The Wrong Right

The European Right: A Historical Profile

edited by Hans Rogger, edited by Eugen Weber
California, 589 pp., $9.50

Entire libraries have been written about the left in Europe in this century; the number of serious studies of the history and character of right-wing movements can be counted on the fingers of one hand. There are several good reasons for this: most people who write books are, in Europe at any rate, closer to the left than the right. The intelligentsia is attracted by ideas, and these have been traditionally less ideas (and ideology) on the right, than on the left. That the right has no consistent Weltanschauung is not necessarily a drawback; it needs one less than the left As Mussolini once put it very succinctly: “The democrats of Il Mondo want to know our program? It is to break the bones of the democrats of Il Mondo. And the sooner the better.” Intellectually the right is inferior to its adversaries; for that reason alone it is in many ways a less exciting and fruitful subject for students of ideas in modern history.

But, history is not only the history of ideas, intellectually stimulating or not. The right was, and is, important and its study should not be neglected. All students of modern Europe will be grateful to Professors Weber and Rogger who, with their collaborators, have produced a truly pioneering study of a fascinating phenomenon. It is one of the most interesting books in the historical and political field published in recent years.

The first obstacle facing the editors was how to define the meaning of left and right. The traditional definitions are well known, but how much sense do they still make in the modern world? It has been argued that left and right have largely lost their meaning in the era of totalitarianism and the subsequent age of the “end of ideologies.” It has also been said that few of those who talk about the end of ideology belong to the left. Most students of contemporary history will no doubt agree with Professor Weber, who says that reference to left and right is a reality in countries like France where these terms have over the ages become essential constituents of political definition and vocabulary and thought. However, since the advent of De Gaulle, the left-right dichotomy has become much less clear than it formerly was in France; the farther one goes from Paris to the south and east, the less meaningful do “left” and “right” become. In pre-war Hungary and Rumania, for instance, the left-right division was much less clear than in the West; since Rumanian realities, to give but one example, differed in almost every aspect from the situation in France, it was not really appropriate to use French categories and criteria to label Rumanian movements and personalities. To talk about countries like Egypt, Algeria, or Ghana in terms of “left” or “right” makes even less sense; this misuse of the European political vocabulary has caused great confusion and will no doubt cause more unless checked in time.

The contributors to the present volume …

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