Nationalism Individualism and the Internet

“‘I hear the sound of a different drum.’ . . . I come from what your generation will call the ‘Half and Halves.’ A generation that made a few changes, but had to experience too many other kinds of changes they had no control over, so some of us were bound to fall by the wayside. I’m one of those.” — from the suicide note of Michael Cooper, Photographer to the Stars (1941–1973)

From Budapest to Oslo, from Rome to London, the Far Right rises again in the streets and parliaments of Europe. Generally the different political groups that sit under the umbrella of Far Right stick to similar points. These include Nationalism according to the old borders of Europe, a desire to stop immigration, a fondness for the architecture, cuisine, writers, and even fashions of pre-Napoleonic Europe, and a blind hatred of Postmodernism, Communism, Socialism, Feminism, Multiculturalism, Islam and what is termed ‘Cultural Marxism’.

This desire to see a return to an imagined traditional past, of stable gender roles, the establishment of a knowledge that does not question itself and of a top-down Power nestled in reassuring cascades of hierarchy are just some of the more obvious supporting structures behind the media onslaught that is the Far Right online today. From the recycled nationalism of Brexit to the xenophobia of Hungary and Poland, and the carefully crafted media images of the Scandinavian ‘social conservatives’ to the thuggery of the Greek Golden Dawn, on the Internet there is a growing sense of an empowered Far Right in Europe.

But one concept in the contemporary Far Right online is a puzzling one. One of the central catch cries is the destructive force that is ‘Cultural Marxism’. Cultural Marxism is far from established as a term, but from some background reading one can manage to gain a degree of clarity. It all starts with Antonio Gramsci, the early-Twentieth century Italian political and cultural theorist who only rose to International prominence in the 1960s and 70s, largely emerging from academic circles. There is no coincidence in this timeline. For if the Far Right has a Waterloo moment in modern Europe, it is May 1968.

The 1960s were a time of terror for the enemies of Cultural Marxism in Europe, when HBQT rights began to be publicly debated and fought for, when students (and women) had opinions about government and people everywhere stopped believing in war, and when education became about finding yourself, wherever you may be. Into this heady mix came philosophy, in particular post-structuralism, as well as an ostentatious counter culture. Both of these systems of knowledge fed directly into what the far right today considers Cultural Marxism. An example of this reaction came from one author in 1994, citing how the counter culture gave us

“hallucinogens [that] have the singular effect of making the victim asocial, totally self-centered, and concerned with objects. Even the most banal objects take on the “aura” which [Walter] Benjamin had talked about, and become timeless and delusionarily profound. In other words, hallucinogens instantaneously achieve a state of mind identical to that prescribed by the Frankfurt School theories” (Minnicino 1994).

That a school of philosophy could have similar effects as a mind altering chemical is something few probably realised when LSD was made illegal in 1966.

Antonio Gramsci emerged from a time period and historical context that highly influenced the Frankfurt School. Gramsci was initially connected to the Russian revolutionary movements, but by the 1930s he had split intellectually and ideologically from the socialism and Bolshevism of the Soviets. A major difference between Gramsci and the Frankfurt School philosophers was the role of will in social and political action:

“Although they held common views, especially on cultural criticism, the
pessimistic approach of Frankfurt School is what particularly distinguishes
it from Gramsci. For the members of Frankfurt School, the separation of
“reason” from objectivity causes the separation of intellect and “will”,
which prevents human beings from acting on their desires. While Gramsci constantly believed in the “will” of working class, on which he grounds his
fundamental theory, the members of the Frankfurt School grounded their
hopelessness in the separation of will for the working class.” — (Peker iii)

Among other things Gramsci formulated, mostly from his prison cell, was a theory of cultural hegemony:

In a society, cultural hegemony is neither monolithic intellectual praxis, nor a unified system of values, but a complex of stratified social structures, wherein each social and economic class has a social purpose and an internal class-logic that allows its members to behave in a way that is particular and different from the behaviours of the members of other social classes, whilst co-existing with them as constituents of the society.

Power (Economic, Social and Political), Privilege and Consciousness are generated through social interactions and as internalised class-logic. If one considers this idea for long, it has pretty far reaching consequences. We are all held in our social place by a system of power, privilege and consciousness, whereby all that we do is both contained and qualified. This includes only meeting people from your own class, who usually tend to both agree with your own political ideas, and whose lifestyles and background correspond with your own. A segregated and divided society depends on an internalised class logic, where each segment is contained within the culture, economy and consciousness that define it.

From the tirade against Cultural Marxism, a rhetoric emerges from the Far Right that indicates victimhood and privilege are two sides of the same coin, depending on who is telling the story. For Norwegian mass murderer and self-proclaimed Christian knight, Anders Behring Breivik, the political correctness of

“cultural Marxism is the root cause for the destruction of European culture and society. He fulminates against all cultural Marxists who stand for multiculturalism, feminism, egalitarianism, humanism and so forth, because they pose a severe threat to the traditionally patriarchal European society” (Diggit Magazine).

Being a Christian knight, and an heir to “patriarchal European society”, invents privilege as well as tradition. At the same time that privilege is under threat. The enemy is at the gates and thus it presents a chance to create a world where social inclusions/exclusion, privilege and consciousness are determined by power and not by knowledge (as a supposed solution to the enemy being at the gates). The barriers to this reordering of society according to patriarchal nationalist and xenophobic Power are manyfold — the feminism that creates individual female empowerment, or multiculturalism which de-centers the ideology of a society, bringing in divergent religions and forms of cultural production, as well as history written and taught according to a globalist, leftist, Jewish, socialist, communist conspiracy organised by the followers of postmodern, intellectual, liberal agendas. It is all becoming pretty standard, to the point that groups and individuals that hold these views are now being elected to positions of power.

In the patriarchal ideology of Breivik, any form of organisation that moves against the Law of the Father is to be eradicated, such as Cultural Marxism. But the threat has created the moment of action, in the impending or just realised victimhood there is the opportunity to create the Far Right revolution. The European far-right have consisted of

“movements and parties encompassing a range of historically contingent, but ontologically similar positions: hostility to free trade, the defence of empire and the idealisation of an agrarian idyll in the nineteenth century, militarism, militant anti-communism and an ‘extremist’ anti-Semitism in the interwar era, and, now, Islamophobia, ‘welfare nativism’ and a hostility towards globalisation and European integration” (Saull et.al. 25).

Again, these contingencies of victimhood, whereby the threat from within or without has to be attacked, and the status of victim overcome, is at the same time the means by which the state is to be reborn in the image of the Romantic powerful hero, or the Nazi’s strong father or the suburban alpha male so idealised by contemporary Nazi apologist and YouTube superstar Jordan B. Peterson.

Throughout all these claims of victimhood, of enemies and the potential for a triumph in an imagined golden future, there is a glaring contradiction present. That an individual has the right to choose versus the weight of tradition and the power of authority to determine life. In essence this schism returns us to the same division between Gramsci and the Frankfurt School regarding the role of will and choice.

The ‘delivery’ of the political messages that rest upon the split between victim/hero, or will and obedience all mirror older models of political mediation, centered on a recognised body of authority (e.g. a political party, Government, Father, Police, Boss and so on). Such a centralised model can be contrasted to social media, which creates a shared space for meaning, where ideologies are referenced and delivered within groups, with potential to activate agents through shared ideas and beliefs. It has become obvious that right-wing extremist online propaganda may pose severe threats to the public sphere (Deland et. al. 50). Close reading of far right rhetoric online has the potential to bring clarity to such statements. The growth of the far right through social media is reflected in the finding that in 2015 “according to a German youth protection agency, there are some 5,507 websites controlled by right-wing groups. About 70 percent of them are on social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Tumblr” (Nasman).

Finally, the growth of far right narratives online in terms of uptake, propagation and interaction has direct implications for the political life of entire nations. For example, in Germany in 2015, “around 800 criminal acts carried out in places where refugees were housed” (Waters) and in Sweden around 30 arson incidents have been recorded against asylum seeker accommodation for the same year (SR). In 2016 this was up to 92 attacks in Sweden, where buildings that housed asylum seekers were deliberately destroyed by fire (Swedish Radio). Alongside such acts of violence, political parties that oppose immigration and propose the establishment of ‘tradition’ have risen in public profile in both countries. Across Europe, North America, Australia and even in parts of Asia and Africa, the actions of the far right are gaining attention and influencing mainstream political processes. Online and in particular social media are a significant arenas for this development. Unless a firm stand is taken against this growth, and the narratives that support it are challenged, then Europe will once again repeat a familiar nightmare.

Citations

Michael Minnicino, The Frankfurt School and Political Correctness (1994)

Saull, Richard Alexander Anievas, Neil Davidson, Adam Fabr. The Longue Durée of the Far-Right: An International Historical Sociology

Mats Deland, Michael Minkenberg, Christin Mays. “In the Tracks of Breivik: Far Right Networks in Northern and Eastern Europe”

Mareš, Miroslav. The Extreme Right in Eastern Europe and Territorial Issues. Central European Political Review 2–3 / XI / jaro-léto 2009 / spring-summer 2009.

Nasman, Carl. “Far-right extremists in Germany turn to social media to spread their ideas”. Deutsche Welle (DW) http://www.dw.com/en/far-right-extremists-in-germany-turn-to-social-media-to-spread-their-ideas/a-18596467

PEKER, BENGİSU YAĞMUR. “The Frankfurt School and Antonio Gramsci: Theoretical concerns in the practice of Cultural Criticism, and their “means” to producing a neo-Marxian approach” 2009 http://openaccess.bilgi.edu.tr:8080/xmlui/bitstream/handle/11411/541

Saull, Richard Alexander Anievas, Neil Davidson, Adam Fabr. The Longue Durée of the Far-Right: An International Historical Sociology

Sveriges Radion Grafik: Bränder på asylboenden i år http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=83&artikel=6283376

Kreiss, Daniel. Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack Obama, Oxford University Press, July, 2012.

Wtaers, Angela. Anti-Refugee Activism On the Rise In Germany As Far Right Violence Looms http://www.occupy.com/article/anti-refugee-activism-rise-germany-far-right-violence-looms#sthash.wtxuwTi8.dpuf

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James Barrett

James Barrett

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Freelance scholar. Humanist. Interested in language, culture, music, technology, design & philosophy. I like Literature & Critical Theory. Traveler. I am mine.