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.