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What is the "far right"?

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" - Evelyn Beatrice Hall

Increasingly we are hearing of “far right” governments in Europe. What does being “far right” mean and do these parties tend to have ideas in common? Today’s blog is trying to understand what this all means.


What do far right parties have in common?

There is a lot of common language in the far right parties in Europe:

  1. Anger at Illegal immigration

  2. Concern with levels of legal immigration

  3. Cost of living concern combined with a lack of access to public services

  4. Tough on law and order

  5. Socially conservative, with a focus on traditional values

    1. A rejection of the broadening definitions of gender and sexuality

    2. A rejection of what they see as undue focus on social justice

  6. Concerned with what they see as a breakdown or dilution of national culture


Some but not all of the far right parties also have a bias against the European Union and towards protectionism and I think far right is not necessarily the right moniker for this kind of party. It appears from the manifestos that they are socially conservative, economically protectionist and fiscally loose. The axis of difference between the main parties and these parties is “open” for mainstream parties and “closed” for the far right (and far left).


What is the history of the far right?


When history of the far right is written there appears to be some consistent conditions. Often the far right appears in a situation where there is economic and political instability, decreasing living standards and a national identity crisis. It is clear many of these factors are true today and were true in the inter-war period.

In the 1930s Europe whether in Germany, Italy or Spain ideologies associated with the far right and far left came to the fore. Much of their appeal was generated by decreasing living standards and in Germany in particular there was a feeling of national humiliation at the loss of World War I and the resulting treaties they were forced to sign in defeat.

After that period the authoritarian bias and divisive policies resulting from these ideologies have meant that people associated negative outcomes with this kind of politics and have soundly rejected them… up until now.


Why does the far right get bad press?


Far right parties get bad press with five main concerns. They are considered:

  1. Authoritarian: Much of the language feels very illiberal, particularly those directed against non-traditional lifestyles. There is also a concern that these parties, given some of their affiliations would be willing to usurp the rule of law if their wishes were not met by the ballot box.

  2. Racist: A concern that far right parties would target the legitimate practices of different cultures on the basis that they aren’t native practices. Many of the far right parties have a current or historical whisper of anti-Islam. In 1930s there was rampant antisemitism, before that in the UK it might have been anti-Catholic. The “other” group becomes the scapegoat.

  3. Populist: The concern with many of the policies is that they are undeliverable and said for popular effect rather than serious implementation.

  4. Short term: Example the rowing back on energy efficiency and energy security.  

  5. Fiscally imprudent: Many of the far right manifestos would result in huge additional borrowing to meet the combination of wage rises, pension increases and access to public services  

Where is there far right in the world


Europe is not the only place that has had far right popularity. Other countries include:

  • Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro

  • Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte

Narendra Modi, Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe from Japan might meet some definitions of far right. The problem with the label is that it is often used as a slur and therefore there always be heated debate about whether appropriate or not.

Why am I passionate they have representation?


I believe parties which have popular support should be able to be on the ballot box and people should not be stigmatised for supporting them. Concerns and grievances should be heard otherwise they will be discussed away from scrutiny and debate. Whilst the unfunded spending and divisive rhetoric may impoverish and tear apart countries in many cases the parties moderate between opposition and really thinking about forming a government - this has been seen with the National Rally (Le Pen's party) in France.


Having far right parties as a realistic proposition also energises those of a more liberal mindset. Voting turnout has increased as people might feel they should vote against something rather than vote for something. For many people the idea that we would voluntarily return to the 1930s is unconscionable and so the culture wars are likely to persist as a theme for many elections to come.

So what?

  1. Far-right parties share common themes such as concern about immigration, cost of living issues and social conservatism.

  2. Historically far right ideologies have gained traction during periods of economic and political instability, decreasing living standards, and national identity crises, similar to the inter-war period in Europe.

  3. Far right parties receive bad press as they are considered authoritarian, racist, populist, short-term focused, and fiscally imprudent.

  4. We should have far right parties debating their policies and being a part of the debate, to increase diversity of viewpoints and participation in elections.

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