If you’ve been following European politics for the past year, you know that one of the biggest news stories is the rise of anti-establishment right-winged parties all across the continent – these are sometimes referred to as “far right”, sometimes “new right”, and sometimes as “right-winged extremist”. Personally, I like the term “new right”, which was originally used to refer to Thatcher’s movement – but then as a Thatcher fan I do have a personal bias. Whichever name we consider appropriate, what’s important is what these parties have in common: They oppose the European Union, and want to see immigration reduced.
Many political commentators and analysts are worried about this trend – after all, this is how Europe looked in the early 1930’s, right? Back then, we had a bad economy which made people turn to racist parties in desperation all across the continent. These commentators would have you believe that we are now witnessing history repeat itself.
Is that really true though?
As a member of one of these “far right” parties (actually, we’re centrist, but never mind), I’d like to offer a different perspective both on our movement, and on the tragic part of Europe’s history that led up to World War II.
Let’s start with the history:
It is true that nationalism was on the rise in the 1930’s in the parts of Europe that would later on be known as the “Axis” powers. It is also true that the most famous non-European axis power – Japan – was an extremely nationalistic country.
So far, the narrative seems very clear cut: Nationalism is a breeding ground for fascism and totalitarianism, and so in the interest of preserving peace and defending democracy, nationalism must be destroyed and its proponents silenced.
However, when you look at the full picture, it gets more complicated. While it is true that the Axis powers were ultra-nationalist in nature, this can also be said about the allies.
Don’t believe me? Think about it: Winston Churchill, the UK’s prime minister during WWII, was probably the greatest admirer of the British Empire the world has ever seen. He was far from some kind of cozy internationalist; he was a nationalist to the bone, and he appealed to nationalism when he rallied the British nation during the war. That’s right – nationalism, the evil ideology accused of creating fascism, actually motivated tens of millions of Britons to stand up against fascism even when facing the grimmest of odds.
Roosevelt too was no internationalist – he held a firm belief in American exceptionalism and in the supremacy of Western culture & values. The same can be said about Charles De Gaulle, the French resistance leader, and also every other resistance fighter in Europe. Max Manus was a Norwegian who risked his life fighting the Nazis because he was a nationalist during the German occupation. Anthropologists & sociologists today would have you believe that nations are “artificial”, that they are “figments of imagination” and “only exist in people’s heads” (… isn’t that the case with all kinds of human emotions?) but to people like Max Manus, the Norwegian nation was real enough that he was willing to risk his life to restore its freedom. And millions of Norwegians today are grateful that he did.
Clearly, nationalism is not what separates Axis from Allies. In order for A to be able to explain B, A must be present when B is present and not present when B isn’t present. If nationalism is to explain fascism, we’d expect nationalism to be absent everywhere where fascism is absent. As we’ve seen above, this is clearly not the case.
On a side note, the Soviet Union is the sole exception among the Allies when it comes to nationalism: The Soviet Union rejected the notion of nationalism and the rights of nation-states, and consequently, after World War II, the Soviet Union went from being a liberator to an oppressor of the nations of Eastern Europe. After liberating them from Nazi Germany, the Soviets did not give these nations their independence back like the United States & UK did with France and the other countries on the western front that they liberated – because the Soviet Union did not believe in nation-states and so did not believe that a nation such as the Polish had a right to be free. Poland’s right to independence was not nearly as important as the global proletarian revolution. The US & UK, being nationalistic countries proud of their heritage, understood and respected other countries’ desire to be free, which is why France regained its independence after World War II and did not end up as the 51st state.
But if nationalism didn’t cause fascism/Nazism, what did? The first thing we need to note is that all the countries that succumbed to totalitarian ideologies were countries that had never really been stable democracies in the first place – countries with populations that were used to the idea of a strong leader and a state with near-unlimited power. Even an ultra-nationalist like Churchill never tried to uproot democracy, because Churchill was British and as such he believed in democracy and human rights – two things that the Brits pretty much invented. And even if he had tried, he would never have succeeded – democracy is just too deeply ingrained in the British national identity. Not so with the German, Japanese or Italian national identities.
The second thing we need to understand is the difference between nationalism in countries like Germany and nationalism in countries like the UK. German nationalism had an element which British nationalism lacked: Genetics. In less technical terms, German nationalism was based on the idea that the Germans were a separate, superior race, bound by blood – they claimed to have unique genetic traits that other humans didn’t have.
One problem with this type of nationalism is that it is exclusive.
There is no way for a non-Aryan to become Aryan. Either you are Aryan, or you’re not. That is also why Nazi Germany rejected potential collaborators in Eastern Europe – they largely refused to accept help from Slavic people even though they shared a common enemy (the Soviet Union). When you are a nation tied together by blood, there is absolutely no room for outsiders.
British/American nationalism however is not like that – there is no emphasis on DNA at all. Whatever your origin, you can become British by assimilating into British society – essentially, anyone who adapts British culture & values can become British, even if they were born thousands of miles from England and even if their skin isn’t fair.
British nationalism can never be anti-democratic, because belief in democratic values is such an essential part of the national identity that British nationalists demand that immigrants who arrive in Britain adapt.
And hence, it follows that the rise of British nationalism in today’s world – whether in Britain or elsewhere – will not be followed by a subsequent rise in Fascism and a new Kristallnacht.
The question that we must ask ourselves is therefore – is the national conservative movement led by parties such as UKIP a British or a German nationalist movement?
The truth is of course a bit complicated – every political party has to be evaluated on its own merits. However, when we look at the overall picture, it becomes clear that German nationalism has not made any kind of continent-wide resurgence.
Let’s start with my own party – the Sweden Democrats. We believe in “open Swedish-ness” – the concept that anyone can become Swedish. Of course, this requires a certain degree of assimilation on behalf of the person seeking to become Swedish, but we do not believe that Swedish-ness is in any way shape or form a genetic trait. Nor do we believe that Swedes are superior to others; indeed we support equal rights both for those who identify as Swedish and those who don’t.
Moving on to my “other” party, UKIP – again, UKIP does not oppose the idea of non-Brits becoming British. They are a traditional British nationalist party in this sense – a strong belief in British identity, pride of British history and heritage, but lacking the exclusiveness displayed by nationalism in continental Europe.
The same pattern continues when we look at parties such as the Norwegian Progress Party, the Danish People’s Party, the Finnish True Finns and also the French Front National.
However, there are a few disturbing exceptions from the rule as well – the most famous one being Golden Dawn in Greece, a party that very much promotes the idea of racial supremacy and nations bound together by common DNA lineage. While it is horrible to see such parties and ideas advance, we have to remember that their advance is limited to a few isolated examples (Greece, Ukraine) – not a Europe-wide trend, and it should also be noted that every party in the “new right” have distanced themselves from Golden Dawn and their ilk. That is why UKIP is not in the same group as Golden Dawn in the European Parliament, and neither is Front National (though FN unfortunately isn’t quite as staunchly opposed to racism as UKIP). And that is why anyone who has ever been a member of the BNP, the EDL or any other group which promotes racial biology and the idea of superior races can never be a member of UKIP.
Some would argue that it’s just a matter of semantics – that some parties talk about “race” and others talk about “culture”, but that they mean the same thing. Anyone who accepts that however is forced to conclude that Churchill’s ideology was the same as Hitler’s. Because, like I said, they were both nationalist – their ideology with regards to race and a lot of other things differed, but they both loved their country, they were proud of their country’s heritage and they wanted to preserve their country’s respective cultures. Of course, this does not make them equal – and just like Churchill isn’t equal to Hitler, neither is the Sweden Democrats, UKIP and the rest equal to the NSDAP.
Let me finish up by admitting that we are far from a perfect movement. We have our fair share of nut jobs, and we make mistakes as we go along. However, as I hope is clear to anyone who has made it this far in this article, it is absolutely ridiculous to conclude that the rise of the likes of my party and our colleagues in Europe is foreshadowing another holocaust. While fascism and nationalism can co-exist, they are different animals, and one does not cause the other.
I hope we can now have a serious debate about immigration and leave the scaremongering aside.