When you’ve had enough lefty nonsense for one day

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Article
L.D.P.DePascale@uvt.nl De Pascale
23/03/2018

In a speech about the 2015 Greek elections at the European Parliament, Nigel Farage stated the following: 'The European project is the very antithesis of the democratic principle'.

I will consider democracy as the key concept of this article, analyzing it in terms of the point of view of former UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Farage (he has been the leader of UKIP from 2010 to 2016. UKIP’s current leader is Henry Bolton). The main purpose of the article is to examine Farage’s ideology. 

New right democracy

To understand Farage’s ideology, it is useful to first analyze the concept of democracy itself, or more in particular analyze the intertextual connection (Blommaert, 2005) between Farage's discourse on democracy, and how democracy was defined by key figures in the establishment of the New Right ideology. The New Right can be understood as the contemporary articulation of the two-centuries-old battle against the Enlighentment ideology (Maly, 2018), the so-called anti-Enlightenment tradition (Sternhell, 2010). Concretely, I will analyse the concept of democracy as it is used in the Manifesto of the French New Right, published by de Benoist and Champertier in 2000. These New Right intellectuals incorporated 'democracy' as a key-concept in their New Right manifesto.

The fact that the definition of democracy is a source of numerous debates in the social sciences (Keane 2009; Tilly 2007), should be noted, as argued in Populism in Europe and the Americas: threat or corrective for democracy? (Mudde & Rovira Kaltwasser, 2012). According to Mudde and Kaltwasser, with the term democracy we can refer to the so-called 'democracy with adjectives' (liberal democracy, radical democracy) or to the concept of democracy 'without adjectives'.

In the Manifesto, democracy is defined as a 'system whereby the people are sovereign'. In this case, de Benoist and Champetier are denoting democracy without adjectives and this means that our key concept can be linked to a set of two other political concepts the notion of populism and, more importantly, nationalism. Democracy is then understood as the voice of the people; of the nation.

Populism is another highly debated concept that is generally used to describe the right wing challenger parties in Europe (Mudde & Rovira Kaltwasser, 2017) and therefore it also refers to our main subject: UKIP and Nigel Farage. Is Farage a populist just because he belongs to a right wing party? I would argue that belonging to a right wing party isn't enough in order to be called a populist, as populism is not so much about ideology, as it is about using a certain communicative frame that shapes an image of the politician who uses this frame as the one speaking in name of the people and opposing the 'elite'; the 'establishment'.

 

At the end of this video of Farage speaking at Trump rally in Jackson, MS, he declares: 'Anything is possible if enough decent people are prepared to stand up against the establishment'. This attitude is in accordance to what Mudde and Kaltwasser (2017) interpret as populism: a 'light-ideology' in which the people resist the élite'.

Moreover, in this video, which was published by Farage himself on his Twitter account, he states the following: 'We don’t want to be bossed around by un-elected bureaucrats, we want to make our own decisions'. This is in line with what can be defined as populist, as they are the ones who (pretend to) speak with the voice of the people, who construct that voice and, at the same time, need the support from that people. In this type of discourse, democracy is all about the voice of a people, of a nation. This is also in line with the fundamental principle of the New Right conceptualization of democracy. According to the Manifesto of the French New Right: democracy is only possible in a nation. Only 'If the individual considers himself to be part of a community, then he will behave as a citizen in a democracy (de Benoist and Champetier, 2000). 

Nigel Farage has reinvented British democracy

In this New Right ideology, the principle of political equality is recognized as a fundamental principle of 'democracy'. It is this recognition of democracy and equality that distinguishes New Right ideology from pre-WWII articulations of the anti-Enlightenment tradtion. However, this acceptance of democracy and equality comes with a redefinition. The New Right conceptualization has nothing to do with Enlightenment thinking about 'equality' anymore. On the contrary, whereas Enlightenment thinkers understood the 'equality of all men' as a universal principle, de Benoist and Champetier explicity say that to them ''Democratic equality is not an anthropological principle (it tells us nothing about the nature of man); it does not claim that all men are naturally equal, but only that all citizens are politically equal, because they all belong to the same political body'.  Equality to them  is a 'substantial equality', or a nationalist and not an Enlightenment conception of equality(de Benoist and Champetier, 2000), whose greater expression is represented by the right to vote. Substantial equality is equality for the members of the nation, it is what distinguishes citizens and non-citizens

 

The question then is, does Farage's discourse about democracy and the principle of equality truly belong to the Enlightenment tradition or does it belong to the anti-Enlightenment one? Before we can answer this question, we must understand Farage's use of the concept of democracy as we need to compare it with the two ideological  traditions.

Enlightenment and anti-Enlightenment

The battle for democracy has always been at the center of political debates since the end of the World War II, but this notion can be traced back to more ancient times: to the debates of the ancient Greeks and of the ancient Germans (de Benoist & Champertier, 2000). Requests for a more democratic state can be found as central arguments in the American (1765-1783) and French (1789) revolutions. In fact, democracy became an important element of the Constitutions that were born from those revolutions.

In its Enlightenment theoretisation, democracy is first and foremost an ideology (intended as a series of ideas) that was born in the 18th century, with the dawn of the Enlightenment, the 'Age of Reason'. During this century, ideas such as liberty, progress, tolerance and fraternity [1] were developed by the philosophers of that time, such as Rousseau and Diderot, who, therefore, spread these same ideas to the population, through the help of 'pamphlets'. The revolutions of the 1700s were indeed originated by the population. Modern democracy is inherently connected to the so-called (radical) Enlightenment:

‘Enlightenment is, hence, best characterized as the quest for human amelioration occurring between 1680 and 1800, driven principally by ‘philosophy,’ […] leading to revolutions in ideas and attitudes first, and practical revolutions second, or else the other way around, both sets of revolutions seeking universal recipes for all mankind and, ultimately, in its radical manifestation, laying the foundations for modern basic human rights and freedoms and representative democracy.’ (Israel, 2011)

Opposed to the Enlightenment tradition is the anti-Enlightenment tradition (Sternhell, 2010). The main characteristics of these two can be summarized with a few key words: 'liberalism, socialism and anarchism' for the first one; 'conservativism, fascism, nazism, new right and alt-right' for the latter (Sternhall, 2010).

To truly know where to position Nigel Farage, I will analyze his discourse on democracy. The ideology is, in fact, created through the discourse, which constitutes the power of the ideology itself: Discourse is not simply that which translates struggles or systems of domination, but is the thing for which and by which there is struggle, discourse is the power which is to be seized' (Young, 1990). Understanding how Farage gives meaning to democracy, allows us to identify in which tradition he is speaking.

Judging from the title of this page on the UKIP official website, it is clear that identity is the key word of Farage’s discourse. In particular, the identity of the British people. In this case, democracy takes the shape of a “conservative” democracy, losing its original Enlightenment meaning, which included notions such as equality, rationalism, pluralism and natural rights. Democracy here is intended as a synonym for the nation and we can see an analogy with the discourse of Bart De Wever, the leader of the New Flemish Alliance, an anti-Enlightenment party in Belgium (Maly, 2016):

 'The Flemings are a community of six million people formed by destiny, who can recognise themselves as players on the same team because they have a name. We are ‘The Flemings’. We know exactly about whom we speak. The Flemings have a territory, a common history and a cultural pattern. That binds us to each other at such a level that we can communicate and act with each other more easily than with outsiders. [...] There is also a subjective element. You should also want it. If you don't want to be a Fleming you won't recognise the objective factors' (De Wever, 2009)

Democracy is not interpreted as an Enlightenment ideology anymore. It's acquired a completely different meaning: an anti-democratic one. This shows that Enlightenment concepts are often used by representatives of right wing parties – like De Wever and Farage – as an instrument to support what is, in reality, an anti-Enlightenment way of thinking.

Nigel Farage is clearly a representative of the new right nationalist movement: it is true that he asks for equality, but not for all people, only for the British people and only in the sense of the right to vote. In fact, his political campaign has always been focused on an anti-immigration policy, fighting to cut down on human rights and save the nation from immigration, as demonstrated by the picture below picture which has the following subheading: 'We must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders'. It is no accident that a core element of Farage’s campaign is the fight against the European Union and Europeanist leaders in general.

The European Union and the erosion of national sovereignty

'When I came here 17 years ago and I said I wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain to leave the EU, you all laughed at me. But you are not laughing now'[2]. It's true: Farage won his 'leaving' campaign and the Brexit is a real phenomenon going on right now.

With this statement, Farage shows one of the central topics of the debate on the European Union, in which he has played a prominent role, namely the reclaimingof English national sovereignty. According to him, and with him many other Euro-sceptics, the creation of a regional organization such as the EU has eroded the sovereignty of the country. The withdrawal from the EU is the most explicit act of reemergence of that national sovereignty in the UK.

The EU is the enemy of democracy

In Farage’s conservative message, the nation is a synonym of democracy, and therefore it isn't surprising that he claims that the EU is the opposite of democracy and attacks Europeanist leaders, as he does here and as he did during the above-mentioned 2015 speech at the European Parliament, when he criticized the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, for having maintained that 'there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties'. Farage is not critizing the EU as an enemy of democracy in order to democratize the EU; he is critizing the EU to further a nationalistic goal. All supra-national institutions are seen as anti-democratic.

Farage can thus be considered a representative of what is referred to as the 'soft' version of the anti-Enlightenment tradition. This school of thought uses Enlightenment concepts like freedom, equality and democracy, but furthers a different goal.  It talks about ameliorating democracy with referenda, but in fact it is targetting the Enlightenment ideology of democracy and representative democracy. And what is the most important referendum that Farage promoted last year? The Brexit one, for which the Leave.eu campaign (https://leave.eu) was founded by Arron Banks and Richard Tice, which was largely supported by Farage.

Selling nationalism as democracy

Just as Donald Trump, Nigel Farage uses what Edmund Burke – the first representative of conservatism –  calls 'ideas as imagery' (Maly, 2016): he pushed 'real people' to believe in an independent United Kingdom and he managed to realize that dream. Just as Trump's discourse, Farage's is also one that is focused on the following values: nationalism is combined with racism, anti-migration standpoints and a resistance against globalism. This is the dominant discourse in Europe (Maly, 2007, 2009, 2012 & 2016).

Another element shared by these two politicians (who support each other, as shown here and here) is what Burke (1939) defines as the 'unification device'. The using of vague discourses, focused on anti-migration and ethno-cultural nationalism, allow for the unification of 'the people' (Maly, 2016). The vagueness in Farage's discourse can be found, for example, in this video, where he criticizes Trump for 'showing poor judgement' because he retweeted anti-Muslim videos. This demonstrates how Farage distances himself from whatever is explicitly racist or radical (even if it is his own party, as in this video). 

Through 'flexible nationalism' (Maly, 2016), nationalist politicians are able to say radical - and racist - things, without them being identified as such. This demonstrates that the aim of politicians - especially the representatives of right wing parties - is to gain voters. To do that, they need a flexible discourse that appriopriates popular concepts (the 'conservative' democracy in the case of Nigel Farage), but also the help of mass media, especially in these times, where everything (in particular the political debate) revolves around 'online' communication. 

 

Endnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Enlightenment

[2] http://www.straitstimes.com/world/europe/nigel-farage-the-populist-who-p...

 

References

Burke, K. (1939-1940). The rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle’. The Southern Review, (1939- 1940) 

de Benoist, A., & Champetier, C. (2000). Manifesto of the French New Right.

Israel, J. (2011). Democractic Enlightenment. Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. Pg. 7.

J. Keane, and W. Merkel (eds.) (2011) The Future of Representative Democracy . New York, Cambridge

Maly, I. (2016). ‘Scientific’ nationalism. Nations And Nationalism, 22(2), 266-286. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/nana.12144

Maly, I. (2016). Why Trump Won.

Mudde, C., & Rovira Kaltwasser, C. (2017). Populism: A Very Short Introduction.

Mudde, C., & Rovira Kaltwasser, C. (2012). Populism in Europe and the Americas. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge University Press.

Oborne, P. (2017). How Nigel Farage gave British democracy back to the voters | The Spectator.

Sternhell, Z. (2010). The anti-enlightenment tradition. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Tilly,C. (2007) Democracy . Cambridge: Cambridge

Young, R. (1990). Untying the text. London [u.a.]: Routledge.

The EU is the enemy of democracy and if Greece stands firm, the free world will applaud them. (2017). UKIP.