Although its topic is cutting edge and contemporary, Far-right politics in Europe fails to provide incisive analyses and instead settles for copious description, graced by the occasional qualifier. The text is replete with examples and references, but lacks any clear line of argument or defining thesis. The narrative is generally rather unguided and it is without an overall sense of direction. These failings are partially explained by the fact that the book is a translation from French of Les droites extrêmes en Europe. Jean-Yves Camus is an expert on the French far right and radical Islamic groups. He is an associate research fellow of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs and, since 2014, he has run the Observatory of Radical Politics at the Jean Jaurès Foundation, a left-wing Parisian think-tank. Nicolas Lebourg is also situated on the political left in France, with ties to the French Socialist Party. He is a member of Camus's Observatory at the Jean Jaurès Foundation and a research fellow at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University. Both are well-known and well-respected observers of extreme political movements. Despite their left-wing political views, the authors do not force on the reader an ideological bias in their examination of the far right in Europe. Their failing is the lack of a frame of reference, rather than having one which is too strong. The translator, Jane Marie Todd, is an experienced French-to-English practitioner who has won, among others, the Translation Prize of the French–American Foundation. Yet her rendering of the text into English is painfully and offputtingly close to the French. However, given the stylistic proclivities of the authors, it would have been particularly difficult to transmute the book into the kind of prose an English speaker would write and would like to read. For example, ‘this interpretative debate is particularly rich because of the burgeoning of ideologies and taxonomies that occurred within a limited span of space-time’ (p. 21) is the type of unexciting, meandering sentence that frustrates readers looking for a train of thought. The book begins with an introduction that purports to define the far right while avoiding a definition which would have restricted the ability of the authors to go off on multiple tangents: ‘Hence, even if one considers the left–right axis relevant, one must not think that the far right lies to the right of the conservative and liberal parties. The political is multidimensional, and every political field intersects somewhat those adjoining it—but less along a single line than in interconnected spheres, each of them autonomous’ (pp. 42–3). Quite how things which are interconnected can at the same time be autonomous remains unexplained. Thankfully, the introduction does move largely according to a chronology, from the French Revolution to the present. The subsequent chapters rely less on French references than the introduction. Chapter one, ‘What to do after fascism?’, looks at a variety of European countries, while the much shorter second chapter, ‘White power’, covers racist supremacy in many European countries—although, once again, more descriptively than analytically. The third chapter, ‘The new right in all its diversity’, constitutes a grab bag of trends and examples. Chapter four, ‘Religious fundamentalism’, concentrates almost exclusively on Roman Catholicism as a breeding ground for far-right politics, with a passing reference to Judaism. It is tempting to view this as a condemnation by Camus. The remaining chapters, ‘The populist parties’ and ‘What's new in the East?’, are more or less self-explanatory and broadly conform to the earlier ones in their comprehensiveness and their randomness. Only in the extremely brief conclusion do we begin to discern an actual analytical argument. This is typical of a traditional, French intellectual presentation, in which it is necessary to read an entire essay or book before the author offers his thesis at the very end. The book's conclusion is entitled ‘Might the far right cease to be?’, and the authors' answer is ‘no’. This is because the far right, as they describe it, modulates and mutates over time like any other political movement—and will do so especially if it remains significantly radical. The conclusion's first sentence—‘The European far-right field has demonstrated a capacity to adapt to structural changes that no-one in the postwar years would have suspected’—would have made an excellent first sentence of the book. Had this thesis statement been pursued with rigour and discipline, the book could have given readers the full benefit of the authors' extensive knowledge on the subject. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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