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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Right in Europe and America: Tale of Two Cities

The far right in Europe is quite different from the right wing in American politics. Putting aside the usual caricature of “people in pointy hoods and the Ku Klux Klan,” Marine Le Pen says she still believes “the American right is much more to the right than the National Front.” She might agree with those who want to manage American frontiers more effectively and prevent massive illegal immigration, but she’s also a big believer in the state’s ability and obligation to help its people. “We feel the state should have the means to intervene,” she says. “We are very attached to public services à la française as a way to limit the inequalities among regions and among the French,” including “access for all to the same level of health care.”

The American right is more far-right than is the European right wing in terms of government providing a survival net, but perhaps not in terms of immigration and other issues. In terms of government services, it is particularly striking that the European right advocates universal health-care. To the American right, even a “public option” is odious socialism. Moreover, the wealthy “I don’t want to help others with my tax dollars—just defense” rationale for keeping their money does not seem to get much political traction in the European right.

In terms of federalism, the “euroskeptics” are much more skeptical of the E.U. than the state rights advocates in America have been of the U.S. Whereas many euroskeptics would break up the E.U. if they could, the states’ rights movement through American history has merely sought to shift the balance of power from the federal government to the state governments. In other words, in terms of federalism the European right is more to the right than is the American right.

Immigration is another policy area in which the European right is further right. Sarkozy’s attempt to send the Roma out of state makes Jan Brewer’s legislation allowing the police to verify the citizenship of people already involved in a police action seem down-right moderate. Whereas in the spring of 2011 the Danish government considered putting up border guards to keep African immigrants out, the Arizona government did not add border guards of its own in 2010. Of course, European federalism is more balanced than is American federalism, but the European right is almost certainly more strident in its efforts to keep undesirable peoples out of the E.U. Even within the E.U., some establishments in the Flanders region of Belgium have signs indicating “No Walloons Allowed”—similar to “No Blacks Allowed” in Alabama until the 1970s.

Perhaps it could be said that whereas culturally and in terms of federalism the European right is more to the right, the European value of solidarity moderates the European right appreciably—even beyond “liberal Democrat” in American politics. Accordingly, caution should be exercised when comparing seemingly-parallel parties in American and European politics. The two unions have rather distinct politics even as “right” and “left” apply to both.


Tracy McNicoll and Christopher Dickey, “What a Tea Party Looks Like in Europe,” Newsweek, September 6, 2010.