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Does Culture or Economics Motivate the Far-Right? Neither

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Last night, Paul Mason's report on the Spanish far-right group Espana 2000 led to another argument over whether it is economics or culture that is the driving force behind the growth of the far-right. Some facts are handy to unpick this.

First, the supposed rise of the far-right started well before the 2008 economic crises and subsequent austerity measures: it has been going on for at least twenty years.

Second, it is not a given that far-right parties have benefitted for the current malaise. Marine Le Pen polled in the French elections about the same as her father in 2003. Geert Wilders' PVV in the Netherlands lost ground this year, as did the Danish People's Party. Golden Dawn has seen a surge in support, while the English Defence League appears to be getting smaller (although angrier). It's a mixed picture.

Third, it is in the more prosperous parts of Europe that far-right parties appear to being doing well , perhaps trying to protect what they have: Norway - if you count the Norwegian Progress Party; Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, and Austria. And most research, including mine here shows that supporters of radical or far-right parties are not the losers of globalization: average levels of education and employment. When asked, they cite immigration, a lack of integration by minorities, and national identity being under threat as their motivating force.

Of course, it's never a simple either/or. As many commentators points out, economics and culture are linked. But I think that the overlooked issue here is one of fairness. The most obvious thing in research I've seen - and consistent in every country - is that supporters of far-right parties have no trust in the political establishment. The justice system doesn't work. The mainstream parties are comprised of liars, and mainstream media can't be trusted. Out of touch liberal elites take too much of the pie for themselves, and offer spin and politically correct bluster in response. It's neither economics nor culture, but a wider collapse of trust in the system. All the evidence suggests trust in the system is falling. It is that, not austerity, that should cause concern.

Finally - and often ignored - this does not mean a serious and prolongued economic downturn would have little or no effect. "The problem with socialism", said Oscar Wilde, "is that it leaves you with no spare evenings". No jobs or prospects means a lot of angry, disenfranchised young men with plenty of spare evenings, and days, to recruit, demonstrate, get active on and offline, organize, and mobilize. Economics might not have been key so far, but the past doesn't always predict the future.