Global Right, Global White: Transnational Radical Conservatism and South Africa

This project is part of the CIPS World Order Research Programme

Rita Abrahamsen

In early 2018 stories of a ‘white genocide’ in South Africa flooded the world media. Headlines detailing frightening statistics of farm murders went viral. In the US, white South African activists appeared on Fox News, alleging government complicity in encouragement to ‘kill the Boer’ and President Trump tweeted about the plight of white farmers. In the UK, the right-wing columnist Katie Hopkins announced her departure to ‘a war zone: South Africa’ to report on ‘the racial war waged by black extremists who are systematically murdering white farmers’. In Canada, the internet-personality and right-wing activist Lauren Southern released a terrifying full-length YouTube documentary called ‘Farmlands’, while in Australia, a country not known for its generous immigration policies, street protests erupted in support of South African farmers and the Home Affairs Minister considered fast-tracking visas for white South Africans fleeing ‘horrific circumstances’.

This research project investigates the symbolic and political centrality of South Africa to the worldwide rise of radical right ideologies and movements. It suggests that in an age of social media connectivity, the methodological nationalism of political science is an obstacle to understanding the growing influence of the radical right. Instead the project makes a methodological case for studying the rise of the radical right as simultaneously global and local. It argues not only that South Africa offers a perfect window on this globality, but that the imagery of a threatened white minority on the southern-most tip of Africa has played a crucial role in the worldwide rise of the radical right.

To date the vast majority of studies of the radical right focuses on single country case studies, or on the ideological and theoretical similarities and connections of these movements. This project seeks to provide a more comprehensive sociological and political understanding of the globality of the radical right by pursuing a two-pronged research strategy: First, it investigates how the South African right has successfully mobilized political networks and social media platforms to gain visibility on the international stage and how this in turn has strengthened their legitimacy, support and influence domestically. Second, it investigates how for international right wing movements South Africa exemplifies the civilizational struggle and represents a futuristic dystopia for the white race, and how this in turn has strengthened their appeal and mass following.

Connecting theoretical development with detailed empirical inquiry, the project will chart a new methodological approach to the study of the global right and as such it will be of interest to numerous disciplines, including international relations, comparative politics, African Studies, international sociology and political anthropology. It will contribute to academic knowledge about the radical right, both in terms of its global connections and its domestic implications for South Africa. It will also inform policy debates about these issues, which are of crucial importance both to the future of international politics and to the future of South African democracy.