The World of the Radical Right

The World of the Radical Right

A roundtable discussion on the global networks and political strategies of nationalist conservatives.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference held in August 2022 in Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The following is an edited transcript of a panel held on February 21 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House on the forthcoming book World of the Right: Radical Conservatism and the Global Order (Cambridge University Press). The discussion, moderated by Sam Adler-Bell, features three of the book’s co-authors—Rita Abrahamsen, Srdjan Vucetic, and Michael C. Williams—and concludes with questions from the audience at the event.

 

Sam Adler-Bell: I’m excited to talk about this excellent book, World of the Right: Radical Conservatism and the Global Order. I read a lot of books about the right for the Know Your Enemy podcast, and this one is both analytically and stylistically clear, which you don’t usually get together.

Michael C. Williams: The goal of this book is to ask to what extent the radical right, which is almost by definition nationalist in its focus, is a global phenomenon. Parties and movements that identify with the radical right are popping up all over the world. Is this a coincidence? Is it a conspiracy? Is it something more complicated?

We try to overcome three common prejudices about the right. The first is that its resurgence is the fault of technology and the digital age. Undoubtedly, but that’s not enough. The second is that it is simply a result of economics—of the “left behinds” rising up against their overlords. Also important; also not the whole truth. The third is that the right is stupid. In reality, it is complicated and sophisticated.

The contemporary right is nationalist and local. But it is also global, both conceptually and organizationally. What we call the “world of the right” is the outcome of a fifty-year-old ideological project. We trace it through the ideas of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who argued that political power is never simply a matter of coercion, but also of consent. And in the production of consent, culture is vital. Any hegemonic order relies upon a naturalized understanding of the world. And for opponents of that order, it is crucial to create a counter-hegemonic strategy, an intellectual world, and a set of institutions.

In the 1970s, the French far-right figure Dominique Venner called for “a Gramscianism of the right.” This idea was rooted in an argument about contemporary politics, social life, and globalization: that the world that we live in is dominated by “managerialism.” The idea of managerialism, which emerged out of the anti-Stalinist left in the 1920s, was picked up by members of the American right, such as James Burnham, in the 1950s. They argued that a “new class” of technicians, lawyers, accountants, and business executives had more in common across countries and cultures than with anyone else within those countries and cultures. It is opposition to that purported class that forms the core conceptual underpinnings ...