The New Faces of the European Far-Right

Front_National_2010-05-01_n04-682x1024 Nilüfer Göle in The Immanent Frame:

The new faces of the far-right have gained power in their political parties by virtue of their capacity to make a place for themselves in debate—in other words, by manufacturing public personalities—as well as by stirring up controversies over the presence of Islam in Europe. They take great care over their self-presentation, which is given precedence over their political representation and their function in the party. We are witnessing a process whereby the presence of actors in the public sphere and the media determines the place they occupy in the political arena. However, public popularity and political engagement do not always follow the same logic, and, indeed, they sometimes come into tension with each other. There are those among the French public, for instance, who declare the National Front an obstacle to the popularity of Marine Le Pen.

Hence, we face a movement that has been revived politically by its entry to the public sphere, through which it acquires legitimacy for its ideas and puts an end to the stigma of the far-right. These parties are no longer at the end of the political spectrum but seek their political legitimacy at the center of public opinion, and they do so in large part by making Islam a common enemy. Thinkers from the republican right and intellectuals from the left both express perplexity over the rise of right-wing movements that do not hesitate to endorse egalitarian, feminist, and secular ideas. They have been dispossessed of the ideas that previously guaranteed the far-right’s restriction to the margins of the political system.

The rising stars of the European far-right, such as Marine Le Pen in France, in fact scramble the divide between right and left, thus distinguishing themselves from the preceding generation of conservatives. They sometimes display a habitus evocative of European counter-culture—something completely out of step with the style of their predecessors. The leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache, who often sports a tee-shirt emblazoned with an effigy of Che, and the Swiss politician Oskar Freysinger, who wears his long hair in a ponytail, do not hesitate to borrow the emblems of cultural revolt. In choosing Islam as a target, they make themselves out to be defenders of sexual equality, feminism, and freedom of expression, as well as supporters of the fight against homophobia and anti-Semitism. Hijacking the cultural legacy of the left, they promote those values to which the preceding, patriarchal, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic far-right was hostile.