How the radical right came to power, by Xavier Mas de Xaxàs
Exploiting inequality, manipulating reality and turning the citizen into an always irritated activist are the old strategies that radicalized conservatism uses throughout Europe to win and retain power.
Spain is the only country in the European Union with a left-wing government and, furthermore, it is uphill to renew its mandate in the elections called for the end of July. There are centre-left coalitions in Germany, Portugal, Denmark, Estonia, Slovenia, Luxembourg and Malta. The rest are conservative governments, some led or supported by parties that are heirs to fascism.
In all countries, ultra-conservative leaders proliferate, who are battering rams of harsher and more authoritarian societies, more intransigent and less supportive, more unequal in economic and social terms. Some of these leaders have majority popular support, such as Giorgia Meloni in Italy. Others have enough support to decide who rules.
17% of Europeans voted for the extreme right in the last elections in their country, according to a survey by the European Center for Foreign Relations. They are legitimate votes, but the result of a political revolution that erodes democracy and the welfare state, while inflicting chronic anxiety on us.
Authoritarianism thrives on the collective anxiety that it itself causes
The radicalization of conservatism is not new. It dominated the interwar period in Germany. Neither are indoctrination and propaganda techniques. The power that radio and cinema had a century ago is comparable to what television and social networks have today.
That power manipulates the masses is as old as human civilization itself. Authoritarianism thrives on the collective anxiety that it itself causes. It is important that the individual feels anxiety, restlessness and irritation. You have to shock him. Nothing better than scandal, even fictitious, to exacerbate fear and dominate public debate. It is enough to defend extremist positions on the issues that most divide public opinion. And do it from the side of good and evil us , the victims of multiculturalism and progressivism. The good legitimizes any action because the moral burden is always on the part of the victim. This is how culture wars are decreed, how violence is justified, in self-defense, whether of the nation or of the individual. None of this is new either. Gustave Le Bron described it very accurately in psychology of the masses a work of 1895.
Why now returns this past that seemed overcome? Because inequality ignites revolutions, because wealth gives meaning to life and poverty takes it away.
The 2008 financial crisis accentuated inequality and the loss of purchasing power in a middle class hard hit by the industrial transformation demanded by globalization. Between 2015 and 2016, these outraged supported Brexit in Great Britain, made Trump president of the US and opposed the massive arrival of immigrants and refugees in Europe. They arrived at each of these positions more from emotion than from reason, spurred on by fiction.
The radical leader constructs a false problem, like the Great Replacement or that Europe steals from us, and offers a false solution: leaving the EU will save us.
In every European country there are leaders who are battering rams of harsher and less supportive societies
Perception is everything, and misperception of the facts is so entrenched in political debate that it passes for truth.
Inequality and the manipulation of reality, however, do not explain everything. There is more. There is the idea that each one is the master of his own destiny, that his is the responsibility to prosper, even though he was born at the bottom of the social pyramid. Carl Schmitt, the main philosopher of many post-fascists, said that equality is desirable, but only among those who are born equal. He did not see a more effective way to guarantee order than social hierarchies.
Distributing wealth and opportunities has been the great task of liberal democracies, of the social market economy that gave birth to the welfare state and of the European Union.
Social Darwinism, however, is back. We saw it during the pandemic, where, for the sake of a misunderstood freedom, it was decided to keep everything open even at the cost of the lives of the weakest, the elderly and the sick. It was a necessary lesser evil to keep the economy going.
The sociologist Wilhem Heitmeyer speaks of the emergence of a "brutal bourgeoisie", without scruples or remorse, the basis of radicalized conservatism.
The old conservative parties allow themselves to be seduced by the radical leaders, by their audacity and bravado. They buy his strategy of permanent confrontation. They leave the center where consensus is possible.
The social democracy, the liberal and centrist parties, appeal to morality, decency, to the values that support the European architecture. They believe that the fallacies fall by themselves, but they are wrong. Appeals to reason and management crash against the nihilist wall of radicalized conservatism.
The only way to defeat the radical right again is by restoring the dignity of citizens, offering them security and good jobs. This forces us to deglobalize and invest a lot of public money, but it is the only path towards equality and integration.
The European Union is a good place to do this. Perhaps the best in the world. But time is lacking, and time is what the progressive governments that are still standing do not have.
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