[Paleopsych] TLS: John Gray: Rising against all reason

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John Gray: Rising against all reason
The Times Literary Supplement, 1.2.9

    THE VOICE OF MODERN HATRED. Encounters with Europe's New Right. By
    Nicholas Fraser. 327pp. Picador. £16.99. TLS £14.99 - 0 330 37212 2.

    The revival of the far Right in Europe during the past ten years has
    come as something of a shock to liberal opinion, but two generations
    ago it was widely feared. A revival of fascism was expected from the
    beginning by the Allied occupying forces in Germany. In 1947, they
    commissioned polls in the American Zone, which confirmed their worst
    fears. The polls revealed that between 47 and 55 per cent of Germans
    believed that National Socialism, contrary to all evidence, was - as
    Nicholas Fraser drily puts it in The Voice of Modern Hatred:
    Encounters with Europe's New Right - "a good idea badly carried out".
    Partly as a response to such evidence, the authorities of the new
    Germany passed the Basic Law of 1950, which made it constitutionally
    possible to ban extremist political parties. Despite these efforts,
    and the decades of education in democracy that followed them, Germany
    has not escaped the recrudescence of the radical Right that is under
    way in many European countries. What frightens and confounds liberals
    today is that - in Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, France, Denmark and
    the eastern parts of Germany, for example - far Right movements are
    gaining influence, and sometimes power, after half a century of stable
    democratic government, and at a time of unprecedented general
    prosperity. According to all the models of political development that
    were developed in post-war democratic theory, this is a
    near-impossibility.Yet it is happening today in many parts of Europe.

    Liberal bafflement at this seemingly inexplicable reversion to type in
    Continental Europe is the animating theme of Nicholas Fraser's
    arresting and at times wrenchingly honest book, which was written in
    tandem with a series of television programmes recording Fraser's
    travels across Europe. Partly for that reason, it is a highly personal
    narrative, presented almost in the style of a novel. This might seem
    an unpromising and overambitious format for an inquiry into the
    European radical Right, but in fact Fraser succeeds brilliantly in
    interweaving his thoughts on the seeming anomaly of the reappearance
    of the politics of hatred throughout much of Europe with a succession
    of repulsive and fascinating vignettes of some of the leading
    representatives of Europe's New Right. Political leaders such as
    Jean-Marie Le Pen, Vlaams Blok and Jorg Haider, "revisionist
    historians" such as Robert Faurisson and David Irving - these and
    other figures are swept up in a penetrating, digressive monologue in
    which moods of perplexed sympathy alternate with bouts of fury and

    Though The Voice of Modern Hatred contains more information and
    clear-headed thought than many academic texts, it does not pretend to
    offer anything like a theory of the movements with which it deals.
    Fraser is too alert to the singularity of the people and circumstances
    of which he writes to seek to encapsulate them in any neat
    formulation. Yet the book does suggest an overall interpretation of
    the European New Right. The overwhelming impression left by Fraser's
    vignettes is that the attitudes of today's far-rightists are not very
    different from those of the 1930s. The characters whom Fraser
    describes are a pretty miscellaneous bunch. They have very varying
    degrees of influence, ranging from nearly complete political
    marginality to being serious contenders for key positions in national
    government. Some are undeniably plebeian, others highly educated, some
    aspire to be demagogues, while others pose as martyrs.

    They come from a wide variety of national and regional milieux. But it
    is striking that denial of the Holocaust is an integral part of the
    world-view of practically every one of them. Today, as in the 1930s,
    anti-Semitism is the dark, unbroken thread that runs all the way
    through the European far Right.

    This is not the only echo of the inter-war years. The intellectuals
    described are in many ways strikingly reminiscent of Europe's
    proto-Nazi bohemian intelligentsia. Only a few anachronistic details
    divide Fraser's disoriented would-be Brownshirts, reading Celine,
    Genet and Foucault during brief periods of imprisonment, from their
    confreres seventy years ago. Then the alienated intellectual's
    preferred reading was Ernst Junger or Moeller van den Bruck; but the
    content was the same. The fact is that hostility to liberal society is
    not an intermittent aberration of the European intelligentsia. On the
    Left as well as the Right, among believers in Enlightenment as much as
    the thinkers of the Counter-Enlightenment, political movements that
    not only criticize, but actually aim to destroy liberal institutions
    have always had a powerful appeal.

    In the nineteenth century, it was thinkers such as the authoritarian
    Auguste Comte, not John Stuart Mill, who commanded a mass intellectual
    following. In the twentieth century there were normally a dozen
    Marinettis and Drieu la Rochelles for every Isaiah Berlin or Karl
    Popper. Nor was the infatuation with anti-liberal regimes limited to
    Continental thinkers. It was just as strong in G. B. Shaw, H. G.

    Wells, T. S. Eliot, G. K. Chesterton and a good many other English
    writers. The idea that Europe's intellectuals are somehow
    constitutionally liberal is a mirage generated by the Second World

    To be sure, despite the alarming inroads that are being made by the
    New Right, we are far from the endemic crises of the inter-war years.
    Liberal institutions are under threat, but - except maybe in Russia
    and parts of the Balkans - there is no likelihood of their being
    overthrown. Instead, Europe seems to be returning to something
    approaching its condition towards the end of the nineteenth century,
    when, in many countries, the politics of hate enjoyed the support of
    large sections of the public, and intellectuals wavered between
    support for liberal values and the perennial charms of extremism.

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