The Big Difference between the European and American Right

If you were to ask most Americans what the word “conservative” stands for, they’d probably tell you that it stands for someone who believes in small government.

When comes to the U.S., that definition of conservative is actually spot on.

That’s because today in America, the main goal of the Republican Party - the political party of American conservatives - is to weaken government so that corporations and billionaires can write the rules of the game.

As Grover Norquist once said, what American conservatives want to do is “get [government] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Most people assume that this is the case in Europe as well. But while it’s arguably true for the United Kingdom, it’s not true for rest of the continent. And if you look at the platforms of the biggest European far-right parties you’ll find something astonishing: they could care less about drowning government in a bathtub. All they really care about is hating immigrants.

Take France’s National Front, for example, which is led by Marine Le Pen and polls anywhere between 10 and 16 percent every presidential election cycle. Like the Republican Party here in the U.S., the National Front wants to clamp down on immigration and “secure the border.”

But the similarities end there.

Unlike the American far-right, the National Front actually wants to protect the social safety net. Yes, it only wants to protect it for white French people, but that’s still very different than what the Republican Party wants to do here in America, which is slash everyone’s social security and welfare benefits.

A similar situation exists in Greece, where the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party is the leading far-right group. Like the National Front in France, Golden Dawn is all about hating immigrants. And just like the National Front and unlike the American Republican Party, it violently opposes austerity.

The same is also true of the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands. Led by the controversial Geert Wilders - who, by the way, gives Donald Trump some strong competition for the title of wildest political hair - the Party for Freedom is basically all about keeping Muslims out of the Netherlands and saving the welfare state.

So why is it that none of the European hard right parties are talking about shrinking the size of the government?

And why, unlike the Republican Party here in the U.S., do they actually want to save the social safety net, if only for white people?

Well, part of the answer is that modern American conservatives are not actually conservatives, at least in the traditional sense.

Traditional conservatives are really just about resisting change. Like William F. Buckley once said, they “stand athwart the arc of history with their hand up shouting ‘Stop!’”

European far-right parties fit right in with this definition of conservatives. They’re scared of changing demographics and are worried that more Muslims living in their countries will result in “real” French or Dutch citizens losing out on their piece of the economic pie.

This way of thinking is racist and bigoted, but it makes sense from a traditional conservative point of view in which most all change is dangerous and threatening, including demographic change.

American conservatives obviously share some of these racist views - Pat Buchanan's last book lamenting the loss of "white America" is a great example - but their obsession with slashing the social safety net and blocking regulations goes against the true definition of what it means to be a conservative.

If anything, the American right’s push to roll back the New Deal is reactionary because it seeks to overturn the existing order.

That of, course, raises another question: Why do our so-called conservatives here in the U.S. want to do reactionary things like overturn the New Deal? What about America makes our conservatives so non-conservative and reactionary?

The answer can be summed up in one word - "money."

Money is what separates American from European politics and it’s what makes our conservatives so different from European conservatives. Thanks to four decades of Supreme Court rulings that have gutted our campaign finance system, the American political system is now in the hands of the billionaires and the corporate elite.

The war Lewis Powell began with his infamous Powell Memo in 1972 calling on big business to kill labor unions while making the rich so-called "job creators" much richer, got a big boost from the 2010 Citizens United decision.

As a result, we now no longer live in a democracy, we live in an oligarchy, and it’s so screwed up our political system that traditional definitions of what it means to be liberal or conservative no longer hold true.

European far-right parties are racist and borderline fascist, but they have a lot to tell us about how out much farther out of whack the American system really is than even Greece.

Let’s hope we get the message and take money out of politics before it’s too late.


frephill's picture
frephill 8 years 15 weeks ago

I don't understand that platform of small federal government when Thomas Jefferson specifically argued for stronger and bigger government in First Inaugural Speech 1801.

dianhow 8 years 15 weeks ago

How about we drown Grover in the ' bath tub' I am so disgusted with greedy anti middle class goons like Grover , Boehner, Ryan, Mcconnell, DeMint, GOP GOV's Rauner-Scott Walker, Fla Gov who suck up to billionaires, ' Rape ' families of decent wages and benefits Our new IL Gov Rauner at first wanted to DROP MIN WAGE till folks got angry and he BACKED DOWN Thats how we get our country back Scream Holler E-mail- Call -Sign petitions, Demand action.

Speak out @   202 456 1111  202 456 3121 MOST LY GET OUT AND VOTE EVEN IF U R DISGUSTED as millions are If millions more vote WE can TURN THE TIDE FOR WORKERS- FAMILIES- OUR KIDS EDUCATION Screw corp tax cuts- loopholes- subsides that cost US trillions Cut bloated war budget ' Raise SS TAx Cap - Bring back Glass Steagal - No TPP NO Keystone pipleine Tell Obama USE VETO PEN Put back regs on Wall St crooks that GOP just gave them in 2015 ! Raise Holy Hell

RFord's picture
RFord 8 years 15 weeks ago

"Conservatives ", what do conservatives want to concerve? Taxes? Perhaps all conservatives want to pay lower taxes or no taxes but conservative lawmakers only help the wealthy with taxes. Social programs? Conservative lawmakers want to tell us that social programs are being widely abused and draining us of our tax money while not being conserving at all when it comes to military spending. There are two types of conservatives, one is the conservative lawmaker and the other is the conservative voter. The agenda of the two is very different. The conservative voter wants gun rights, no abortion rights. to be protected by our military , welfare abusers punished, and Christianity in our government. On the other hand the conservative lawmaker wants to make money, and help the wealthy make more money and they will help the conservative voter with some of those other issues as long as they keep those votes comming in.

bobbler's picture
bobbler 8 years 15 weeks ago

It seems conservatives are universal haters, but here in America they are even more hateful,madding poor people to their shit list.

chicagotim's picture
chicagotim 8 years 15 weeks ago

So I guess I'm confused. If people that LIVE in France don't want people from other countries to enter their borders and live off the FRENCH safety net, why is that racist? Exactly how many people from third world countries must France take in?

ezwriter's picture
ezwriter 8 years 15 weeks ago

ATTN: Thom Hartmann!

How about introducing some facts about the true state of our economy? This 'agenda' continues to devastate the middle class, and pad the pockets of the rich. I challenge anyone to dispute these facts!

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 8 years 15 weeks ago

The American conservatives Thom refers to, the ones who want to roll back the New Deal, are most certainly a very small group of Economic Royalists, because polls indicate that by far a vast majority of citizens are in favor of social safety net programs like the Social Security Act. In fact an overwhelming majority favor lifting the cap. Even among Teabaggers, it's still only 20% that favor cutting Social Security benefits over lifting the cap. The Economic Royalists seek to overturn the existing order by disregarding the existing will of the vast majority.

I agree that by spending massive amounts of money on elections, the Economic Royalists corrupt our political system, but we still need to consider how that money creates the problem. It creates the problem by enriching corpse media like FOX, who in return broadcast falsehoods, convincing at least 51% to vote against the best interests of the 99.9 %. Despite the corruption of money, at the end of the day it still takes voter belief in the misinformation to place the wrong people in power. This is where I get completely frustrated.....For example, it's a fact that the first thing the Teapublicans did after the midterms was to pass a House rule aimed at cutting Social Security. Very few including the Teabaggers who voted for guys like Tom Reed are in favor of these cuts. The Teapublican lie, this rule was implemented to save the Social Security program. The truth, the vast majority including Reed's Teabaggers want the cap lifted and Reed damn well knows this. How could it be more god damn clear who these wingnuts are working for? I don't care how much money the Kochs are spending, at some point voters just need to spend ten seconds on the truth and pull their heads out of their asses.

cccccttttt 8 years 15 weeks ago

While I stand with progressives on many issues, fail to see their logic on illegal immigration.

How can it not be better for everyone if they stay in their own culture, and solve their own problems of employment and health?

Send them Peace Corp, send them water purifiers and solar tech, but keep them out of countries that already are incapable of giving decent employment to their own citizens.


sacredori's picture
sacredori 8 years 15 weeks ago

There is a large community of minorities here that are French born formerly colonized people. They suffer terrible discrimination. She hates them too. Not so long ago, she said she was in favor of requiring all babies born in France to take "French" names.

upperrnaz12348's picture
upperrnaz12348 8 years 15 weeks ago

There are two other things about European conservatives that distinguish them from American neo-Cons. One, the social legislation that exists began with a Conservative, Otto von Bismarck. It was his idea that the the State is obligated to provide the basic services to the people on an equitable basis, rather than the volunatary system that existed prior to that that. Yes, it was meant to rationalize the services with the result of maintaining stability in the country.

The other factor is the notion of Noblesse Oblige, that the wealth they earn is meant to promote the general welfare. It wasn't "their money", but a public trust. Indeed, to this date, the Brits call their foundations "Trusts", benefits that are provided to support the various sectors in the nation.

The neo-Con approach can only lead to chaos, and disorder in the nation. It's not just the middle class, but the instability, that people don't know if they have enough to support their families creates insecurity, on a great level, as if . . . they are there to serve thier needs at the lowest cost possible.


bobcox's picture
bobcox 8 years 15 weeks ago

Please read ther rant in the Western Journal "a presidential blunder: my response to obama's address at the national prayer breakfast". The company that has the site Western Journal is incorporated in Nevada but the principals are in Arizona. I wonder if the Koch Brothers are sponsoring/payen for this kind of rant.

I found not reference in Obama's talk at the Prayer Breakfast than would be considered to be in error. I heard the original publication on C-SPAN during the prayer breakfast and then yesterday listened to it again and then printed out and read Obama's talk. Interesting how some people can stretch things in order to try to paint someone different than what I think was the truth.

ChicagoMatt 8 years 15 weeks ago

A little gratitude can go a long way. Any time anyone is giving something to someone else, a "thank you" is in order. Not a "gimme" or "try harder" or "you're racist".

An excellent way to show gratitude is assimilation. If you want the benefits of a culture - like the social safety net - you should also take the parts of the culture you don't like - the language and customs.

Living in Chicago, I know a lot of immigrants. We all get along just fine, because we have a shared culture now. Sure, some people still speak their native languages, and some people still wear the traditional clothes of their country. But for the most part, most of the immigrants I encounter every day do their best to blend in.

That might be unique to the big city though. We're kind of expected to be more accepting of different people here. It's more "cosmopolitan" that way. Very few of us - myself included - actually grew up here. We all moved here to make money. Can't blame people for that.

mathboy's picture
mathboy 8 years 15 weeks ago

To be honest, I'd be okay if men's nipples had to be covered in public. I'll give the Montana legislator that one.

chknltl9's picture
chknltl9 8 years 15 weeks ago


You said that for the loyall citizenry who supported the Nazi's durring WWII they needed to be made to face what it was the Nazi's did. I feel that we face a similar circumstance here in the US. I suspect very very few of those loyal to Conservetivism are aware of what those who use the Republican Party are up to. I further suspect that many who call themselves Conservetives, (especially those who primarily get their news from Fox for instance), will re-think their position if exposed to irefutable truths. I think no less of my fellow Americans who are bamboozeled by corporate news than I do of those German citizens who were equally bamboozeled by the Nazi propaganda machine prior to and during WWII.

I would like to propose to you that you dedicate one day per month, (weekly if successful), to an honest chat on your show strictly to Consevetive Americans. The goal of course is to educate, to enlighten and to debunk. With a bit of marketing on your end, I believe, (hope), that you may be able to build a following among the Conservetive community large enough to sustain such a show.

thank you

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 8 years 15 weeks ago

ct -- Are you aware of what Thom's stance is on immigration? -c8

sacredori's picture
sacredori 8 years 15 weeks ago

The difference is that here in Europe there are more rights to chip away at before the rightwing can go full on oligarchy. There're working on it though. Today's generation of young people in France have no idea what a decent standard of living is, or what it's like to have a regular work contract.

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