For years, commentators and citizens overlooked a worrying trend in European politics: growing right-wing extremism, including staunch nativism. Until its defeat in last week's election, Denmark's ruling center-right coalition was allied with the forceful extreme-right Danish People's Party. In government, they had imposed tough immigration legislation and border controls that ran the country afoul of the other Schengen states. The Freedom Party, which is Euroskeptical, overtly anti-Muslim, and against dual citizenship, is one of the strongest parties in the Netherlands. In Italy, the neo-Fascist granddaughter of Benito Mussolini is a popular parliamentarian and a founding member of Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party. The Northern League party, known for its anti-Islamism, is powerful in Italy's wealthy north. In France, the extreme-right leader of the Front National party, Marine Le Pen, is a serious contender in upcoming 2012 presidential election. All of these parties share a common vision of a "pure" Europe that excludes immigrant populations from everywhere else in the world.

Even after the right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, attacked government quarters and a children's camp this summer in Norway, the problem was still misunderstood. At first, many commentators could not believe that it was a radical right-winger who had attacked the existing order. Even after Breivik announced that he acted to save Europe from Islam and multiculturalism, and belonged to a pan-European unit committed to doing so, many journalists were skeptical. The extreme right is believed to be intimately linked to the ideas of nationalism and homeland defense. Why would someone on the right slaughter Norwegian citizens in defense of Europe?

In fact, Breivik represented an extreme form of pan-European rightism that has existed for decades. It harks back to the Nazis' quest to create a Euro-Fascist political order. After building up the Third Reich in Germany, the Nazis wanted to spread their order across Europe. Their plan made some strategic sense -- by spreading the regime  to the rest of Europe, Germany could have recruited a larger army (including international units in the SS) and secret service, which would have backed the regime during future wars and helped it control occupied countries. Meanwhile, many Italian fascists advocated the universality of Mussolini’s particular brand of the ideology and believed that its implementation in all of Europe was the key to the continent's progress.

After 1945, as liberal Europeans started working together to create a new, and peaceful, supranational European entity, European rightists gathered in Rome and Malmö to develop their own version. The movement included theorists such as the Englishman Sir Oswald Mosley, the Italian Julius Evola, the Frenchmen Maurice Bardèche and René Binet, the American-born Francis Parker Yockey, the Germans Adolf von Thadden and Karl-Heinz Priester, the Swiss-born Gaston-Armand Amaudruz, and the Swede Per Engdahl. These former fascists and Nazis were highly respected, and some, such as Bardèche and Evola, are still read and praised by contemporary activists. They called their version of the union the European Social Movement. (Later, some split from the main group and created the New European Order.) If Europe was to be reborn, they believed, it should be fascistic, corporatist, and organic. In sum, this would have not been a liberal, free-market, and class-based Europe, led by the countries that had won the war and backed by the United States. This order would guarantee the proper functioning of the European continent (and its common market). It would also have been white-only.

The fascist version of the union lost out to the liberal one, of course, but rightest pan-European ideology never fully vanished. Indeed, the founders of the European Social Movement and the New European Order left behind a number of international networks dedicated to promoting fascism and rightist nationalism. Today's European right wing identifies Europe as a white bastion of civilization. For it, globalization, immigration, and Islam anywhere in Europe threaten the whole of it. Globalization destroys tradition, African immigrants assault European borders, and Muslims promote terrorism and hate. In sum, they are all enemies because they challenge the "pure" identity and culture of the old continent.

Breivik's attack on his fellow Norwegians smacks of these ideas. He perceived himself to be a pure combatant on behalf of a community with a glorious and pure past. According to his logic, the war extends to citizens who betray the cause. In rejecting the democratic system and those who support it, and converting narrow nationalism into a broader pan-European version, Breivik revitalized Nazi and fascist ideology. Indeed, in the International Herald Tribune, the columnist Roger Cohen warned that "the rightists in Europe using anti-Muslim rhetoric are true heirs of the Continent's darkest hours."

Those who believe that the contemporary extreme right is novel and comparatively unproblematic are wrong. And those who call the phenomenon populism are incorrect, too. The use of such a generic label indirectly, and perhaps unintended, legitimizes a manifestly undemocratic and racist ideology.

Europe is now struggling with the integration of immigrants and the survival of its common currency. The EU was founded on the basis of promoting fraternity among its populations after the brutality of World War II -- integrating previously warring countries within a boundless and peaceful ideal. A European culture cannot exclude "others"; this would contradict the EU's very goal. The hope is that the continent will be ready to look, again, at itself and its inner values, and tackle this "pan-European" rightism once more.

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  • ANDREA MAMMONE is an Assistant Professor of Modern History at London's Kingston University and the author of the forthcoming book Transnational Neofascism: The Extreme Right in France and Italy Since 1945.
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