- Far-Right Politics in Europe by Jean-Yves Camus, Nicolas Lebourg
Jean-Yves Camus and Nicolas Lebourg, trans. Jane Marie Todd
Cambridge, MA, and London, UK: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017; 310 pages. $29.95 (hardcover), ISBN 9780674971530.
Camus and Lebourg start their wide-ranging study of the European Far Right in a France in the throes of the 1789 Revolution. The Far Right not only got its name, the authors point out, from where those most opposed to the revolutionary changes taking shape sat in the Constituent Assembly. This resistance also set the direction for the future: Ever since the French Revolution shattered the hierarchy of the Ancien Régime, the Far Right has been in pursuit of a new order that it deems legitimate. Camus and Lebourg trace this search through its many modifications to the present day. For them the Far Right is a “field” on which a plurality of actors, across Europe and beyond, have continuously reinvented this quest based on various national contexts and shifting geopolitical realities.
But the Far Right, they suggest, does not neatly fit on a contemporary Left–Right scale. If the search for order is a defining theme for Far Right groups across epochs and regions, a focus on the style of politics rather than a doctrine on economics distinguishes them from others: their form is plastic and what they express, morphing. This makes them prone to splits and disagreements. In spite of multiple postwar attempts to federate on a continental scale, these groups, by drawing on different local traditions, inevitably brushed up against each other’s priorities: On one occasion it was a French Jacobin inflection that alienated the völkisch-inclined groups of a network briefly stretching across Western Europe; on another it was the question of the national belonging of the German-speaking Italians that threw a wrench in a trans-Alpine cooperation. There never was a meaningful [End Page 187] Fascist International. Nor, it seems, will the various national populist parties ever agree on how to alternatively unite Europe.
The attentiveness to such Far Right diversity, and how it complicated any attempt at continental unification, gives this study a dynamic character. While the book inventories the Far Right groups of postwar Europe, it never ascribes to them one master position. It traces their itineraries, in and out of cooperations, and from one ideological position to another.
Yet, Camus and Lebourg show, certain locales and ideologues held more sway than others. For the reinvention of the Far Right after Fascism, which Camus and Lebourg cast as merely one of its renditions, the Italian Julius Evola had an oversized importance. Such influence cannot be detached from his peninsular perch. Sitting at the geo-ideological fault lines, Italy was the laboratory of the postwar Far Right. It was where the Far Right honed terrorist tactics, which shifted between having subversive and countersubversive aims, and where it turned into an electoral force. As a pioneer of youth culture and the continent’s bridgehead to North America, the United Kingdom came likewise to play a large role for the spread of a Far Right subculture. It was where disaffected youth first united around a racist perspective as a mode of commodified expression. The theoretical elaboration of the ideological perspectives that underpin the platforms of the national populist parties across the continent is meanwhile a more shared labor. But France plays host to the liveliest debate. It is from where many of the concepts come that have reinvented the Far Right’s resistance to an American-led globalization, whose homogenizing consequences are now called “the ideology of the same,” and to immigration, now claimed to be a “great replacement” of populations.
Because the book spreads its net so wide, it mostly stays on an expository level. It encompasses such a large cast of characters that it cannot explore what attracted people to their positions. The Far Right, the study can be seen as suggesting, is an ideological invariant of modernity. It forms the internal opposition. Such a picture of the ideological landscape leaves me desiring a bit more context...