Tobold's Blog
Friday, September 24, 2021
How “far” is “far right”?

This weekend there are the main federal elections in Germany, which will determine who the next chancellor after Angela Merkel will be. Unlike the one-party system of China, or the two-party system of the USA, German voters get a choice between many different parties, from the far right to the far left, everything in between, and a couple of kooky ones, like the Pirate Party. And The Atlantic has an article about the main far right party, Alternative für Deutschland.

Now, while I don’t live in Germany anymore, I am still a German national, and I still vote (by mail, obviously). And while I did vote center left, I would like to correct some views that foreigners might have about a German “far right” party.

Politics in Germany now, and for the past decades, have been very centrist compared to most of the rest of the world. The current government is a coalition of the main center right and the main center left party. “Far” right in this context means a party that is against immigration, doesn’t like muslims very much, and is sceptical of the European Union. In other words, they are pretty much indistinguishable from main stream politicians in other countries, like Donald Trump, or Boris Johnson. Of course, given the Nazi history of Germany, people worry a lot more about such politics in Germany than elsewhere. But still, this is “far” right only on a relative scale, or on a scale designed by woke media.

Which brings us to Voltaire, and the quote often mis-attributed to him of “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Which is pretty much the exact opposite of the current cancel culture. I am very much pro-immigration, being basically an immigrant myself. But I do believe that in a multi-party system, a party that is against immigration should exist. Multi-culturalism is something to work towards, it doesn’t come to everybody naturally.

Alternative für Deutschland is named as a counter-argument to something Merkel once said, that there is no alternative to her policy. And as much as I prefer Merkel’s policy in this case, I am pretty certain that I don’t want to live in a political system without alternative. What we need is political dialogue and open discussion, not demagogy. Even policy that is morally right needs explanation and persuasion. Because if we don’t do that, we end up with a political system in which there is no center between the “far” right and the “far” left, and no possible compromise.

I wouldn't really take the tories or the republicans as examples to refute that somebody isn't "far right"...

(Although I do agree that it's hypocritical for brits/americans to point at AfD and no their own, but what can you expect from the anglosphere.)
If you don't think Boris and the Donald are "far right" then your definitions are much, much more forgiving than mine. They are populist demagogues with no interest in process. What more evidence do you want?

As for that quote from Voltaire, the heavy irony is that, as you allude but decline to explain, not only did he never say it but the familiar words we remember were put into his mouth by others more than a century after his death. There's a principle of free speech to live by: wait until someone isn't around to argue and then claim they said whatever you want them to have said.
Let me ask you the question the other way around then: Are the British Tories and the US Republicans mainstream parties? The fact that they are or have recently been in government would suggest that they are.

I would agree that a European leftist would call the US Democrats maybe “center right”, and the Republicans “far right”. But that is because the center in Europe is far to the left of the political center in the USA.

The problem with calling these parties of today “far right” is that then what do you call Hitler’s National Sozialist party, Mussolini’s National Fascist party, and Franco’s Nationalists party? There is still a difference between wanting to limit immigration and wanting to kill certain people based on their origin or beliefs.

Note that the same hyperbole is used on the right, calling people who would like universal healthcare “communists”. Which would make Bismark a communist. :) I don’t think that this kind of hyperbole and name-calling is useful for political discourse. Boris isn’t exactly in the process of building up gas chambers. Calling him a fascist or Nazi says more about yourself than about him.
We call them far right because the Overton window has shifted since WW2.

Trumpist Republicans in the US I think fit even your definition of far right seeing as how they want to literally eliminate opposition even if it means using violence to do so. They also have literal Neo-Nazis and KKK members in their ranks who would absolutely love to see a facist dictatorship rise in the US if it meant Jews and other undesirables were expelled or worse.

Obligatory "Not all Republicans" disclaimer on my comment.
I think it's indisputable, if you look at history, that the Republicans and the Tories have been moving righwards for decades. For the Republicans it probably started with the realignment when they absorbed the southern democrats ("dixiecrats"), but each step along the way they've moved more towards laissez-faire economics, nationalism and religious fundamentalism (maybe not the last one for the Tories). Reagan/Tatcher were more right-leaning than the ones before, GWB leaned more heavily into evangelicism, and Boris/Trump took nativism/nationalism to new heights.

Or maybe it's more accurate to say that Boris/Trump took the nativist undercurrents which had always been there and brought them into the mainstream of their party. The Tory leadership were never pro-Brexit (and you could argue that they still aren't, Boris Johnson does not appear to value anything except Boris Johnson), but they chose to embrace it to harness the popular support it gave them.

Johnson chose to embrace and absorb UKIP, while Merkel has kept her distance from AfD.
@Ulrik: Agreed.

At the same time I would claim that Bernie and AOC are “far left” if you consider Bill Clinton “center left”. So maybe the main problem is the fundamental strategy of pandering to your base, and ignoring the center. In the USA the two parties *are* very “far” from each other. And politics are more designed to hurt the other side instead of doing what would be best for the country, e.g. letting America default on its debt to score political points.

My predominantly leftist readers will have a tendency to blame it all on the Republicans, but as my mother used to say when she broke up fights between me and my brother, “it takes two to start a fight”. I don’t see either side being willing to compromise.
As a Canadian, the battles in the south always highlight to be the problem of a two party system. Even in Canada where we still have a First-Past-the-Post system, multiple parties mean that our most Centrist party ends up forming government over 70% of the time.

Now, our system still has lots of problems, and it also marginalizes minority viewpoints - but it does to some degree stop the fringe base on the Far right & left from dominating the policy decisions, which is increasingly happening in the US.

The other benefit is it stops politics from being a zero-sum game. To use a boardgame or videogame analogy, in a two-player game hurting your opponent is exactly as effective as helping yourself. So the Republicans and Democrats who spend time and effort undermining their opponents are being just as effective as building and expanding their own support.

Not so in a multi-party system, or a multiplayer game. In a 3 or 4 player game, hurting the opponent is beneficial, but the other opponents/parties will benefit just as much, so although it isn't absent, we see far less attacking the other guy. Further, when the attacks are there, they're much milder and more reasonable (most of the time) because you don't want to sound crazy and alienate potential voters, because they may just choose neither you nor your victim.
@Tobold There is one fundamental difference between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.

Boris Johnson is working fully within the democratic constitution, laws and norms, and won the election fairly.
Donald Trump tried in multiple ways to overturn the election and to break the constitution and the laws. He was not successful, partly because of his own incompetence and lack of long-term preparation, but if he was successful in changing the result of the 2020 election, do you really think he would have not tried the same for the next election as well? And he publicly stated that he "deserves" a third term, he openly admired and envied China's "President for Life". He would have attempted to turn the US in one-party rule, and there are more than enough politicians in the Republican party that support him.

A democratic society should be tolerant of different opinions and platforms with one exception - people who try to destroy the democracy itself cannot and should not be tolerated.

It is not a matter of right vs. left. If Bernie Sanders or AOC tried to overturn free elections, they should be opposed as well. The thing is, not of them, or other prominent left politicians have tried anything like this.

On compromise, the entire Obama administration was about trying to compromise with the republicans, only to repeatedly get the door slammed in their face.

It is true that the current democrats aren't trying to compromise, but I can't see that that's anything but a rational response from them.
But what is your solution here? Disqualify the Republican party from government in perpetuity because Donald Trump is an extremely bad loser, and make the USA a one-party state like China? The Democrats without the Republicans aren’t democratic anymore. Democracy needs more than one party.

“Trump tried to destroy democracy and failed, so the Democrats need to install a one-party state” doesn’t really sound like a good outcome to me here.
@Tobold I don't really have a solution, nor I am in position to propose or enforce one.

But .. my thoughts are that if the Republican party starts consistently losing elections and dwindle down, then the Democratic party will simply split between moderates and progressives and US will be back to the two-party system.

This has happened in the US past = parties have disappeared, and other ones has split to form new parties.

I simply do not see the same autocratic tendencies in the Democrats as there currently are in the Republican party.
What would happen in the US if the Republicans are kept out of office and eventually disappear, is that the democratic party would split, or another party forms to challenge them. (And again, note that this is far from Trump only, they have refused to compromise since Obama got elected, which was ~7 years before Trump won the primary as an outsider. This is not a "Trump" problem.)

You can already see the split in the democratic party, and it's in more than two pieces - you have "moderates" like Sinema and Manchin (who are probably to the right of Merkel), the centrist wing which Biden hails from, and also the leftist insurgents headed by AOC and Bernie. If the democratic party won total control of both chambers and the presidency for more than the customary two years, even far more, you'd just see the political fights be between democrats, while the true elections were democratic primaries. Even that wouldn't be a big change, nabt elections that actually matter in the US is the primaries of whatever party holds a stranglehold on a given district.
Okay, but isn’t that just a leftist pipe dream? Even if you dismiss the “big lie”, Trump still got 47% of the popular vote in the 2020 election. Half of the states are still “red states”. The current majority of the Democrats is thin, and could very well fall in the mid-term elections.

Basically, what you call “far right” is the mainstream politics of half of America. Even if you did something anti-constitutional like eliminating the electoral college and switching to direct popular vote, Republican presidents would still get elected.
I am not sure I get your point. Looking at history, both Hitler and Mussolini got to power as a result of elections, meaning they were supported by a substantial part of the voters, and so were mainstream. Does that mean they were not far right, by your definition?
Good point, if you assume that democracy in the USA is as broken as it was in Germany during the Weimar republic.

Note also that Hitler didn’t even get an outright majority in the 1933 election, and then basically staged a coup to get total power. You’ll say Trump tried the same, but to me it seemed that the democratic institutions of the USA in 2020 worked a lot better than their counterparts of the Weimar republic. A lot of Republicans refused to play along.

There is an obvious political motive to paint the whole Republican party as Trumpist, but to me a split in the Republican party seems more likely than in the Democratic party. The appeal of Trump to Republican voters was that he won elections, not that they agreed with everything he said.
A split in the Republican party would have been good, but unfortunately what is happening is a purge of everyone who does not show full loyalty for Trump.

Consider this:
- Liz Cheney, a reliable conservative, daughter of Bush's VP Dick Cheney, one who according to trackers, have voted for almost all Republican policies, was removed from her positions in the House, and been threatened with a primary challenge. Only because she did not follow the election lie narratives. There is a big chance she will lose her re-election bid and be out of the House and out of the party.
- Brian Kemp, the governor of Georgia, and one of people who were instrumental for disproving the lies about election fraud - also being threatened to be primaried out.
- Anthony Gonzalez, one of the Republicans who voted for impeaching Trump, is stepping out and will not run for re-election, and there was a primary challenger as well, endorsed by Trump.
- A lot of other never-Trumpers have left the party and politics as well.
- Mike Pence, who refused to try to break the Consitution by not presiding over the certification of the election, also has a really low chance of being nominated as next Republican president candidate or even a VP
- Liza Murkowski, a moderate senator, and a Trump opponent from Alaska is being also primaried.
- Even Mitch McConnel, the man who controlled the Senate and thwarted Obama's and the Democrats agendas, and was instrumental in achieving the 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court, is under an attempt to be ousted, as not being loyal enough to Donald Trump.

In other words, Trump is actively trying to turn GOP into a one-leader party with no dissenting thoughts allowed. If he is successful, in the next two or four years, the Republican party will be something quite different from the one that was pre-2016, and will fully deserve the name "Trumpublican party".

Don’t you have any optimistic outcome for a country that was once considered a beacon of democracy? Is there really just the choice between a tinpot dictator or a woke mind-police state á la 1984?

If you are right, and there are only “far” options on the political menu and nothing centrist at all, I don’t see how that would be compatible with freedom and democracy.
I disagree with the assessment that there are only "far" options on the menu. The Democrats occupy the whole spectrum from center to ... Well, I don't consider even AOC/Bernie to be that far left, especially compared to what was in the Soviet Union and other Eastern Europe socialist states.

And I definitely don't see Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi or Gavin Newsom as politicians who would lead to a "woke police state".

As long as there is a viable Republican option, the Democrats can’t veer too much to the left. If that option was gone, they would be less inhibited. And the cancel culture tendency sure is there.

Basically America has one anti-democratic and one anti-freedom party. I wouldn’t want either to have absolute power.
What are the examples of Democrats being anti-freedom party?

And if there is no viable Republican option, I am pretty confident that the chance of the Democratic party splitting in two is much greater that it becoming an one-party ruler.
The Democrats as a party stand for making rules that limit the freedom of the individual for the benefit of the community, especially the weaker members. In a country where at least a third of the population would rather die from COVID than accept a vaccine mandate, that is a problem.

Answer me this: Which of the following two alternatives is the correct one:
A) 47% of Americans voted for Trump because they are all racists and fascists.
or B) 47% of Americans voted for Trump because they feared that the Democrats would take something away from them that is one of their core values.

Personally I believe the correct answer is B), and the value the 47% fear losing is individual freedom. And I don’t believe that the Democrats can ever get rid of the Republican party as long as they aren’t able to understand and address that particular fear.
Wanting to introduce some rules that limit some specifics freedoms (like the freedom to carry a potentially deadly disease, or the freedom to carry deadly weapons) doesn't inherently make a party "anti-freedom".

Both parties want to introduce rules that limit certain freedoms, the only difference is which ones.

The recent Texas anti-abortion law strikes me as particularly anti-freedom, much worse than any recent Democratic laws.
This is such an odd argument coming from someone who has lived in countries that already limit personal freedoms more then even the "far left" dems would do.
Republicans want to limit freedoms even more then Democrats do. They are a party driven to follow the "values" established by white Christian evangelicals and limit freedoms for anyone who disagrees or doesn't align with that viewpoint.

If the religious right in America had their we'd see a lot of similarities to how groups like the Taliban handle social issues.
So, if the Democrats stand for pro-everything good, why are 47% of Americans reluctant to vote for them? If your answer is some version of “those 47% are idiots”, the Democrats will never achieve lasting power.
Because it's much more complicated then Democrats are good and Republicans are bad. Who Americans vote for depends on a number of things and can be decided by complex reasons like socio-economic policy or simple reasons like "my parents told me too". In a society where most people don't care about or follow politics it's not surprising that Facebook, Twitter and who you happen to be around have more sway on who you vote for then policies or actions.

Both parties have a tons of problems. I would never say the Democratic party is "good" because I don't believe ANY political party to be good. Politicans are typically out for their own
interests no matter what party they come from.

Both parties protect the interests of corporations over the average citizen. Both parties protect the interests of the ultra wealthy. Both parties try to maintain the status quo on social mobility. Both parties support funneling millions of dollars towards nation states that oppress undesirables. Both parties refuse to curtail our out of control military industrial complex. Both parties are full of members who virtue signal and then do nothing of note for the people they supposedly care about. Both parties take bribes from corporations and the ultra wealthy. Both parties have stupid "purity" tests for members where you need to showcase the farthest right or left views of your party to be a "true" member.

The key difference however is that for the last 5 years one party has also tried to create a dictatorship. And now that party is purging those not loyal to the would be dictator.

For as much as I have issues with Democrats like Biden for their past voting records I will never support a party that is actively trying to make the US a one party state.

My hope is that the God Emperor loses his next attempt at gaining office and the Republican party returns to a more moderate platform. Then we can return to a state of normalcy where moderates control policy creation again.
I agree with Bigeye's post.
The Democrats are clearly no angels, but they are a normal political party, no better or worse than the average mainstream Wester European party. They are definitely not the "evil anti-freedom" party that wants to bring a Soviet Union style police state, as Tobold seems to imply so many times in this thread.

As for the "cancel culture" that you are so worried, please consider that it is not a monopoly of the left, the conservatives are also using it with varying success. Some examples:
- Recent calls for banning or boycotting Ben&Jerry icecream (a bit early to tell, buy it looks largely unsuccessful)
- The kicking off of Colin Kaepernick from NFL (Successful, he is still unsigned by any professional football team)
- Public calls by Trump to boycott Coca-Cola and other companies. (Largely unsuccessful)
- Banning the teaching or even mentioning of the so called "critical race theory" (mostly successful in red states, as it is a legislative action where they have full control)
- not to mention fringe efforts that do not get much following or media attention like the calls to boycott Lego toys

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