Following on from the Fini discussion I’ve been thinking about the messy business of rehabilitating former totalitarians. In the United Kingdom, where we’ve been blessed with a nicely whiggish transition from autocracy to democracy, its not really a live issue. Griffin will never become mainstream.
In other parts of the world, its not so easy. Skeletons have a habit of rattling in closets for an uncomfortably long time. It was only last night that the last statue of Franco came down in Madrid.
The problem of rehabilitating former totalitarians isn’t confined to Western Europe. In states with little recent democratic history, its going to be difficult to find competent politicians whose hands are entirely clean.
So, can fascists and other totalitarians ever be “rehabilitated”?
My view is that it is quite possible for those who have espoused fascist positions in the past to move into “cleaner” political territory; just as it is possible for stalinists (and stalinist parties) to become eurocommunist, and so on.
I’m a little warier of accepting the rehabilitation of former extreme rightwingers than extreme left wingers, for three reasons.
First, although extreme left wing parties think that they embody the real will of the bulk of the population, they tend to be poor populists. Extreme right wingers by contrast know how to push populist nationalist and racist buttons. When they come in – or claim to come in – from the cold, they typically carry right on pushing those buttons.
Secondly, even the most extreme leftists tend to start from the position of equality between persons, whereas extreme rightists are typically chauvinists. When extreme rightists move towards the centre, its not inevitable that they accept equality as a fundamental principle.
Thirdly – and this is really a personal thing, I suppose – I have some understanding of how extreme leftists make that transition to democratic politics and sympathy with those who have done so. Many of our best European democrats came out of communist movements. By contrast, I’m always more suspicious of those relative few ex-extreme rightwingers who have successfully embraced democratic politics. Frankly, I think its a try on, and need to be persuaded that it isn’t.
So, in summary, if you’re a prominent national politician and your wife is raising collections for a man who gives a “roman” salute – by default, with your support – at the very least you’re still a populist rightwinger who tolerates extreme nationalist iconography.
Such a person might well not technically be a fascist, but I wouldn’t have tea with him.
Unless, of course, I was the head of state, and he was a minister in a democratically elected government in a fellow member of the European Union.