A year ago you would have been forgiven for thinking that, following a successful Brexit referendum, Ukip would begin its slow decline into obscurity. And you would have been quite wrong. “Ukip is a radical party, or it is nothing,” Nigel Farage wrote in the Daily Telegraph last week. His successor as leader, Paul Nuttall, will see to it that Ukip remains radical indeed. An advocate for stricter abortion laws, capital punishment and a burka ban, Nuttall is a sort of Tory’s Tory – a viable alternative for conservatives unimpressed by Cameronism.
But what really drives Nuttall? According to him, his Catholic faith. “On moral issues, we [Ukip], more than any other political party, are more in line with Catholic thought,” he declared back in 2015.
He’s far from an outlier. Radical right-wing movements are cropping up all over the Western world. And, almost to a man, they’re led by Catholics.
In the United States, there’s Stephen Bannon, former publisher of Breitbart and now White House chief strategist. Late last year Buzzfeed published a talk Bannon gave at the Vatican in 2014 in which he extolled an “enlightened”, “Judeo-Christian” capitalism against a “libertarian” capitalism that “looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them”. The whole thing was lifted straight out of Catholic social teaching. (Think more Leo XIII than Francis.)
In France, it’s François Fillon, presidential candidate for Les Républicains. He sent shockwaves through the secular establishment when, during last year’s primary, he claimed a nearly two-to-one victory over his rival, Alain Juppé. Like Trump’s, Fillon’s victory was a huge upset. He won by reanimating catholiques zombies: non-practising Catholics who nevertheless hold strongly to the Church’s teachings on education, marriage, abortion and euthanasia. Even though Fillon is struggling now, his primary blowout was a startling reminder that France hasn’t entirely forgotten her place of pride as the Church’s eldest daughter.
In Germany, there’s Wiebke Muhsal, the young deputy chairwoman of Alternative für Deutschland, which flaunts its support for “old gender roles”. Muhsal, like Bannon, sees a distinct role for Christian teaching in the economy. Her signature bills are pro-natal, encouraging state-backed marriage loans, children’s allowances, marriage allowances, education allowances – you name it. She gained notoriety in the English-speaking world last September when she wore a niqab to parliament as a protest against Islamic veiling. “The intention of wearing the niqab today was to represent this terrible situation for women,” she said. “A ban on such full-face veils is the right way to stop this development and to protect our liberal order.”
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