The New Far Right International — perhaps we might call it the International Fascist Tendency? — is making headlines worldwide. While Russia has some claim to be its HQ in the Western world, the movement has a presence in most “advanced” nations. It’s a global phenomenon.
Its factions network with each other across national borders; America’s ultra-right CPAC recently held a meeting in Hungary as guests of Orban; Steve Bannon has for years been flying around Europe advising far-right parties on electoral (and insurgent) strategies. Russian oligarchs have nebulous but persistent ties to prominent US, UK, and Canadian far-right figures and actively promote far-right conspiracy theories. American MAGA fans wear pro-Russia t-shirts and oppose aid to Ukraine.
This freewheeling internationalism contrasts oddly with the nativist, isolationist, and nationalist rhetoric of the ultra right parties within each country; but within each country, the sales pitch is remarkably consistent.
Across the world, whatever the timezone or language, the movement is predictably revanchist: nostalgic for a simpler or greater time, some imagined golden era in the past… for the glorious freedom of frontier times, when it was okay to kill indigenous people and own slaves… for “days of old when knights were bold” — and women and peasants were non-persons. For a time when “our kind of people” were the only people who really counted.
The Far Right’s salesmen hammer on a standard list of talking points, all of which revolve around undoing key 20th century advances in democracy, equity, tolerance, secularism, etc. Although the movement appeals widely to an underemployed, insecure “precariat” whose pride is invested in ethnicity, religion, or race — perhaps for want of other opportunity or distinction? — its organisers and funders are often oligarchs, or the devoted servants of oligarchs. And they succeed repeatedly in persuading the proletariat to vote against its own best interests. Many fear they may succeed in convincing the proletariat to vote out democracy altogether.
International Fascist Tendency Talking Points
Many of the IFT talking points have not changed much since the days of the Old Far Right (Franco, Hitler, Mussolini). They can be reduced to a fairly concise list (which obviously bears a familial resemblance to Lawrence Britt’s “fourteen characteristics” and Umberto Eco’s notes on Ur-Fascism):
- Feminism has damaged society, and women need to be put back firmly in their place as breeders and helpmeets under male authority. Women are often seen as replicators of the “true race” (the favoured ethnicity) and their fertility regarded as an essential resource for ethnostatist domination or expansion. Hence abortion and birth control are both considered dangerously subversive of the state and of moral order. Children are the property of their parents (or of their fathers); human rights do not apply to children.
- Modern acceptance of homosexual relationships is a sign of sin (or decadence) and must be reversed. Gay (not to mention trans!) people are deviant, evil, perverse, and should be punished, forcibly “fixed,” or at least pushed back into invisibility and the margins of society. (For the true believers in this platform, gay people undermine the state at least partly by not breeding.)
- Warrior manhood (or bully/thug manhood, a close variant) is the ideal to which all men and boys should strive. Empathy is for sissies (i.e. decadent, corrosive of “core civilisational values”). Male authority is established by dominance and aggression, and on this principle all government should be based.
- Learning and expertise are suspect; the academy as a whole is another dangerous and subversive influence on “civilisation” which needs to be purged/checked/eliminated. Education should be subordinated to religious and nationalist indoctrination. The arts should be handmaidens of state and church. Science is only tolerated if it produces more effective weapons and/or boosts industry. Published science can and should be forced to reflect official ideology rather than facts (see: Lysenkoism in Stalin’s Russia, and various attempts to defund or suppress climate science today). Loyalty is more important than qualifications, credentials, competence or expertise, in the promotion and selection of officials.
- Every nation should have an official State religion whose dogma determines legislative and juridical language and proceedings as well as social norms. Atheism is inherently subversive and suspect. Religions other than [fill in the blank] are heretical and offensive to the True God. Only the Official Religion can instill suitable moral standards in the people, therefore religious instruction must be part of public schooling. Separation of church and state is a bug not a feature, an aberration to be corrected.
- The Holy Book of the official state religion is inerrant, and should be interpreted as literally as possible. It cannot be critiqued or challenged. It is the ultimate arbiter of morality, ethics, and law. (The current Speaker of the House in the US — a powerful position — when asked by a reporter what his position was on some issues, recommended that people “read the Bible” in order to discover his position on anything.)
- Every nation inherently belongs to a pre-defined ethnicity, and people of that ethnic demographic are the only “true” citizens of that nation. The existence or introduction of other ethnicities is a “weakening” of the body politic and should be resisted. Hence, immigration is a danger to society. So is mixed-race (or mixed-faith) marriage. Ethnic minorities are viewed with suspicion, hostility, and/or contempt.
- War is the best and most just method for resolving conflicts between nations: let the strongest prevail. Military defeat is a sign of weakness springing from immorality and/or irreligiosity and/or decadence. [Unless, of course, it is the nationalist true believer’s own nation which was defeated; in which case the defeat is due to betrayal and sabotage from within by “undesirable elements,” who must be rooted out and punished.]
- Arbitrary signs, symbols, or fetishes of the state and the official church (such as flags, uniforms, icons, medals, statues, etc) are sacrosanct, and any person who disrespects them is a criminal. Fascists and tinpot dictators are notoriously attached to fancy regalia and pseudo-religious, ornate symbols and ceremonies of power; so were tribal chieftains and archaic warlords and emperors.
- Democracy is suspect, and a “weak” form of government. A single party with a strong Leader/King is the most effective form of government. A free press is undesirable — dangerous and subversive. Journalists and media presenters should be handmaidens of state and church; state censorship is necessary, sensible, and virtuous, because the people must be protected from destabilising information. (Concentration of media ownership in the hands of a very few oligarchs may be just as effective for this purpose as heavy-handed state intervention.)
- Socialism and communism are the work of the Devil (and often arbitrarily blamed for anything undesirable). Private property is sacrosanct, and class/caste hierarchy is natural and/or divinely ordained. Empathy or compassion for underdogs or “losers” is unmanly (see above) and hence subversive and corrosive of core civilisational values. [Note: this hostility to state funding of public amenities may be overcome, if the amenities in question can be reserved only for the preferred ethnicity.]
- One optional but popular ingredient in this ideological stew is anti-Semitism, often found in European and N American variants of the platform. More generally, conspiracy theories form a large part of the agitprop: we will find both modern variants like QAnon fables or “reptilians,” and hoary old standards like Masons, Rothschilds, Illuminati, WEF, the UN, “globalists,” etc. There is always a sinister, hidden internal enemy to be feared, exposed, and destroyed. Globalism in general (despite the fortunes oligarchs have extracted from its opportunities) is mistrusted, because all states are seen as natural rivals (of religion, territorial interest, and ethnicity) and larger structures of governance or cooperation are seen as diluting and “weakening” the autonomy of the ethno-state and its freedom to compete for territory and dominance.
A Long and Distinguished Pedigree
One can easily recognise in this platform or catechism the “Christian Nationalist” programme underway in the US (aka “christofascism”); the cosy relationship between the Putin regime and the Orthodox Church; the rhetoric of Putin, Orban, and other far-right figures, and the various misogynist, homophobic and anti-intellectual ventures of far-right governments throughout “the West”. But one can also recognise it in the rhetoric of some extremist Muslim factions, and in the politics of the Modi faction in India or the Haredi bloc of Likud supporters in Israel.
We recognise it also, of course, in the well-documented track record of that poster child and cautionary tale, the Nazi regime of mid 20th century Germany. It’s all there: the ethnostatism and “blood purity” obsession; the assault on the academy and schools; the book burnings; the warrior-manhood ethic and glorification of war; the homophobia, misogyny and natalism. All the boxes are checked. In fact, when we see this kind of political movement or cult in modern life, we often call it “neo-Nazism” or “neo-fascism,” in memory of its paramount 20th century incarnations.
But this ideology, this mindset or headspace or whatever we wish to call it, actually predates the 20th century’s ghastly wars — by millennia. The Nazis and the Fascists don’t hold the original copyright; they were latecomers to the barbarity party.
Many of the beliefs and values espoused in this ultra-right platform are nearly indistinguishable from those of any Bronze Age city-state — and most of the official state religions promoted by aficionados of the platform are based on Holy Books dating from… that same period.
It’s for this reason that I am now calling the New Far Right International — the International Fascist Tendency — the Bronze Age Backlash. What it amounts to is a war on modernity itself, and a hankering to return to archaic warrior-patriarchy.
Enemies of the People
Having described what the New Far Right International is for, it’s pretty easy to understand and predict what it is against:
Science, because science bases its conclusions on evidence acquired independently by the empirical method, not on the unquestioned authority of priests or kings; science tells us things like “men and women are more similar as humans than they are different as sexes,” “homosexual behaviour is a natural variation among humans and other animals,” “race is an imaginary construct” — oh yes, and “continuing to burn fossil fuels is going to do us in.”
Even worse, “The Universe is an unimaginably big place and we are not the centre of it.” And “Time is very deep and we humans are very recent; we are a product of unfolding evolution, not the end user for whom it was all designed.”
And worst of all, “There is no evidence for the existence of gods.”
All of which (and more!) contradict time-honoured barbarian/peasant preconceptions about…
- the absolute alienness of people with different genotypes;
- the absolute binary (and hierarchical ranking) between men and women;
- the absolutely unique rightness of our own particular culture/foodways/gods;
- the earth as an environment especially created for humans by an anthropomorphised Creator;
…and so on. Science requires us to put away our fairy-tales and engage with reality. But Bronze Age people will literally die and kill for their fairy tales.
Secularism, because secularism implies governance and social conventions (more or less) based on science (and good manners) rather than on arbitrary strictures and legends in various Bronze Age (or later) religions. Rational jurisprudence and governance (like science) are more complex, nuanced, and sometimes counterintuitive than the gratifying simplicity of fairy tales, fables, and national myths. A post-enlightenment, empirical approach to governance also requires adapting to new information and changing conditions — the polar opposite of staunch adherence to unerring and invariant scripture. [Note that in American politics, the Federalist Society and similar blocs now regard the nation’s founding documents as something very similar to an inerrant and unalterable religious text.]
Democracy, because democracy presupposes secularist concepts like universal human rights (as for example between men and women, straight people and gay people, people of different skin colours and accents and languages and religions etc). Modern democracies practise separation between church and state, and tolerate the private practise of multiple faiths. Democracy also replaces and devalues the time-honoured barbarian/peasant belief in feudalism and kingship, in divine endorsement of a “rightful king,” in the rightful rule of dominant males of “good bloodline” and specific ethnicity, etc. Democracy implies the rule of laws, not men; and requires civic loyalty to ideals and principles, not to feudal overlords.
The Past Fights The Future
Political struggle can be defined and described using many spectra or axes. Traditionally we talk about Left and Right, Progressive and Conservative: positions or parties mostly described by attitudes to private property, the conduct of commerce, and the appropriate distribution of wealth.
But there is another graph on which we can plot our political differences: Archaism vs Modernity. In our time, the left/right divide has morphed into a divide between an antique and a modern sensibility and ethic.
In the antique or archaic system we have a political universe centred on the king/warlord/strongman — a charismatic figure who may be seen as divinely appointed, or even as a god or demigod — and a feudal hierarchy of “nobles” who swear personal loyalty to the king. Those nobles may then command the feudal loyalty of propertied inferiors, and so on down the food chain until we reach the peasants, whose “loyalty” is merely obedience compelled by fear of violence from those above. In this system, virtue is equal to loyalty, and loyalty is to persons above oneself in a hierarchy, not to one’s co-equals. Loyalty is fealty, not solidarity. The people exist in order to do the will of the king.
In the modern, post-enlightenment system, we have the ideal of either direct or representative democracy: the idea that the government enacts the will of the people whether by referendum (direct) or through the medium of elected politicians who undertake to represent faithfully the priorities and wishes of their electorates. Kingship, warlordism, rule by a noble elite or clique, is seen as tyranny; and citizen loyalty is to ideals or abstractions. A serving member of a modern parliament or military swears loyalty not to the reigning king or queen, not to whoever is the current President or Prime Minister — but to the constitution of the nation. Loyalty is institutional, national, ethical, conceptual — not personal. And human solidarity is a foundational value: citizens are expected to be loyal to one another, to participate in good faith in the common project of building a better life for everyone.
In a modern nation-state governed on liberal-democratic lines, a permanent professional administrative bureaucracy is loyal to the institutions it serves and to the nation as an abstract entity — not to a particular patron, party, or feudal overlord. Scientists are loyal to the empirical method and their professional ethics, as are doctors; lawyers are loyal to the juridical principles of the nation and the accumulated corpus of law and precedent. Journalists are loyal to the truth.
This is a novel kind of loyalty for humans; we have spent millennia being loyal first to close kindred, then to clan, then to kings. To take our solemn oath to an abstract principle like “truth” or “justice” is a fairly recent development. Much of the literature of the 19th and 20th centuries is about the struggle of individuals to keep their integrity (their loyalty to abstract ideals or to the truth) in face of strong pressure from their peers or from powerful interests (the Socrates or Galileo story as told and re-told by moderns); much of the heroic literature of the Bronze Age is about the hero’s stubborn insistence on remaining loyal to his fellow warriors or liege lord (or his gods) even unto death (the Song of Roland or Spartan story).
Old habits die hard, and not all humans have embraced modernity. We still have a sentimental (or, worryingly, a practical) nostalgia for kings and gods and an immediate, personal hierarchy of dominant males enforcing loyalty and rank by brute force. Organisations persist — such as cults, and various mafias and other underworld social structures — in which the antique feudal rules of loyalty and virtue prevail. And we still have people who try to bring those archaic rules and standards into modern civic and political life, setting up cults of personality around king-like figures even within the context of modern democracies. The past is actively fighting the future.
The Men Who Would Be Kings
The former Soviet Union, technically about as much “of the Left” as it gets (being Communist), under Stalin became a neofeudal, mafia-like state despite its allegedly forward-looking socialist principles. Science and the arts were suppressed and a Strong Man Leader Figure became almost (not quite) deified, the subject of an official mythology which served as a kind of state religion. The worship of Lenin’s body is hardly distinguishable from mediaeval worship of the relics of saints; official biographers created a hagiography of Stalin that was no more reality-based than any Lives of the Saints ever written. Despite catapulting a backward citizenry brutally into forced industrialisation (and even into excellence in some fields of study and engineering), the USSR remained a pre-modern authoritarian society with a de facto Tsar — and his obsequious court of feudal retainers, cronies, and Georgian countrymen — at the top.
The USSR collapsed under its own internal contradictions, then made a brief attempt at modernity (glasnost, democracy, open society) before relapsing into a new feudalistic power structure, this one organised under a Godfather who learned his trade in the old KGB. Like every warlord/king before him, he handed out wealth and goods to his loyal retainers (the oligarchs) and in return expected obedience and service. New books were written for Russian children, instructing them in an inventively hagiographic biography of the Big Man. Russia apparently transitioned from “hard left” to “hard right,” communism to capitalism, socialism to privatisation… and yet in another sense nothing at all changed; its top-down political organisation was feudalistic and based on kingship and personal loyalty networks, and it remained so.
In the US today, there are attempts to create a cult of personality and royalty around the unlikely figure of Donald Trump. Those close to Trump say, in memoir and interview, that he understands only personal loyalty reinforced by rewards and threats; in essence he, too, is a wannabe Godfather or king, surrounded by an obsequious court, wishing to rule absolutely over a nation of powerless peasants, inviting his barons and henchmen to kiss the ring. He has parlayed his celebrity status and cult following into an extraordinary degree of control over what was once a semi-respectable political party (the Republicans); few dare speak against him.
True to historical form, some of his MAGA followers imbue him with divine qualities and believe he is “destined” to lead the country into some great visionary future. Their sycophantic folk art reveals startling fantasies: Trump as Rambo, Trump as George Washington, Trump with Jesus. A new hagiography is being born. The oligarchs meanwhile are content if he merely reduces both taxation and regulation to a risible level… so they can get on with constructing their own little fiefdoms, command structures, and personal loyalty networks based on the power of money.
Not surprisingly, the people who find Trump an attractive kingly or messianic figure are often pre-modern in other ways. Generally speaking: They are mistrustful or skeptical of science. They believe that an official State religion would be a good thing. They are intolerant of homosexuality and hostile to full citizenship for women. They tend to subscribe to theories of racial supremacy and ethnostatism. They are deeply attached not only to fundamentalist, simplistic religious dogma, but to nationalist myths and legends. They are startlingly (in the internet age) ignorant of world affairs, history, literature, philosophy, even of the political structures and laws of their own country. They ascribe magical and malign powers to modern technologies beyond their comprehension (such as “5G” or “vaccines”).
In other words, they are just about as ignorant and superstitious as their mediaeval peasant or petty baron counterparts would have been a millennium earlier. Their beliefs and values are consistent: they are not far removed from the beliefs and values of Bronze Age barbarians.
Choosing Our Future
In summary: the political struggle of our time — a time in which the IFT is popping up all over the world — is not so much between left and right, between one economic or monetary theory and another, as it is between antiquity and modernity, between the archaic and the modern. A war is being waged to discredit and roll back modernity, to revoke the Enlightenment and restore Bronze Age values and ethics.
We need to come to grips with an uncomfortable reality: a substantial minority among us would dearly like to forget and erase all the achievements of the Age of Reason and the institutions of democratic governance. They prefer some kind of theocratic warrior-patriarchy in which loyalty is not given to ideals and principles, but exacted by powerful men… in which truth is not determined by rational inquiry and the empirical method, but by consulting Bronze Age religious texts… in which conflicts are not resolved by diplomacy and negotiation, but by brutal warfare for racial/ethnic supremacy… in which the privileges of a “noble” elite are unchallenged, and stark inequity is justified as the natural order of things… in which the common people are allowed to languish in illiteracy, superstition, and precarity, the “natural prey” of a predatory ruling class.
The question before us now — as we read poll results in gobsmacked alarm, await election results with bitten fingernails, and witness our judiciary fighting a last-ditch battle to preserve modern rights theory and democratic governance — is whether we really wish to preserve and continue the extraordinary experiment that is modernity, or sink back into the comfortable and familiar world of theocracy and despotism. This question confronts every nation.
The Bronze Age revanchists are everywhere, and currently empowered by each others’ excess and success. It is going to take a concerted effort to defeat the barbarians inside the gates. Is modernity worth fighting for? I hope that we think it is.
Personally, it is my ardent hope that the Bronze Age Backlash is the last hurrah of barbarity, superstition, and feudalism; that the ugliness and desperation of far-right attempts to subvert democracy and install theo-fascism and ethnostatism spring from their own sense that their time has passed, that the world has moved on. I hope that these are the last convulsions of expiring Bronze Age warrior-patriarchy — a panicking King Cnut with wet feet, screaming at the incoming tide of the future. But this is hope, not certainty.
Only time will tell which choice humanity made at this (frankly) terrifying juncture. But the stakes could not be higher. With climate chaos breathing down our necks, the revanchist path is likely to make disasters more disastrous, foreclosing any hope of mitigating the disruptions coming our way. There are many anti-science, obscurantist articles of faith among the Bronze Age Backlash — but contempt and disregard for the natural world and specifically for climate change is high on that list.
Even with all the best tools that modernity can devise, the next century is likely to be anything from extremely challenging to catastrophic for our global civilisation. If Bronze Age barbarians get control of our governments, “catastrophic” becomes guaranteed: they will take no action on a crisis they don’t believe in. They will refuse to participate in any globally coordinated response. Many even believe that the End of the World is a good idea, ushering in some millenarist fantasy of resurrection and retribution. And even if they were somehow to acknowledge the crisis, meaningful action would require the unravelling of strong networks of personal loyalty and feudal obligation between the fossil oligarchs and their retainers, courtiers, and creatures.
The Bronze Age Backlash could very well return humanity literally to the Bronze Age (but in far more adverse conditions). We live in interesting times indeed.
Major hat tip to Curtis White’s lovely essay, The Barbaric Heart, to which I return repeatedly for inspiration.
Whew, that was a long read. If you stuck with it this far, it’s just possible that you might also enjoy…
And by the way: I don’t use AI for text. A human wrote all these words, even if an AI made the copyright-free illustrations.