threatened by populism, the importance of these themes as an object of study becomes all the more significant.

Discussion 

The first postulate of this research article rests on the modernization theory, which suggests that “a gradual differentiation and specialization of social structures that culminates in a separation of political structures from other structures makes democracy possible” (Przeworski & Limongi, 1997). In other words, progresses in several areas such as industrialization, education, communication, mobilization, and the like, prepares society for democracy (Przeworski & Limongi, 1997). However, the assumption here is not that those countries that become economically rich will become political democracies. Rather, that economic development and industrialization are crucial to maintaining democratic support among the population, provided they have already achieved democracy.

As a matter of fact, Przeworski and Limongi have demonstrated that per capita income is a good indicator of democratic stability (Przeworski & Limongi, 1997). This is partly because the richer a country becomes, the more it is likely to invest in the education of its citizens, and more educated people are more likely to develop democratic values (Przeworski & Limongi, 1997). Moreover, poor countries that have established democracy are more likely to slide back into authoritarianism than those who have reached a certain threshold of per capita income, after which the chances of democratic survival grow significantly (Przeworski & Limongi, 1997). However, they also found out that the economic crisis remains the most common threat to democratic stability, and that democracies, particularly poor ones with weak institutions, are extremely vulnerable to bad economic performance (Przeworski & Limongi, 1997).

Moreover, over the last two centuries, industrialization has significantly reduced economic inequality and boosted political liberalization (Boix, 2015: 264). Society has also become healthier and, thus, life expectancy at birth has increased considerably (Boix, 2015: 264). Research suggests that it was industrialization along with liberalism that has “contributed to the gradual democratization of European politics, but that neither would have been sufficient by itself,” (Congleton, 2004). Support for democracy has remained remarkably stable throughout the EU. This lends credence to the notion that industrialized countries with established democratic institutions are more likely to maintain support for liberal democracy (Congleton, 2004).

Nevertheless, considering that there is already a deindustrialization process underway in certain parts of Europe, it is crucial to understand precisely what role industrialization plays in developing support for democracy in the first place. Researchers such as van Noort suggest that industrialization is central to the institutionalization of liberal democracy; it seems that a large industrial workforce tends to induce democracy (van Noort, 2020)

However, deindustrialization expands the share of the service sector in the economy. This and other factors consequently disrupt political stability. For instance, economies dominated by services face either increasing low-wage employment or a high level of unemployment (Hahn & Kodó, 2017). Yet, as the service sector increases in size, trade unions, which have long supported democracy, see their influence reduced (Rowthorn & Ramaswamy, 1997). Moreover, if there is a loss of bargaining power in a fast-paced environment led by technological change, it becomes almost impossible for the unions to negotiate wages on reasonable terms (Rowthorn & Ramaswamy, 1997).

In other words, the protection offered through collective bargaining is not available through the market. Consequently, the greater the coverage of this social protection, the fewer the risks of inequality and economic crises on workers (Keune, 2015).

Interestingly, Kaltwasser and van Hauwaert’s research on the populist citizen shows that citizens are more populist in Latin America (significant inequality and weak democratic institutions) than in Europe (Rovira Kaltwasser & van Hauwaert, 2020). Moreover, European citizens do not have a strong belief that the world can be divided into a binary of “good” people versus “corrupt” elites (Rovira Kaltwasser & Van Hauwaert, 2020). Instead, while being very interested in politics, they are rather indifferent to political parties (Rovira Kaltwasser & Van Hauwaert, 2020). Additionally, populist supporters prefer democracy over any other form of government. Their decision to look for populist parties indicates that there is a significant dissatisfaction with the current way democracy is currently functioning in Europe (Rovira Kaltwasser & Van Hauwaert, 2020)

In sum, we see theoretically that deindustrialization and automatization produce a relative expansion in the scope of the service sector, which due to several correlated factors, such as economic grievances, provokes political turmoil in turn. Having established this, we can now observe empirical cases of five countries to test these assumptions. 

France

Although populism in France has been present since World War II (Ivaldi, 2019), the actors have changed, and so have their demands. Nowadays, two parties dominate the populist scene in France, namely the Front National (FN) and La France Insoumise (LFI) (Ivaldi, 2019).

Regarding the FN, it can be said to be the typical radical right-wing populism. Its leader Marine Le Pen claims that the party authentically represents the will of the people and fight for France’s freedom from globalization and the EU (Ivaldi, 2019). On the other hand, the LFI’s leader Mélenchon adopts a discourse and ideology that presents the left as an alternative to the neoliberal hegemony (Ivaldi, 2019).

Both populist parties argue against economic globalization and neoliberal capitalism. They oppose capitalist elites and financial institutions. Furthermore, both parties try to gain Eurosceptic voters (Ivaldi, 2019). For instance, the FN discourse describes the EU as a totalitarian prison that impedes the expression of the genuine will of the French people, especially when it comes to immigration and the control of borders (Ivaldi, 2019). On the other hand, LFI’s Euroscepticism is driven mainly by economic concerns and a desire to support those left behind by globalization. 

Ivaldi’s research has shown that the rise of populist parties in France has been fueled by economic instability, inequality, and the electorate’s discontent with mainstream politics. Moreover, the data shows that young people that vote for FN favor authoritarianism and that the probability of voting for Le Pen decreases with age (Ivaldi, 2019). Lastly, young people that have a strong democratic ideology are more likely to vote for Mélenchon. Her research also shows that people with higher education are also less likely to support FN (Halikiopoulou, 2020). This corroborates what has been mentioned above concerning the modernization theory- namely more educated people are more likely to develop democratic values. 

Greece

Greece has also seen a rise in left- and right-wing populism in recent years. However, when we look closer at the data from the 2015 election, we can see a significant decline in support for the mainstream parties (New Democracy or ND and Pasok), the triumph of the radical left Syriza, and the far-right Golden Dawn entering parliament for the first time. 

This shows that the electorate wanted to punish mainstream parties for their failure to manage the effects of the crises(Halikiopoulou, 2020). In fact, the following election in 2019 saw the defeat of Syriza to mainstream party ND (Halikiopoulou, 2020).

Halikiopoulou has also shown that the reasons for the rise of Syriza are the prevalent inequality, austerity measures, and the challenging economic conditions affecting the working class (Halikiopoulou, 2020). Despite the support for the far-right group, it can be observed that most of the Greeks preferred a more democratic approach as an alternative to mainstream politics. Similarly, Golden Dawn’s presence also shows that a violent and authoritarian populism can emerge where there are weak democratic institutions (Halikiopoulou, 2020). As stated before, established democratic institutions are essential to maintain support for liberal democracy.

Italy

Since 2000, Italy has borne witness to the rise of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement (M5S) and the right-wing populist Lega party (formerly Lega Nord or the Northern League). The study of the last elections clearly shows that as greater inequality goes along with lower participation in the election, the dissatisfied and undecided voters are crucially targeted by populist parties (Pianta, 2020).

This is possible because, in recent decades, income inequality has been bringing with it disaffection with politics in general and, thus, mainstream political parties (Pianta, 2020). Moreover, the adoption of policies that protect the wealth of the higher classes while harming the working class has also impacted the political landscape (Pianta, 2020). Cleverly, the League abandoned its regionalism stance to adopt a more state-wide anti-Europe and anti-elite attitude to win the unsatisfied (Vampa, 2020).

Finally, the case of Italy shows that income and wealth inequality can have significant political consequences (Pianta, 2020). That is why events such as the widening of the service sector, which favors the better educated classes and the decline in the industrial workforce due to deindustrialization are so significant.

Spain

The rise of Podemos in Spain offers a practical example of populism as a discursive logic rather than as an ideological formation (Zarzalejos, 2016). Apart from that, Zarzalejos identifies the existence in Spain of factors that benefit populism, namely, inequality, high unemployment, declining middle- and working class, and shrinking incomes. Similarly, the financial crisis and the highly public corruption cases have aggravated the already weak trust of the people in mainstream politics (Zarzalejos, 2016).

Furthermore, as Podemos established itself, VOX, a far-right populist party, started to make gains with the electorate. Research into the April 2019 Spanish election shows that Podemos was more successful in provinces characterized by levels of deprivation and big cities, as well as those with an independent ideology (Vampa, 2020). In contrast, VOX succeeded where there was economic difficulty and a lack of independent ideological discourse (e.g., Murcia region) (Vampa, 2020). Considering that Podemos joined the Socialist Party to form a government after the elections, it can be observed that the Podemos vote came largely from voters seeking a bottom-up approach as an alternative to neoliberalism. 

The United Kingdom

Analyzing the United Kingdom local elections in 2016 and the general election in 2017, it can be observed that the UK Independence Party (UKIP), a Eurosceptic and right-wing populist party, helped the conservatives to victory by splitting the opposition vote. This forced the incumbent prime minister, David Cameron, to make good on his promise to hold a referendum on EU membership (Fetzer, 2020).

Although much has been researched on the misleading and deceiving “Leave” campaign promises, it is important to consider that the UKIP party managed to convince working-age adults to vote for it to protest mainstream politics (Fetzer, 2020), especially around the issues of wages and working conditions, and of course, migration.

Fetzer claims that Brexit is a product of the specific features of British economic and political history but also adds that the erosion of unionization and collective bargaining, precarious employment, unemployment, and weaker employment protections were also relevant (Fetzer, 2020). These, it should be noted, are all effects of the process of deindustrialization and automatization. 

Countries
where populism has had electoral relevance
Rise of inequality Decrease in wages Disappointment with traditional parties Support for Democracy of populist electorate Support for authoritarianism of populist electorate Ruling party or part of coalition government
France
Greece
Italy
Spain
UK

These five European countries have served as empirical examples to test the postulates that deindustrialization fosters populism. The analysis shows that by generating economic grievances, especially in the middle and working class, deindustrialization has significantly contributed to the rise of populism in Europe. Indeed, inequality, loss of wages, de-unionization, automatization, precarious employment, mistrust, and dissatisfaction are among the effects of deindustrialization that have pushed electorates to vote for populist alternatives.

Moreover, Vlandas and Halikiopoulou have shown that social policies can reduce support for the far-right among those exposed to social vulnerability. In other words, it is not only absolute impoverishment that drives people to turn to populism but also the perception of economic decline (Vlandas, & Halikiopoulou, 2021). Nevertheless, the government has the tools to shape political outcomes by addressing the right social policies (Vlandas, & Halikiopoulou, 2021). Similarly, Boix (2019) argues that while deindustrialization, automatization and technological change are inevitable, voters and governments can step in to apply policies that offer transfers to those left behind or permanently unemployed. Again, democratic institutions and elections enable voters to impose high-tax transfers to the affected groups (Boix, 2019).

In sum, the rise of populism is not so much due to citizens having populist attitudes, but rather to the loss of collective bargaining (social protection) resulting from deindustrialization. 

However, let us consider the second postulate-namely, that the increase in international political integration, (i.e., deeper European integration) is partly driving citizens’ dissatisfaction with democracy, leading them to populist alternatives.

Mesežnikov et al. (2008) suggest that there is a falling trust toward liberal parties across Europe, with such parties consistently losing vote share over time. However, when populist parties and leaders are seen as a real threat, liberal parties manage to mobilize more voters (Mesežnikov et al., 2008).

This sheds light on several challenges regarding responsiveness and responsibility uncovered by Mair (2009) -namely, governments are finding it increasingly challenging to be both responsive to voters and persuade them to back their policies. Subsequently, much of public policy today is delegated to state agencies and institutions, which constrains the responsiveness of governments (Mair, 2009). This problem is destined to increase given the integration within the EU and the internationalization of policy parameters (Mair, 2009).

Strøm has pointed out that these constraints can even obstruct representative politics because international parameters (e.g., the UN, the EU, etc.) either prohibit certain forms of agency or force behavior that otherwise would not have been freely chosen (Mair, 2009). Moreover, governments are limited by prior policy commitments, which can be enshrined in national legislation or international treaties. 

It is in this context of constraints to deliver solutions that populist parties have influence. Populism tries to occupy the vacuum left by traditional parties unable to provide adequate responses (Rovira Kaltwasser, 2012). Kaltwasser and Van Hauwaert (2020) show that citizens in Europe want to both express their dissatisfaction, and impact decision-making albeit without upending democracy. That means that this current gap between policies, democratic ideals, and their implementation eventually strengthen the rise of populist ideas and influence (Rovira Kaltwasser & Van Hauwaert, 2020)

At this stage, it can be observed that government constraints prevent citizens’ satisfaction and their impact on decision-making. The increasing European integration is working at the cost of the popular will. Rather often, official bodies ratify proposals made by public bureaucracies after these have been discussed with representatives of organized interests without the engagement of the average citizen (Rovira Kaltwasser, 2012).

As Dahl had already explained, the shift from city-states to nation-states meant fewer participatory opportunities in the decision-making for engaged citizens (Dahl, 1992: 271). Similarly, by shifting from nation-states to member states, parties have become less representative of the societies. Conversely, they now rely on regional integration as their source of legitimacy and authority (Bickerton et al., 2015).

As a result, policies are justified in terms of European obligations (Bickerton et al., 2015). Thus, to rule in Europe is to rule through transnational networks of governance. It could be said, therefore, that in Europe, bureaucracies external to the state intervene and assist societies (Bickerton et al., 2015). Consequently, to mobilize against national governments equals to mobilize against Europe. It is in these terms that the rise of Euroscepticism and anti-Europe populist parties can be understood (Mair, 2009). Moreover, by placing their legitimacy on regional integration rather than national sovereignty and citizen participation, nation-states in Europe are challenging the basic notions of democracy. In other words, political internationalization reduces citizen participation and influence in the political process (Lavenex, 2013: 108) and, consequently, undermines state institutions, political accountability, and the like. 

Despite the horizontal intergovernmental organization of the EU, where power and authority are established in their relations with one another (Bickerton et al., 2015), there is a great deal of power delegation which increases the verticality between EU states, institutions, and ordinary citizens. Importantly, democratic institutions should prevent the delegation from becoming a total and permanent alienation of control from the electorate (Lavenex, 2013: 133). However, this is what is happening, and this helps explain the growing gap between what citizens want their government to do and what the government can do, given constraints (Mair, 2009: 17).

In all the empirical examples mentioned above, populists have targeted dissatisfied voters with mainstream politics and the EU. For instance, the discourse of Greece’s Syriza emphasized a policy of ending the impositions of the EU and the IMF (i.e., the Troika) to carry out the will of the Greek citizens (Henley, 2015). Thus, Syriza carried out a campaign with different electorates and demands, yet, with a common enemy: the EU. Similarly, Spain’s Podemos came to prominence in 2014, adopting a discourse against the EU’s top-down fiscal rules and in favor of an open government where people can take direct control of major governmental decisions (BBC News, 2015). and more fiscal national sovereignty from the EU (Kadner, 2014).

Conclusion

In the light of what has been argued before regarding the initial two postulates, deindustrialization and deeper European integration seem to be two of the several hazardous factors leading to the development of populism in Europe. 

On the one hand, deindustrialization disrupts political stability and harms the middle and working classes. On the other hand, since the political and economic crisis of the 1970s, post-war Keynesian cooperation between business and labor was increasingly abandoned in favor of a neoliberal structural adjustment, thus, weakening national constraints (Bickerton et al., 2015). In doing so, citizens were taken away the promised protection from capitalism’s dangerous consequences that enabled in the past, democracy to flourish (Berman & Snegovaya, 2019)

Furthermore, as political parties become more integrated into Europe, they become less connected to civil society, which questions their authority as they are not able to fulfill their demands satisfactorily. This situation explains the rise of populism as a democratic alternative to either punish traditional parties or avoid liberal solutions. 

Finally, this essay’s findings suggest that both deindustrialization and European integration are interconnected when it comes to the development and rise of populism. Not only is deindustrialization caused by the advancement of the economy but also by international economic integration, trade openness, industrial relocation, and the financialization of the economy (Araujo et al., 2021). All these factors have been generated by deeper European political cohesion. Therefore, considering that neither deindustrialization nor European integration is expected to cease, populism will likely remain on the political spectrum.


 

Daniel H. B. Gamez is a final-year student enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program in Latin American Studies at Stockholm University, Sweden. As an undergraduate, he has developed research interests in political stability and social movements within Latin America and Europe. Being an active student involved with his university, he is editor-in-chief of the Stockholm Journal of International Affairs, a student magazine of the Stockholm Association of International Affairs (UF Stockholm or SAIA). Previously, he has been vice-president of the student council and student representative at the Department of Humanities at Stockholm University.


 

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Araujo, Elisangela; Araujo, Eliane; Peres, S. C. & Punzo, L. F. (2021). “An Investigation into Shapes and Determinants of Deindustrialization Processes: Theory and Evidence for Developed and Developing Countries (1970–2017).” Economia.March 9, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.econ.2021.03.001.

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Bickerton, C. J.; Hodson, D. & Puetter, U. (2015). The New Intergovernmentalism. States, Supranational Actors, and European Politics in the post-Maastricht Era. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press).

Boix, C. (2015). Political Order and Inequality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 264.

Boix, C. (2019). Democratic Capitalism at the Crossroads (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press), 202.

Congleton, R.D. (2004). “Economic Development and Democracy: Does Industrialization Lead to Universal Suffrage?” Homo Economicus. 21, 283–311.

Dahl, R. (1992). La democracia y sus críticos (Barcelona: Paidós).

Fetzer, T. (2020). “Austerity and Brexit.” Intereconomics: Review of European Economic Policy. 55:1, 27–33.

Hahn, I. & Kodó, K. (2017). Service Economy as a Threat to Social Sustainability. Sweden: Halmstad University.

Halikiopoulou, D. (2020). “Economic Crisis, Poor Governance and the Rise of Populism: The Case of Greece”. Intereconomics: Review of European Economic Policy. 55:1, 34-37.

Henley, J. (2015). “Greece elections: anti-austerity Syriza party sweeps to stunning victory.” The Guardian. January 26, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/25/greece-election-vote-austerity-leftwing-syriza-eu (accessed on September 21, 2021).

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Reclaim Australia Rally against Islam in Australia held in Newcastle CBD leading to multiple arrests in Newcastle, Australia in 2016. Photo: Man Down Media

Islamophobia and the pandemic: How these two salient public issues have invigorated the contemporary Australian far-right

The anti-Islam groups have played a significant role in the trajectory of far-right activity in Australia. However, the way these groups operate signifies a shift away from traditional far-right tactics. By casting themselves as part of a populist defence against a threatening Islam they have sought to legitimate their ‘supposedly righteous action’. Thus, they have been able to connect with mainstream concerns, bringing these groups and their ideologies closer to the Australian public. Since these groups have tended to attack Muslims under the guise of liberal ideals and the ‘protection’ of Australia, they experienced a level of success in escaping being written off for being too extreme.

By Chloe Smith*

Far-right activities are influenced by prevalent mainstream discourse in society. This article will analyse how two highly salient contemporary public issues —Islamophobia and the COVID-19 pandemic —have functioned as catalysts for the evolution and visibility of far-right actors and groups.[1] Two distinct and arguably crucial phases of growth in the Australian far-right over the past decade are identified.[2] The first occurred in the mid-2010s when a number of anti-Islam groups and movements formed in response to widespread Islamophobia. The second phase encompasses the current surge in far-right activity and cohesiveness due to the COVID-19 global health crisis. 

The Australian far-right is quite disparate and has often been described as difficult to categorise because of the complexity and diversity demonstrated in its ideologies and organisation (The Australia Institute, 2021). Nevertheless, far-right groups and members in Australia share some fundamental ideological commitments[3] while tending to be, as Dr. Mario Peucker (2021) notes, in ‘fierce disagreement and competition with each other’. Consequently, the two aforementioned public issues are interesting to study because they have evidently triggered renewed far-right activity in Australia and have created a point of ideological convergence between traditionally disparate and contentious actors. 

Public discourse about Islam and Muslims in the mid-2010s (and more recently about the impacts of the pandemic) have also offered windows of opportunity for the far-right in Australia to connect with people and narratives in the mainstream. The global and domestic rise of populism has been a crucial factor in mainstreaming far-right narratives over the last decade. Populist politicians in Australia like Pauline Hanson[4] have demonstrated a capacity to popularise far-right ideas that were once discredited as ‘naive, taboo, backward, unscientific, isolationist or unethical’ (Fenton-Smith, 2020). 

This article employs the definition of populism as a ‘style’. Defining populism in this way is best suited to the Australian context, because of its ability to capture the range of political leaders, movements, and parties who use populism in the nation (Moffitt, 2020).[5] Moffitt writes that populism as a style encompasses appeals to ‘the people’ and the dichotomous division of society into ‘the people’ and ‘the Other’ (usually a racial or racialised minority) as well as claiming to be distinct from (or in total opposition to) the ‘establishment’ or ‘elite’ (Moffitt and Tormey, 2014). Importantly, this view of populism specifies the ways in which appeals are stylised via the performance of crisis, breakdown and threat, attempting to elicit emotions among the public (mostly anger and fear) that can be used to construct binaries of ‘us’ and ‘them’ (Yilmaz and Morieson, 2021). The weaponisation of heightened public emotions (e.g., fear of Muslims and distrust of the government) by populist politicians helps create and fuel the type of polarisation in society that bolsters far-right ideologies (McNeil-Wilson et.al, 2019).

This article will study each of these public issues in turn and demonstrate how members of the far-right are able to become more visible during these times because their objectives intersect with widespread anxieties and populist politics (‘us’ versus ‘them’, anti-establishment sentiment, and the purposeful elicitation of crisis).

The Formation of Anti-Islam Groups

In the first phase of growth identified in this article (the mid-2010s), many new anti-Islam groups formed in Australia. This was a time when the mainstream discourse was heavily invested in perpetuating fear about Islam and Muslims in Australia.[6] This discourse was intensified by national and overseas developments, including the increased securitisation of Muslim communities, the rise of ISIS, and domestic developments such as the 2014 Sydney Martin Place Siege,[7] an event that was immediately followed by the creation of new far-right groups in Victoria and New South Wales (Peucker and Smith, 2019). Pauline Hanson, Australia’s best-known populist politician,[8] has exploited these fears about terrorism, extremism and threats to dominant Australian culture as a way to spread the ‘rhetorical tropes’ of the global far-right and legitimise broader exclusionary politics (McSwiney and Cottle, 2017 & Fenton-Smith, 2020). For instance, during the height of anti-Islam activity, she claimed, ‘We will be living under sharia law and treated as second-class citizens with second-class rights’ if Islam is allowed to spread (Fenton-Smith, 2020). This statement was an extension of her party’s anti-Islam and anti-Muslim policies that revolved around an ‘absolute opposition to any more mosques, Sharia law, halal certification and Muslim refugees’ (Akbarzadeh 2016).

The perpetuation of Islamophobia in Australian mainstream discourse peaked with the opportunistic formation of new far-right groups such as Reclaim Australia, United Patriots Front, Rise Up Australia, Stop the Mosque in Bendigo and Aussie Angels against Shariah, which all define themselves in terms of explicit anti-Islam and anti-Muslim ideas and objectives, and disseminate narratives that position Islam and Muslims as a threat to the culture and/or safety of Australians (Peucker and Smith, 2019). For these groups, Muslim immigration and increasing visibility in Australian public life function as a metonym for broader cultural and demographic change (Pertwee, 2020). These groups hold much more extensive (and radical) ideological views, including opposition to immigration and multiculturalism and cultural and racial superiority. However, they have cunningly leveraged mainstream discourse about the rise of ISIS and the widespread vilification of Muslims to justify and legitimise their rhetoric (Lewis et.al, 2017). Even though the overwhelming majority of Australians have no direct experience with the types of physical harm that extremist groups like ISIS perpetuate, these far-right groups have gained traction because of global and domestic fears about terrorism, extremism and foreign fighters[9](Lewis et.al, 2017).

The anti-Islam groups formed in this period have played a significant role in the trajectory of far-right activity in Australia. The way these groups operate signifies a shift away from traditional far-right tactics to what Kristy Campion describes as a ‘more concerned citizen persona’ that is achieved via a reframing of stated objectives. Thus, by casting themselves as part of a populist defence against a threatening Islam, these groups have sought to legitimate their ‘supposedly righteous action’ (Campion, 2019). In other words, because they have mobilised around a salient public issue, the far-right has been able to connect with mainstream concerns, bringing these groups and their ideologies closer to the Australian public. Finally, because these groups have tended to attack Muslims under the guise of liberal ideals and the ‘protection’[10] of Australia, they experienced a level of success in escaping being written off for being too extreme (AMAN, 2021). 

This phase is defined by the construction of Muslims as the racialised ‘Other’.[11] However, anti-establishment messaging played an equally important role during this phase of mobilisation. The Australian far-right has used populism to attack the government, claiming that they allowed the interests of minority and religious groups to override the interests of the majority (‘the people’) (Lewis et.al, 2017). Because of this framing, these groups were able to convey anti-establishment ideas without being dismissed as anti-democratic (Rydgren, 2005). Although intense hostility towards those ‘above’ has become a more defining feature of the far-right in recent years, these anti-Islam groups were sowing seeds of distrust through their insistence that Australia’s national interests are being diminished by international treaties about refugees and immigration (Lewis et.al, 2017).

The formation and then dismantling and splintering[12] of these anti-Islam groups has played an instrumental role in the contemporary landscape of the Australian far-right. The recent CARR-Hedayah Radical Right Counter-Narratives (RRCN) project report highlighted the movement of members of anti-Islam protest movements to more extreme ‘fight clubs’ and neo-Nazi cells (Allchorn, 2021). The report also noted the radicalisation of narratives from the populist anti-Muslim rhetoric described in this article to more explicitly white supremacist and chauvinist narratives witnessed in recent years. One demonstration of the evolution of these groups can be seen in the 2017 formation of the Lads Society, from members of the disbanded anti-Islam protest group the United Patriots Front (UPF) (Allchorn, 2021). Although the UFP’s discourse was centred around the supposed threat that Islam and Muslims posed to Australian society, the CARR-Hedayah report noted that the Lads Society expressed a more overtly white supremacist and neo-Nazi ideology. In 2020 the Nationalist Socialist Network formed as an offshoot of the Lads Society (led by former UFP and Lads Society member Tom Sewell) and incorporates known members of the far-right group, Antipodean Resistance), promoting explicitly racial supremacist, anti-democratic and antisemitic ideas. (Besser and Whalan, 2021 & Allchorn, 2021). 

The study of these formal groups is important. However, it is also important to reiterate that the Australian far-right has characteristically diverse and disparate, particularly between these periods of mobilisation. A recent assessment of the structure explains that in Australia (even more so than the United States and Europe), far-right organisation is increasingly based on the leaderless resistance model, a framework of small, disparate cells and a large number of ‘loosely connected individuals, online communities and connections that occasionally spill into the offline world’[13] (Grossman et.al, 2021). These highly networked, interconnected cells and individuals include populist politicians, alternative news representatives, and international movements (Gregoire, 2021). The discussion that follows will examine how the far-right have mobilised around the COVID-19 pandemic. It seeks to offer clear evidence of an evolution of the far-right from the formal groups of the mid-2010s to a more connected framework of small groups and leaderless networks. 

The COVID-19 Pandemic

The preceding discussion identified widespread Islamophobia as having created a conducive environment for far-right activity. Similarly, a range of disparate far-right ideas, groups and supporters have come together during the pandemic and attached themselves to fears and hostilities expressed in the mainstream. Civil agitation combined with dissatisfaction with government measures has ‘elicited a keen reaction by the Australian far-right’, with actors demonstrating a willingness to take these anti-establishment sentiments and exploit them to promote their own political agendas (Jones, 2021).

Australia’s intelligence organisation ASIO assessed that ‘COVID-19 restrictions are being exploited by extreme right-wing narratives that paint the state as oppressive, and globalisation and democracy as flawed and failing’ and further that the pandemic has ‘reinforced an extreme right-wing belief in the inevitability of societal collapse and a “race war”’ (Christodoulou, 2020). The far-right have opportunistically exploited government measures (such as closing borders and enforcing isolation) to support narratives that promote ethnic segregation and extreme immigration restrictions (Khalil and Roose, 2020). This is a fascinating and complex period of mobilisation and demonstrates a noticeable expansion from a predominant focus on the nativist-constructed ‘other’ (Muslims, people of African descent, and those of Asian appearance)[14] to also incorporating attacks on ‘The System’. Dr. Mario Peucker’s recent work (2021) details this shift clearly, noting that these new far-right narratives encompass attacks on the global elite, agencies and sources of information such as the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, as well as national ‘tentacles’ including the Australian government and the political elite, mainstream media and universities.

Populist politics have been re-energised by the circumstances of the pandemic and have mirrored the far-right in combining nativism with attacks on the government and ‘system’. An example is Hanson’s recent claims that COVID-19 was created in a Chinese laboratory and then ‘unleashed’ on the world (Sengul, 2021). She has also exploited the pandemic to further her populist rejection of the ‘elite’, attacking international organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the United Nations, claiming they are ‘corrupt globalist bureaucracies’ that are using the pandemic to‘squeeze more money from “struggling Australians” (Sengul, 2020). In addition, the promotion of distrust towards the national government has been evident in Hanson’s condemnation of introduced measures to counter the pandemic (e.g., lockdowns and social distancing laws) (Sengul, 2020). Political contemporaries have similarly been pushing similar ideas. For instance, the One Nation Party’s NSW leader Mark Latham claims that ‘our country’ has become ‘a dictatorship of the health bureaucrats’ (Sengul, 2020). 

During the pandemic, conspiracy theories have been a vital ideological and discursive tool. Different conspiracy theories have been recycled that convey antisemitic tropes of a global Jewish cabal running the world (Peucker, 2021) or promoting distrust and hatred towards Muslims and people of Asian descent (Macklin, 2020). The far-right has also been observed strategically expanding their narratives online, and consequently merging with existing conspiracy theorists and their subscribers in a way they had not before – such as QAnon, ‘anti-vaxxers’, anti-5G activists, and ‘sovereign citizens’, a broad membership that proclaim independence from state laws and regulations (Khalil and Roose, 2020). This expansion of narratives was demonstrated by the far-right Australian Protectionist Party—a group established on standard far-right ideologies of anti-immigration and white supremacy. A recent study found that the APP held one of the most active Australian Gab[15] accounts. Recent activity on this platform found that the group was combining its established ideological narratives with other QAnon, anti-vaccination and pandemic-related conspiracy theories, including the idea that global elites are supposedly seeking to annihilate large parts of the global population and that vaccines contain microchips (Guerin et.al, 2021).

Recent anti-lockdown protests in various Australian cities have also resulted in different groups in society intersecting. Although there are many ties between the protests and the far-right, senior research fellow in extremist Joshua Roose explains that these protests have attracted people from a broad section of society (Knaus and McGowan, 2020). Widespread fear, the impacts of long-term precariousness to income and business, and distrust in the government and medical industry have resulted in significant overlap between frustrated citizens, conspiracy theorists and far-right actors (Knaus and McGowan, 2020). This overlap is not accidental. For example, the Australian chapter of the Proud Boys became more active during the pandemic and engaged in anti-lockdown protests and vigilante-style activism against left-wing opponents[16] (Allchorn, 2021). Leaders of the Nationalist Socialist Network[17] have also been reported as being in attendance and attempting to recruit new members at a recent anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne  (Kelly, 2021).

There is also evidence of extremist far-right members using anti-lockdown protest groups to mobilise an online community[18] and gradually introduce more radical ideas. For example, known far-right actor Harrison McLean used an alias to run an anti-lockdown and ‘freedom’ group on the encrypted messenger app Telegram, gaining more than 2,000 followers and attracting hundreds of people to street protests (McGowan, 2021). The activities of this group may seem to revolve around democratic concerns about lockdowns and freedom rights. However, this group—and others like it[19]—operate in a space where conspiracy theories, anti-establishment messaging, antisemitism, Islamophobia, Sinophobia and other expressions of racism are readily shared (McGowan, 2021).[20]

Conclusion

This article tracked the ways in which salient public issues have granted the Australian far-right opportunities to become more cohesive in its activity, mobilise a broader audience, and converge with mainstream narratives and populist politics. Islamophobic and anti-Muslim discourses continue to be a significant component of far-right ideology. However, they are not the primary source of mobilisation, as witnessed in the mid-2010s. With the passing of time, research has been able to identify the impacts of this period of mobilisation, notably the splintering of these groups into more extreme cells and the normalisation of racial supremacist—and (to a lesser degree) anti-establishment—narratives. 

This article was written during the second salient public issue identified, the COVID-19 pandemic. It and the heightened anti-government and anti-establishment rhetoric around it, continues to unfold. The longer-term consequences of this period of far-right activity and increased interaction with the mainstream public will become more apparent with time and the intensified focus on the Australian far-right. 


 

(*) Chloe Smith recently attained a Master of Islamic Studies from Charles Sturt University, Australia. She also holds a bachelor of counterterrorism, security and intelligence from Edith Cowan University. Chloe’s research interests include radicalisation and extremism studies, Islamophobia, and populism.


 

References

— (2020). Mapping Networks and Narratives of Online Right-Wing Extremists in New South Wales. Macquarie University. https://zenodo.org/record/4071472#.YUhXAi2w1QI

— (2021). “Submission and Proposals in Relation to the Online Safety Bill (Exposure Draft).” Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (AMAN). https://www.communications.gov.au/sites/default/files/submissions/osb-australian-muslim-advocacy-network.pdf (accessed on July 23, 2021).

— (2021). “Hate Beyond Borders: The Internationalisation of White Supremacy.” Anti-Defamation League (ADL). https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/hate-beyond-borders-the-internationalization-of-white-supremacy (accessed on July 23, 2021).

— (2021). “The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism with De Anne Aly MP.” The Australia Institute. Webinar Transcript.February 10, 2021. https://australiainstitute.org.au/post/the-rise-of-right-wing-extremism-with-dr-anne-aly-mp/ (accessed on September 20, 2021).

Akbarzadeh, Shahram. (2016). The Muslim Question in Australia: Islamophobia and Muslim Alienation.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. 36, no 3: 323–33. https://doi.org/10.1080/13602004.2016.1212493

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Footnotes

 

[1] The ‘far-right’ is applied in this analysis as an umbrella term that captures a range of populist political, radical and extremist ideas, narratives and actors.

[2] Dr Mario Peucker, referenced in this paper, has also identified these two periods of mobilisation as highly salient. He views the public debates (first around Islam/Muslims and then the pandemic) as providing new discursive opportunities for the far-right. 

[3] Similar to international groups, the Australian far-right mobilise around anti-Muslim, populist, ethno-nationalist, white supremacist and chauvinist narratives (Allchorn, 2021).

[4] Pauline Hanson is a good case study because of her strongly populist style – however the Australian political system is recognised as housing a number of controversial, populist figures that have current or former ties to the major parties (Dorling, 2020).  Ben Moffitt (2017) describes populism being diffused into mainstream discourse, because the nation is an ‘accepting home of populist, populist style, discourse and issues.

[5] Other well-established definitions of populism such as the ‘ideational’ and ‘strategic’ approach are more limited in their ability to describe the widespread presentation of populism in Australian politics. These definitions are recognised to be more accurate at describing populist parties like those in Europe (using the ‘ideational’ approach) or populist leadership prominent in Latin America (using the ‘strategic’ approach) (Moffitt, 2017). 

[6] The far-right has proven to be adept at mobilizing around a range of public fears and resentments, and this has been most noticeable in different nativist, exclusionary discourses towards ethnic and culturally defined ‘Others’ in recent history (Peucker, 2021). For instance, prior to the widespread targeting of Muslims in the 1990s, there was a growth in far-right political parties, social movements and groups that formed around anti-Asian immigration narratives, correlating with higher levels of immigration from Asian countries at the time Macquarie University, 2020). More recently, people of African descent have also been targeted because of media-led moral panics around ‘crime gangs’ (Peucker, 2021).  Far-right hostility towards Islam and Muslims in Australia (and globally) is recognised to be a distinct topic of research because of the prolonged nature, institutionalisation and normalisation in public discourse, and the unique opportunities it has afforded the contemporary far-right to grow Poynting and Briskman, 2018). 

[7] A hostage situation by a self-styled Islamic State supporter that gained a huge amount of media and political attention (Macquarie University, 2020). 

[8] Pauline Hanson re-emerged in 2016 after a long break from politics, re-energized by the global rise of populism, and a political environment that was becoming increasingly more tolerant of the xenophobia that is characteristic of her politics. Hanson’s populist style is also characterised by her claims that she speaks on behalf of the ‘everyday’ Australian, her unsophisticated and transgressive ’plain speak’, and using this style of communication to prove she is unlike other politicians (Fenton-Smith, 2020).  Hanson is a highly visible fringe politician – it was recently recorded that she has 340,000 followers on Facebook, which is the second highest following of any Australian political leader after the current Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Sengul, 2021).

[9] Australia’s media organisations have heavily influenced the public perception of fear and distrust towards Muslims. For instance, One Path Media observed five Australian media outlets during 2017 and found 3,000 news articles linking Islam or Muslims with words like ‘terrorism’, ‘radicalism’ and ’violence’ (Esposito and Iner, 2018). 

[10] For instance far-right groups and politicians stoked fears of an ‘Islamisation’ of society, a collection of conspiracy narratives that claim the visible manifestations of Islam (e.g., headscarves, halal products and mosques) are a threat to dominant Australian culture and the physical security of Australians (e.g., from terrorism) (Akbarzadeh, 2016). 

[11] As Laura Cervi (2020) explains, racialisation entails ‘ascribing sets of characteristics viewed as inherent to members of a group because of their physical or cultural traits. Islamophobia has emerged as ‘racial’ because it amalgamates all Muslims into one group and ascribes a set of characteristics supposedly associated with Muslims to the entire Muslim population’. 

[12] These groups are noted to have splintered into different, often more extreme, groups. For instance, in 2015 alone, Reclaim Australia formed then splintered into the United Patriots Front, which in turn splintered into the True Blue Crew. Similarly, the Australian Defence League (founded in 2009) later splintered into the Sons of Odin and also remained strongly anti-Muslim during this time (Macquarie University, 2020). 

[13] The authors of this report note exceptions to this model, such as the aforementioned National Socialist Network.

[14] This is not to suggest that racialised minorities and non-white groups have become less of a focus for the far-right. For example, the pandemic has been used to reinforce anti-Chinese, anti-Muslim, and broader anti-Asian agitations. (Peucker, 2021). 

[15] Gab is an alternative social networking platform with a reputation for hosting the far-right and being permissive of far-right content. 

[16] Far-right extremist researcher Dr Kaz Ross noted that the Proud Boys have become increasingly active during 2020 – growing in members on their encrypted channel on the Telegram app, and becoming more brazen in their protesting at anti-lockdown rallies (with some members being pepper-sprayed, arrested and fined at a particular event) (Ross, 2020). 

[17] In his detailed analysis of Australian far-right groups and networks, William Allchorn (2021) recorded the Nationalist Socialist Network to have a combined platform followership of 3,231 users. They have also gained some notoriety for offline activities including camping, burning crosses and Nazi symbology (Besser and Whalan, 2021).

[18] The globalization of violent white supremacy has been accelerated by social networking sites like Twitter, Gab, Minds, Telegram and message boards like 8chan, 4chan and Reddit, which have created an echo chamber where racist and anti-Semitic ideologies are seen, repeated and reinforced by like-minded people (‘Hate Beyond Borders’, 2021). 

[19] Such as the Telegram Account ‘Australia Awakens,’ which describes itself as a channel ‘designed especially for your friends who are either on the fence or questioning the mainstream narrative’ about the pandemic. On the surface this may imply the activity on this channel is relatively benign, the content shared (memes, videos and posts) is often exclusionary, extreme, and racist (Sparrow, 2021).

[20] There are indications that these protests and groups have connected themselves to a global movement and agenda; recent anti-lockdown protests were not only branded as an opposition to Australia’s pandemic restrictions, they were also presented as a ‘World Wide Rally for Freedom’ (Bogle and Zhang, 2021).