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New book explores how extremists found a home in the mainstream

Academic calls for radical change

A University of East London academic is marking the publication of his new book at a time when its theme – the mainstreaming of far-right reactionary causes – has become part of the discussion around the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Dr Aaron Winter, senior lecturer in criminology and criminal justice, and his co-author Dr Aurelien Mondon, senior lecturer in politics at the University of Bath, explore how so-called populist ideas have been allowed to thrive and prosper, short-changing those combatting genuine issues of inequality and fairness.

The book – Reactionary Democracy: How Racism and the Populist Far Right Became Mainstream –explores the way popular discourse has shifted to accommodate such ideas from the extreme fringes.
They explain: “The multiple crises we are facing, from Covid-19 to climate breakdown, are very likely to exacerbate inequalities and reactionary tendencies amongst the elite and their base, such as racism. 

“Yet they create the possibility of an opening for radical change and the demand and urgency for it. As denial, which has made many comfortably passive, is becoming increasingly untenable, sitting on the fence will become less of an option as inaction will be increasingly akin to complicity.

“This is central to our book, which explores the way some ideas travel from the extreme to the mainstream, how some become the norm, while others remain reviled and can even be used to justify the centre’s rightful hegemony, if only when compared to more radical alternatives.

“In a nutshell, things are bad, but they could be worse. Our aim is to map the way in which reactionary ideas and racism in particular have made their way back into mainstream discourse, under the guise of pseudo-progressive tropes such as free speech and liberalism, where freedom is understood solely as the freedom of the privileged, represented as victims, to defend said privilege and stifle any demands from those suffering from real and systemic injustice.”

Professor Verity Brown, pro-vice chancellor for impact and innovation at the University of East London, said, “It is an ambition of the University – laid out in our Vision 2028 – that the research of our academics makes a telling impact on contemporary society. Dr Winter’s exploration of the politics of inequality could not be more pertinent in these times of great upheaval and uncertainty.”

Reactionary Democracy: How Racism and thePopulist Far Right Became Mainstream, by Aurelien Mondon and Aaron Winter (Verso, 2020)

See also: Dr Aaron Winter explains more on his thinking in Democracy In Peril on YouTube.