Returning to more interventionist government and revitalising citizenship would help Australia combat the rise of extremist movements, the latest RSA Webinar has heard.
At Wednesday’s webinar, guest speaker Dr Josh Roose presented on how the problem of re-emergent far-right extremism and populism in society has its roots in the West’s embrace of market economics and the decline of social institutions.
He spoke about how, since about 2015, Australia had witnessed an evolution of extremist groups rising and dissolving, inspired by international events such as the Islamic State successes in the Middle East, the election of Donald Trump as president in the United States, and the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.
Dr Roose, who is Associate Professor at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University, argued that the neoliberal attack on workers rights and conditions, the feminisation of the economy and increasing job insecurity for men had generated “deep-seated resentment” among white-collar men.
Such men, he said, were among those now driving far-right extremism and political populism.
“We need bigger, more interventionist governments prepared to bite the bullet and go against the logic of the free market, which has become orthodox,” said Dr Roose, author of 2021 book, The New Demagogues: Religion, Masculinity and the Populist Epoch.
“There might be a measure of state coercion or intervention into the economy to ensure the survival or the right to industrial citizenship, where people actually have real rights at work and we can actually start to rebuild some of these societal institutions.
“[Governments] need to also reclaim citizenship as a package of not only rights but responsibilities… We really need to develop meaningful training, secure work, and upward social trajectories. And that might require subsidies. And that’s a dirty word these days.”
Dr Roose said commonalities among far-right movements in Australia included a preoccupation with trans rights, anti-feminism, anti-LGBTIQ rights, anti-Semitism and distrust of science.
He said a broader conceptualisation of violence was needed to understand these movements, given that there was often an absence of physical violence.
“…it’s a violent rhetoric and symbology, and it’s imbued with history and imbued with hatred. Again, this is a really critical dimension to the problem, because what we’re seeing is people self-censoring and implying violence in many ways that we’re not necessarily seeing,” he said.
“These are forms of extremism that are imbued and inherently violent but aren’t explicitly violent. The rhetoric and the ideas encompass a really strong vision of the future which is not only polarised and divided but exclusionary. And they’ve got an enemy that they’re seeking to enact their agenda against.
“But, really, what we see here is the attempt to enact and impose those views on others – and through the use of force, in particular. And that’s where we need to really stop and take stock of what’s going on.”
Australian far-right groups have close links to the United States, made possible by online platforms such as Telegram.
“It’s important to understand the international dimension to the Australian far right… They draw many of their ideas and much of their inspiration, in particular, from the US far right, and much of their vocabulary and symbology.”