[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Remember that for $100 ($125 if you live outside the United States), you can still get a signed, personalized copy of Steve Fraser's superb new book, Mongrel Firebugs and Men of Property: Capitalism and Class Conflict in American History. Nelson Lichtenstein, author of Who Built America?, says: "Steve Fraser is our most incisive and encompassing cultural historian of the two gilded ages that structured American society and its economic ethos." Check out Fraser's recent TD piece on the two New Deals and then visit our donation page. And remember that you can also get signed, personalized copies of the first two novels in John Feffer's groundbreaking dystopian trilogy about a planet wracked by right-wing populist nationalism and climate change, Splinterlands and Frostlands, there. Tom]
Here's a simple, if grim, reality: we are living in an ever more extreme world, as the residents of significant parts of California undoubtedly realized recently when the electricity went off amid ever increasing fears of wildfires; or the residents of the Houston area after it was drenched, in a mere two days, with a 40-inch flood of rain from a fierce tropical cyclone; or the residents of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas after it was essentially leveled by Dorian, a devastating category five hurricane; or those who live in Tokyo and nearby parts of Japan after the worst typhoon in more than six decades whacked that island nation. And so it not only goes but will go, as ever more greenhouse gas emissions head into the atmosphere, whether from the burning peatlands of Siberia, the still-burning rainforests of Brazil and Indonesia, or simply fossil-fuel companies intent, according to the Guardian, on flooding energy markets with ever increasing numbers of barrels of oil in the coming years. ("New research commissioned by the Guardian forecasts Shell and ExxonMobil will be among the leaders with a projected production increase of more than 35% between 2018 and 2030 -- a sharper rise than over the previous 12 years.")
This, in turn, means that, barring change, our present extremity is only a taste of what's to come as significant parts of the planet are ruled by leaders who are clearly pyromaniacs. Of course, these days when we talk about extremism -- especially in a nation whose citizenry is armed to the teeth, often with military-style weaponry, in a way no other country on Earth comes close to, not even Yemen -- we mean something else entirely. That word brings to mind a grim litany of white nationalism, racism, and repetitive mass slaughter.
As TomDispatch regular John Feffer, author of the dystopian novels, Splinterlands and Frostlands, wonders today: Isn't it time that humanity got its facts in order and its stories straight when it comes to the extremity that is increasingly at the heart of our world? Tom
How to Displace the Great Replacement
It Really Does Boil Down to Us Versus Them
By John Feffer
The far right is on a roll. Just a few years ago, liberals and conservatives would have considered its recent political victories a nightmare scenario. Right-wing extremists have won elections in the United States, Brazil, Hungary, India, and Poland. They pushed through the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom. In the most recent European Parliament elections, far-right parties captured the most votes in France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Hungary.
Sure, Trump is being impeached, Brexit is a mess, and the far right in Austria and Italy have suffered recent setbacks. Still, looking at the bigger picture, it's hard not to conclude that such extremists have acquired the sort of mainstream legitimacy across the planet that they haven't enjoyed in nearly a century.
What's worse, those electoral victories obscure an even deeper, potentially far more influential success -- in the world of storytelling. The radical right has developed a global narrative that, by uniting virulent racists and commonplace conservatives, mass shooters and populist politicians, is already injecting fringe ideas into mainstream culture.
Admittedly, it's not a story that has either universal appeal or will win any literary awards. Still, by telling it over and over again in different languages to a growing number of listeners, the far right is having a profound impact on global culture. In many places, it may already be winning the crucial battle for hearts and minds.
The radical right's story is rooted in the most basic plot of all: us versus them. Its main nemesis is determined, so the tale goes, to storm the battlements of the "civilized world" and, in what's called a "great replacement," oust its innocent inhabitants. Since this isn't the Middle Ages, the evil adversary isn't deploying siege engines or an army of pillagers. Its tactics are more insidious: taking over institutions from the inside, infiltrating culture, and worst of all birthing lots of babies.
But who exactly are the pronouns in this story? The idea of "the great replacement" is based on the fantasy that "they" (especially migrants and Muslims) are intent on replacing "us" (whites, Christians). Some versions of the narrative have an anti-Semitic slant as well, with Jews lurking in the shadows of this fiendish plot. For racists, the Others, of course, have darker complexions. For Islamophobes, the outsiders practice the wrong religion.
If you're not a member of the far right, if you don't subscribe to its YouTube channels or follow its burgeoning Twitter accounts, you might have only scant acquaintance with this story. But once you start looking for it, the great replacement turns out to be omnipresent.
Between 2012 and 2019, for instance, 1.5 million tweets in English, French, and German referenced it. You could hear an echo of the phrase at the Unite the Right gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, when neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other demonstrators chanted, "You will not replace us!" But the phrase really broke into the headlines in March 2019 when a mass shooter who opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people, titled the online manifesto he prepared for the occasion, "The Great Replacement."
By now, it's become alarmingly clear that an increasing number of people are taking this bizarre, historically deficient, and thoroughly warped story to heart.
Once Upon a Time
At first glance, the man who came up with the idea of the "great replacement" might not seem like your usual suspect. Renaud Camus was a radical student demonstrator in Paris in 1968 and in 1981 voted for socialist Francois Mitterrand for president of France. A noted poet and novelist, he published books on his gay identity that attracted accolades from the likes of intellectual Roland Barthes and poet Allen Ginsberg. By the early 2000s, however, Camus had begun to outline a new philosophy that distinguished between "faux" or false French (immigrants or their children) and real French (those who had lived in the country for many generations). In 2010, he published a book entitled Le Grand Remplacement bemoaning the prospects of a France and a Europe transformed by immigration.