The Narrative of European Civilization within Radical Right Discourse

Oswald Mosley being saluted by fascists in Bristol, Eng., 1934.

The idea of European civilisation is repeatedly evoked by a range of different actors within radical right movements in the West. Paradoxically, whilst much of the European radical right is resistant to the European Union as a political project, many elements of radical right discourse return to the idea of Europe as a homogenous culture. Such discourse finds parallels in the language of the radical right in the early twentieth century, although in different contexts. In these radical right discourses, the concept of European civilisation takes a disturbing, and racialized, turn.

For example, by the late 1930s, the American poet Ezra Pound had enthusiastically embraced the political projects of both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. In the period immediately preceding the Second World War, Pound returned regularly to the idea of Europe in his pro-Fascist writing. Pound wrote supportively of the idea of a unified Europe run on Fascist principles. In his article ‘United States of Europe’ (1938), he wrote that ‘the most intelligent men in Europe are thinking EUROPE’ – a unified culture based on shared civilisation. For Pound, as he made clear in his article ‘European Paideuma’, published in the following year (1939), the best of European civilisation consisted of its pagan, pre-Christian rituals. In typically racialized, anti-semitic language, he described Christianity as ‘full of Semitic microbes’. At its heart, Europe was, he wrote, distinct from the ‘Semitic’ and ‘Arabian’ cultures of the Near East. Pre-Christian dances and fertility rites provided the basis for a shared European pulse. The ritualised forms of Fascist culture were, to Pound’s anti-semitic imagination, pointing the way to a new unified European culture, purged of its Jewish and Middle Eastern elements. Such a culture, for Pound as for other radical right writers and demagogues, looked to the classical past of Greece and Rome for inspiration.

The appeal to notions of European identity in the imagination of the contemporary radical right has different meanings in different contexts. In the United States, this appeal may be read as an attempt to provide white racist groups with a broader cultural hinterland. Identity Evropa (rebranded as American Identity Movement in March 2019), one of the radical right extremist groups that were involved in the August 2017 Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, place the notion of European culture at the centre of their rhetoric and symbolism. Nathan Damigo, the war veteran who founded the group in 2016, has said that ‘America was founded as a white country – as a country for people of European heritage.’ The second part of Damigo’s statement is key, and speaks to the group’s attempt to use ‘identity politics’ (a concept ironically often heavily disparaged in right-wing circles) to provide a framework for a familiar white nationalismracism. Damigo has also said of his childhood, ‘many of my friends who were non-white – they were maybe Filipino or something like that – they had their own cultures and a very tight-knit kind of group thing going on’. Identity Evropa’s attempt to provide its ‘own culture’ based around ideas of European origin has, as we shall see, parallels in the rhetoric of early to mid-twentieth-century Fascism. Damigo, inspired by the identitarian politics of the radical right in Europe itself,[1] has promoted the group’s politics as defending ‘European interests’. In an echo of the aesthetics of Italian Fascism and German National Socialism, the movement have used images of ‘Classical’ statuary – gesturing towards the art of ancient Greece and Rome – in their promotional material.

References to early twentieth-century Fascism are plentiful amongst these movements. Eliott Kline (alias ‘Eli Mosley’, Damigo’s short-lived successor as leader of Identity Evropa)[2], deliberately chose his surname as a tribute to Oswald Mosley, the head of the British Union of Fascists.

Like Pound, Oswald Mosley had called for a ‘united Europe’ in 1938. Also like Pound, Mosley saw European integrity as under threat from an unspecified Jewish threat that the former Leader of the British Union of Fascists associated with the League of Nations and its successor organisation, the United Nations. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Mosley’s The Alternative (1947) proposed the idea of ‘Europe a nation’, a pan-nationalist, unified continent sharing common roots and culture. The racist rhetoric of the project was also demonstrated in Mosley’s belief in the status of Africa as a giant colony, in which apartheid should be practised throughout all territories.

That Mosley was referenced several times by the killer of 50 in a Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, suggests the continued influence that twentieth-century Fascism holds over the contemporary radical right mindset. Key to these figures continued influence is their imagined defence of a ‘European’[3] civilisation against the Other. This Other may be Jewish, black or Muslim; at the core of these hateful ideologies lies an anxiety about the fragility of white racial identification and its accompanying cultural forms.

In 1940, Ezra Pound wrote to Otto Bird extolling European culture, again complaining of the ‘Jewish’ influence in Christianity: ‘all Biblical influence is merely rotten so far as my thought is concerned’. ‘Justice and measure are Roman… The European good’. Pound goes on to distinguish between two ‘concepts’ he sees as fundamental to understanding culture: ‘The European and the non-European’. For Pound, increasingly influenced by Nazi-Fascism, the two were poles apart. It is worth pointing out that these myths are inherently unstable. In the ancient Greek myth of Europa itself, the figure of Europa is a Phoenician princess brought across the Mediterranean to Crete. Europa – whose name is so strongly identified with the continent of Europe – is a Middle Eastern figure, a migrant. Europe’s borders and boundaries have always been fluid, never settled. A narrative that the mainstream needs to grasp a hold of when combating ‘Europeanist’ narratives propagated by the radical right.

Dr David Barnes is a Senior Career Fellow at CARR. He has held research and teaching positions at the University of Birmingham, University of Oxford, and the Harrison Institute, University of Virginia. His profile can be found here:

© David Barnes. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).

[1] This is particularly the case with  forms of anti-Muslim agitation associated with the French nouvelle droite; the predecessor of the contemporary global identitarian movement.

[2] He resigned after it came to light that he had lied about serving in the Iraq war.

[3] A word sometimes used interchangeably with ‘white’ but often suggesting a cultural hegemony that at once includes racial hegemony but extends beyond it