by Carlus Hudson
Although the study of social movements has shown that state institutions are not the only vehicles for societal change, the political forces which emanate from civil society and challenge state authority require theorisation. Near the end of his life, in 1967 Theodor Adorno conceptualised the post-1945 far right as a potent movement with social and cultural attitudes spread widely in West German society and still capable of attracting mass political support. Nazism’s defeat in 1945, the partitioning of Germany and the process and legacy of denazification kept the re-emergence of a similar threat at bay, but the ideology did not disappear. By rejecting a monocausal social-psychological explanation of post-war fascism, Adorno also rejects the pessimistic idea of it as something that people must accept as an inevitable part of living in modern and democratic societies.
Anti-fascists have the agency to change society for the better and they have used it for as long as fascism has existed. Fascist street movements in the UK were defeated in the 1930s and again in 1970s by anti-fascists who mobilised against them in larger numbers at counter-demonstrations. Students took anti-fascism into the National Union of Students (NUS) by voting for the ‘no platform’ policy at the April 1974 conference. The aim of the policy, which built on earlier anti-fascist praxis and has returned in different forms since then, is to deny spaces in student unions to the ideas espoused by fascists and racists, thereby making them less mainstream and limiting the size of the audience reachable by fascist and racist ideologues. By no platforming, students were able to use their unions instrumentally to counter the influence of the extreme right. They were driven by moral revulsion at fascism and racism, a near-universal positive commitment to democratic freedom in society, and in smaller numbers commitments to anti-fascism and anti-racism as social movements and to left-wing politics.
The same tactics were later used against homophobic, sexist, and transphobic speakers. Evan Smith’s critically acclaimed study of ‘no platform’ historicises the tactic’s use in the contexts of anti-fascism in Britain and contemporary fear on the right, which he argues is unfounded, for free speech on campuses. Three essential points can be made from Smith’s study about what ‘no platform’ is. Firstly, it is a political decision made against a particular person or group of people. Secondly, those decisions rely on the judgement of the validity of specific demands for restrictions on free speech. Thirdly, ‘no platform’ is a specific type of restriction on free speech that is set apart from the functionally synchronous restrictions put in place by national governments.
Governments have legislated limitations on free speech and protections on citizens’ rights to express it in a variety of ways. Free speech is not immutable because political dissidents occupy a contradictory space that leaves them permanently open as targets of state repression and targets of co-optation in the repression of the other. Marxist and anarchist theorists of fascism before 1945 conceptualised it in similar terms to their analyses of states, societies and ideologies: historical formations driven by class interests. As a researcher of student activism, I notice how little can be found in their perspectives about student unions compared to united and popular fronts, revolutionary unions, and vanguard parties. Students’ involvement in political activities and adherence to different ideologies is well-documented. It suggests that student unions affiliated to universities remained peripheral in the organising activities and theoretical interventions of the interwar left.
Meanwhile, the growth of free speech as a talking point for the right is unexpected judging by the norm in European and North American history, because of the state repression and censorship that accompanied reaction to political revolutions from the seventeenth to the late twentieth century. While there is no reason to imagine this as any different from state repression outside of European and North American contexts, this chronology can be extended into the twenty-first century with consideration of the rise of new authoritarian governments in Poland, Hungary and Russia. In the twentieth century the British government put limits on the freedom of speech to espouse extreme and hateful views using the Public Order Act 1936 and the Race Relations Acts passed in 1965, 1968 and 1975, but as Copsey and Ramamurthy have shown it has been anti-fascist and anti-racist movements rather than government legislation that has most to counter fascism and racism. In the late 1960s and 1970s, when the National Front (UK) was at the height of its popularity posed a danger with the possibility of winning seats in local elections, it turned its hatred on Black and Asian immigrants under a thin veneer of populist opposition to immigration and criminality. It added Black and Asian people to Nazism’s older enemies—Jews, communists, the Romani, and LGBT people—while it kept its ideological core out of public view.
The brief and limited success of the National Front (UK) can be read patriotically as an aberration or an anomaly in a society that was utterly hostile and inhospitable to it. In this view, civil society would eventually have defeated the National Front without the help of anti-fascists or any compromise on free speech at universities. One problem with that interpretation is the racialisation of religious communities after the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the initiation of the War on Terror. Anti-Zionism, the broad-brush term for opposition to Israel, includes anything from criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians on human rights grounds to opposition to Israel’s existence as a country. Left-wing anti-Zionism has received more attention in research about student activism than the anti-Zionism of the extreme right. NUS leaders opposed left-wing anti-Zionist uses of ‘no platform’ in the 1970s, when it was introduced to student unions.
After the September 11 attacks, anti-Zionism drew renewed criticism but with greater emphasis on Islamism. Pierre-Andre Taguieff explained the growth of a new type of European anti-Semitism in those terms. In the popular press, a debate about Islamism spilled over into Islamophobic racism. For example, the printing in Charlie Hebdo and Jyllands-Posten of the Mohammed cartoons were acts of mainstreaming Islamophobia in France and Denmark that supported moral panic about Islam. The attack in France on Charlie Hebdo in 2015 had a chilling effect on free speech by contributing to a political climate where it became impossible for ‘those who felt unfairly targeted’ to respond and be heard.
Understanding the problem of Muslims being shut out of debates about them, and of being transformed into a debateable question in the first place, requires a consideration of counter-terrorism measures that have marginalised Muslims. In England and Wales, the regulation of charities and the government’s Prevent duty which covers the whole of the UK have added such pressures to the free speech of Muslim students and workers at universities. The positioning of the presence of Muslims in majority White and Christian countries by non-Muslims as a question of cultural compatibility instead of Islamophobia as a racism morally equivalent to anti-Semitism makes it harder for multiculturalism to function there. That said, explanations of the racialisation of religious minorities are incoherent without analysing race. The number of examples that could be given to prove why restrictions on freedom of speech are too harsh in some instances but not harsh enough in others are practically without limit. Anti-fascists who also consider themselves to be communists or anarchists support the administration of justice in ways that are radically different from those in our own societies but which are nonetheless constructed on the same principles that adherents of liberal democracy follow, including freedom of speech. The same statement descends into nakedly racist prejudice when it is used to refer to racialised religious communities.
Free speech is at the centre of a cultural conflict. The first two decades of the twenty-first century saw a world economic crisis and the growth of populism and authoritarianism on the right, which according to Francis Fukuyama capitalised on the need for social recognition felt by resentful supporters. As economic inequality grew, identity politics showed an alternative way for people to articulate difference. Identity politics itself changed little through these processes. For example, a prevailing idea among American conservatives is that universities and colleges, like other levels of the education system and other sectors of civil society, are dominated by a left that threats freedom of speech. Dennis Prager sets the stage for a battle for liberal opinion between the left and, he argues, the centre’s natural allies on the conservative right. His views about universities should not be decontextualised from his commentary on religion. In his book written with Joseph Telushkin, Prager explains anti-Semitism using a history of it and an engagement with Jewish identity. They acknowledge the influence of Taguieff’s research on their taking anti-Semitism more seriously as a tangible threat to Jews. Opposing Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, which they barely distinguish, is a key part of their argument. From another perspective, in his defence of classical liberalism, Fukuyama dedicates a chapter to discussing the global challenges in the twenty-first century to the principle of protecting freedom of speech. One argument he makes is that critical theory and identity politics, when they appear together in the contexts of free speech in higher education and the arts, mistakenly give too much importance to language as an interpersonal mode of political power and structural violence instead of the main targets of leftist critique: the coercive function of institutions and physical violence, capitalism and the state. With universities engaging with a wider definition of what constitutes harm than they have in the past, the parameters for unacceptable speech have widened too. Free speech is no less a political issue today, by which I mean it is a term that people use to express their ideological attachments and experiences of real socio-economic conditions, than it has been in the past.
Different conclusions can be drawn from these points. One option is to join socialists and progressives in their fights for equality and social justice through a movement that simultaneously counters the hegemony of right-wing ideology. Another option is to join the right’s defence of freedom of speech on campuses against ‘woke’ students and academics, ‘safer spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’. Far from simply being bugbears, they are central concepts of opposition for the right in their wider defence of what they value most in their idea of Western civilisation. A more analytical response would be to engage more critically with what identity politics is and engage with the probing questions of how social movements driven by identity politics affect the inclusiveness of societies.
Religious, secular and post-secular nationalisms are relevant here because they have a greater determining role than economic interest on political beliefs constructed around identity. However, their influence on politics organised along a left-right axis has never been negligible and the claim that a purely economistic political ideology can exist is highly dubious. Understanding identity politics gives context to the right’s fear for freedom of speech. Another approach is to take the right’s claim at face value and begin to think of freedom of speech as a legislated guarantee for the conditions of voluntary social interaction, without which civil society becomes an impossibility. It would therefore be morally necessary to consider the figuration of the right’s semi-invented enemies. The presentation of these enemies is not necessarily a racist act of subjective violence, and this caveat demarcates a large section of the right from fascists and identifies them as fascism’s serious competitors. At the same time, the right delegitimises its opponents by tarring them as enemies of freedom of speech and therefore a step closer to fascism. What these examples show is how complex an issue freedom of speech at universities is. Freedom of speech must be defined in recognition of that complexity because we are at the greatest risk of losing this freedom when we express ourselves under assumptions that lead us to oversimplify and decontextualise it.
 Theodor W. Adorno, Aspects of the New Right-Wing Extremism, trans. Wieland Hoban (Medford: Polity, 2020).
 Evan Smith, No Platform: A History of Anti-Fascism, Universities and the Limits of Free Speech, (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2020).
 Dave Renton, Fascism: History and Theory, new and updated edition (London: Pluto Press, 2020).
 Dave Renton, No Free Speech for Fascists: Exploring ‘No Platform’ in History, Law and Politics (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2021), 11-34.
 Dave Renton, The New Authoritarians: Convergence on the Right (London: Pluto Press, 2019).
 Nigel Copsey, Anti-Fascism in Britain, second edition (London; New York: Routledge, 2017), 56; Anandi Ramamurthy, Black Star: Britain’s Asian Youth Movements (London: Pluto Press, 2013), 25.
 Dave Renton, Never Again: Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League 1976-1982 (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2019), 14-36.
 Dave Rich, The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism (London: Biteback Publishing, 2016).
 Pierre-André Taguieff, Rising from the Muck: The New Anti-Semitism in Europe (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004).
 Aurelien Mondon and Aaron Winter, Reactionary Democracy: How Racism and the Populist Far Right Became Mainstream (Brooklyn: Verso Books, 2020), 75-9.
 Alison Scott-Baumann and Simon Perfect, Freedom of Speech in Universities: Islam, Charities and Counter-Terrorism (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2021).
 Francis Fukuyama, Identity: Contemporary Identity Politics and the Struggle for Recognition (London: Profile Books, 2018).
 Jordan B. Peterson, No Safe Spaces? | Prager and Carolla | The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast - S4: E44, YouTube, vol. S4: E44, The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHXxtyUVTGU.
 Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism, the Most Accurate Predictor of Human Evil (New York: Touchstone, 2007).
 Francis Fukuyama, Liberalism and Its Discontents (London: Profile Books, 2022).
by Lenon Campos Maschette
Over the past few centuries, the concept of civil society has shifted a few times to the centre of political debate. The end of the 20th century witnessed one of these moments. From the 1980s, civil society resurfaced as a central political idea, an important conceptual tool to address all types of social and political problems as well as describe social formations. At the end of the last century, a general criticism of the state and its inability to solve key social problems and the search for a ‘post-statist’ politics were problems shared by several countries that allowed the civil society debate to spread globally.
In Britain, ideologies of the right had an important role in this movement. From the 1980s, all the discussions around community and citizen participation have to be analysed, at least in part, within the context of how the nature and function of the state were being reshaped, especially through the changes proposed by right-wing intellectuals and politicians. This tendency is even more noticeable within the British Conservative Party. In one of the most important works on the British Conservative Party and civil society, E. H. H. Green argues that the Conservative Party’s state theory throughout the 20th century was more concerned with the effectiveness of civil society bodies than with the role of the state. Therefore, it is a long tradition that was continued and reinforced by Thatcher’s leadership.
As I argued in another work, the Thatcher government redefined the concept of citizenship and placed civil society at the centre of its model of citizenship. In this new article, I want to compliment that and argue that civil society had vital importance in Thatcher’s project. From this perspective, the Thatcher government redefined the idea of civil society, regarded as the space par excellence for citizenship—at least in the way Thatcherism understood it. Thatcherism attributed to civil society and its institutions a central role in the socialisation of individuals and the transmission of traditional values. It was the place par excellence of individual moral development and, consequently, citizenship.
Thatcherism and civil society
The Conservative Party never abandoned the defence of civil associations as both important institutions to deliver public services and essential spaces for maintaining and transmitting shared values. Throughout the post-WW2 period, the Party continuously emphasised the importance of the diversity of voluntary associations, and as a response to the growing dissatisfaction with statutory welfare, support for more flexible, dynamic, and local voluntary provision became part of its 1979 manifesto.
As already mentioned, civil society had virtually disappeared from the public debate and Thatcher herself rarely used the term ‘civil society’. However, the idea had a central role within Thatcherism. As the article will show, the Conservatives were constantly thinking about the intermediary structures between individuals and the state, and from these reflections we can try to comprehend how they saw these institutions, their roles, and their relationships. According to the Conservatives, civil society was being threatened by a social philosophy that had placed the state at the centre of social life to the detriment of communities. In fact, civil society had not disappeared, but was experiencing profound changes. In a more affluent and ‘post-materialistic’ society, individuals had turned their attention from first material needs to identities, fulfilment, and greater quality of life. Charities and religious associations had also changed their strategies and came close to the approach and methods of secular and modern voluntary associations, loosening their moralistic and evangelical language and adopting a more political and socially concerned discourse. These are important transformations that are the basis of how the Thatcher government linked the politicisation of these institutions with the demise of civil society.
Thatcher always made clear that voluntary associations and civil institutions were central to her ‘revolutionary’ project. The Conservatives under Thatcher regarded the civil institutions as the best means to reach more vulnerable people and the perfect space for participation and self-expression. The neighbourhood, this smallest social ‘unit,’ was more personal and effective than larger and more bureaucratic bodies. Furthermore, civil society empowered individuals by giving them the opportunity to participate in local communities and make a difference. It is noteworthy that Thatcher’s individualism was not synonymous with an atomised and isolated individual. Thatcher did not have a libertarian view about the individuals. As she argued to the Greater Young Conservatives group, ‘there is not and cannot possibly be any hard and fast antithesis between self-interest and care for others, for man is a social creature … brought up in mutual dependence.’ According to her, there was no conflict between her ‘individualism and social responsibility,’ as individuals and community were connected and ‘personal efforts’ would ‘enhance the community’, not ‘undermine’ it. She believed in a community of free and responsible individuals, ‘held together by mutual dependence … [and] common customs.’ Working in the local and familiar, within civil associations and voluntary bodies, individuals, in seeking their own purposes and goals, would also achieve common objectives, discharge their obligations to the community and serve their fellows and God. And here is the key role of civil and voluntary bodies. They were responsible for guaranteeing traditional standards and transmitting common customs. By participating in these associations, individuals would achieve their own interests but also feel important, share values, strengthen social ties, and create a distinctive identity. Thatcherites believed that voluntary associations, charities, and civil institutions had a central position in the rebirth of civic society. These conceptions partly resonated with a conservative tradition that recognised the intermediated structures as institutions responsible for balancing freedom and order. For conservatives, civil institutions and associations have always played a central role within civil society as institutions responsible for socialising and moralising individuals.
From the Thatcherite perspective, these ‘little platoons’—a term formulated by Edmund Burke, and used by conservatives such as Douglas Hurd, Brian Griffiths, and Thatcher herself to qualify local associations and institutions—provided people a space to develop a sense of community, civic responsibility, and identity. Therefore, Thatcher and her entourage believed that civil society had many fundamental and intertwined roles: it empowered individuals through participation; it developed citizenship; it was a repository of traditions; it transmitted values and principles; it created an identity and social ties; and it was a place to discharge individuals’ obligations to their community and God.
The state—not Thatcherism, nor indeed the market—isolated individuals by stepping into civil society spaces and breaking apart the intermediary institutions. In expanding beyond its original attributions, the state had eclipsed civil associations and institutions. Centralisation and politicisation were weakening ‘mediating structures,’ making people feel ‘powerless’ and depriving individuals of relieving themselves from ‘their isolation.’ It was also opening a space for a totalitarian state enterprise. While the state was creating an isolated, dependent, and passive citizenry, the new social movements were politicising every single civil society space, fostering divisiveness and resentment.
The great issue here was politicisation. Civil and local spaces had been politicised. The local councils were promoting anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic agendas, local government and trade unions were encouraging riots and operating ‘to break, defy, and subvert the law’ and the Church was ‘failing the people of England.’ Neoconservatives drew attention to both the intervention and politicisation from the state but also from social movements such as feminism. As shown earlier, civil society dynamics had changed and new and more politicised movements emerged. John Moore, a minister and another long-term member of Thatcher’s cabinet, complained that modern voluntary organisations changed their emphases from service groups to pressure groups. That is the reason why Thatcher, in spite of increasing grants to the voluntary sector, carefully selected those associations with principles related to ‘self-help and enterprise,’ that encouraged ‘civic pride’ while also discouraging grants to institutions previously funded by left-wing councils.
The state and the new social movements had politicised and dismantled civil society spaces, especially the conservatives' two most important civil institutions: the family and the Church. Thatcherism placed the family at the centre of civil society. Along with the ‘surrounding community of friends and neighbours,’ the family was a key institution to ‘individual development.’ This perspective dialogued with a conservative idea that came directly from Burke and placed the family at the core of civil society. From a Burkean perspective, the family was an essential institution for civilisation as it had two fundamental roles: acting as the ‘bulwarks against tyranny’ and against the ‘perils of individualism.’ The family was important as the first space of socialisation and affection and, consequently, the first individual responsibility. Within the family, moral values were kept and transmitted through generations, preventing degeneration and dependence. Thatcher’s government identified the family as the ‘very nursery of civil virtue’ and created the Family Policy Group to rebuild family life and responsibility. The family also had a decisive role in checking the state authority. Along with neoconservatives, Thatcherites believed that the welfare state and ‘permissiveness’ had broken down the family and its core functions. From this perspective, the most important civil institution had been corrupted by the state and the new social movements. If Thatcherism dialogued with neoliberalism and its criticism of the state, it was also influenced by conservative ideas of civil society and neoconservative arguments against the new social movements and the welfare state. Despite some tensions, Thatcherism was successful in combining neoliberal and neoconservative ideas.
The other main civil institution was the Church. Many of Thatcher’s political convictions were moral, rooted in puritan Christian values nurtured during her upbringing. Thatcher and many of her allies believed that Christianity was the foundation of British society and its values had to be widely shared. The churches were responsible for exercising ‘over [the] manners and morality of the people’ and were the most important social tool to moralise individuals. Only their leaders had the moral authority ‘to strengthen individual moral standards’ and the ‘shared beliefs’ that provide people with a moral framework to prevent freedom to became something destructive and negative.
Thus, the conservatives had the goal of depoliticising civil society. It should be a state- and political-free space. Thatcher’s active citizen was an apolitical one. The irony is that the Thatcher administration made these institutions even more dependent on state funding. Thatcherism was incapable of comprehending the new dynamics of civil institutions. The diverse small institutions, mainly composed of volunteer workers, had been replaced by larger, more bureaucratic and professionalised ones closely related to the state.
If the state and, consequently, politicians could not moralise individuals—which, in part, explains the lack of a moral agenda in the period of Thatcher’s government, a fact so criticised by the more traditional right, since ‘values cannot be given by the state or politician,’ as she proclaimed in 1978—other civil society institutions not only could, but had a duty to promote certain values.
The Thatcher government and communities
From the mid-1980s, the Conservative Strategy Group advised the party to emphasise the idea of a ‘good neighbour’ as a very distinct conservative concept. The Conservative Party turned its eyes to the issue of communities and several ministers started to work on policies related to neighbourliness. At the same time, Thatcher’s Policy Unit also started thinking of ways to rebuild ‘community infrastructure’ and its voluntary and non-profit organisations. The civil associations more and more were being seen by the government as an essential instrument in changing people’s views and beliefs.
As we have seen, it was compatible with the Thatcherite project. However, it was also a practical answer to rising social problems and an increasingly conservative perception, towards the end of the 1980s, that Thatcher’s administration failed to change individual beliefs and civil society actors, groups, and institutions. And then, we begin to note the tensions between Thatcherite ideas and their implications for the community.
Thatcherites believed in a community that was first and foremost moral. The community was made up of many individuals brought up by mutual dependence and shared values and, as such, carrying duties prior to rights. That is why all these civic institutions were so important. They should restrain individual anti-social behaviour through the wisdom of shared ‘traditional social norms that went with them.’ The community should set standards and penalise irresponsible behaviour. A solid religious base was therefore so important to the moral civil society framework. And here Thatcher was always very straightforward that this religious basis was a Christian one. Despite preaching against state intervention, Thatcher was clear about the central role of compulsory religious education to teach children ‘the difference between right and wrong.’ In order to properly work, these communities and its civil institutions should have their authority and autonomy restored to maintain and promote their basic principles and moral framework. And that is the point here. The conservative ‘free’ communities only could be free if they followed a specific set of values and principles.
During an interview in May 2001—among rising racial tensions that lead to serious racial disturbances over that year’s spring and summer—Thatcher argued that despite supporting a society comprised of different races and colours, she would never approve of a ‘multicultural society,’ as it could not observe ‘all the best principles and best values’ and would never ‘be united.’ Thatcher was preoccupied with immigration precisely because she believed that cultural issues could have negative long-term effects. As she said on another occasion, ‘people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.’ Different individuals would work together and keep themselves together only if they shared some basic principles and beliefs. Thatcher’s community was based on common tradition, not consent or contract. Conservatives believed that shared values were essential for social cohesion. That is why a multicultural society was so dangerous from her perspective. Moreover, there is also another implication here. Multiculturalism not only needed to be repulsed because it was regarded as divisive, but also because it presupposes that all cultures have equal value. It was not only about sharing the same values and principles, but also about sharing the right values and principles. And for the conservatives, the British and Christian traditions were the right ones. That is why Christian religious education should be compulsory for everybody, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background.
In part, it explains the Thatcher administration’s long fight against local councils and authorities that supported multiculturalism and anti-racist movements. They were seen as a threat to cultural and traditional values as well as national sovereignty. In addition to responding many times with brutal police repression to the 1981 riots—which is in itself a strong state intervention—the government also released resources for urban regeneration and increased the budget of ‘ethnic projects’ in order to control these initiatives. The idea was to shape communities in a given way and direction and create tools for the community to police themselves. The government was seeking ways to change individual attitudes that, according to the Conservatives, were at the root of social problems in the inner cities. Rather than being the consequence of social problems, these attitudes, they argued, were caused by cultural and moral issues, especially in predominantly black communities. In encouraging moderate black leaders, the government was trying to foster black communities that would behave as British middle-class neighbourhoods. Thatcher’s government also tried to shape communities through business enterprises and market mechanisms. In the late 1980s, her government started a bold process of community refurbishment that aimed to revitalise what were regarded as deprived areas. The market was also seen as a part of civil society and a moralising space that encouraged good behaviour.
Thatcher’s relationship with the family, the basis of civil society, was also problematic. The Conservatives had a very traditional conception of family. The family was constituted by a heterosexual married couple. If Thatcherites accused new social movements of imposing their worldview on the majority, Thatcher’s government tried to prescribe a ‘natural’ view of family that excluded any type of distinct formation. Furthermore, despite presiding over a decade that saw a rising expansion of women's participation in the workplace and education, Thatcher advanced an idea of community that was based on women's caring role within the family and the neighbourhood.
Finally, the Church, regarded as the most important source of morality, was, at first, viewed as a natural ally, but soon would become a huge problem for her government. As with many established British institutions, according to the Conservatives, the Church had been captured by a progressive mood that had politicised many of its leaders and diverted the Church's role on morality. The Church was failing Britain since it had abdicated its primary role as a moral leader. It was also part of a broader attack on the British establishment. Thatcher would prefer to align her government with religious groups that performed a much more ‘valuable role’ than the established Church.
The tensions between the Thatcher government's ideas and policies—which blended neoliberal and neoconservative approaches—and its results in practice would lead to reactions on both left and right-wing sides. If Thatcher herself realised that her years in office had not encouraged communities’ growth, the New Labour and the post-Thatcher Conservative Party would invest in a robust communitarian discourse. Tony Blair's Party would use community rhetoric to emphasise differences from Thatcherism, whereas the rise of ideas that focused on civil society, such as Compassionate Conservatism, Civic Conservatism, and Big Society, would be a Conservative response to the Thatcher's 1980s.
Conventionally, conservatives have treated civil society as a vehicle to rebuild traditional values, a fortress against state power and homogenisation that involved the past, the present and the future generations.
Thatcher believed that a true community would be close to the one where she spent her childhood. A small community, composed by a vibrant network of voluntary bodies free from state intervention, in which apolitical and responsible citizens would be able to discharge their religious and civic obligations through voluntary work. These obligations resulted from religious values and individuals' mutual physical and emotional dependence, which imposed responsibilities prior to their rights, derived from these duties rather than from an abstract natural contract. Therefore, the Thatcherite community was, above all, a moral community. Accordingly, it was based on a narrow set of values and principles that was based on conservative British and Christian traditions. In a complex contemporary world of multicultural societies, it is difficult not to see Thatcher's community model as exclusionary and authoritarian.
Despite her conservative ideas about neighbourhoods, her government seems to have encouraged even more irresponsible behaviour and community fragmentation. Thatcher seems not to have been able to identify the problems that economic liberalisation policies and strong individualistic rhetoric could cause to the community. Here, the tensions between her neoliberal and neoconservative positions became clearer. As she recognised during an interview, ‘I cut taxes and I thought we would get a giving society and we haven’t.’
To conclude, it is interesting to note that the civil society debate emerged in the UK with and against Thatcherism. The argument based on the revitalisation of civil society was used by both left and right-wingers to criticise the Thatcher years. New Labour’s emphasis on communities, post-Thatcher conservatism’s focus on civil society, the emergence of communitarianism and other strands of thought that placed civil society at the centre of their theories; despite their differences, all of them looked to the community as an answer for the 1980s and, at least in part, its emphasis on the free market and individualism. On the other hand, as I have tried to show, Thatcherism was already working on the theme of community and raised many of these issues during the years following her fall. The idea of civil society as the space par excellence of citizenship and collective activities, as the place to discharge individual obligations and as a site of a strong defence against arbitrary state power, were all themes advanced by Thatcherism that occupied a lasting space within the civil society debate. Thatcherism thus also influenced the debate from within, not only through the reaction against its results, but also directly promoting ideas and policies about civil society.
 Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997), 71-72.
 E.H.H. Green, Ideologies of Conservatism. Conservative Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 278.
 Lenon Campos Maschette, 'Revisiting the concept of citizenship in Margaret Thatcher’s government: the individual, the state, and civil society', Journal of Political Ideologies, (2021).
 Margaret Thatcher, Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture (‘Liberty and Limited Government 11 January 1996). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/108353.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech to Greater London Young Conservatives (Iain Macleod Memorial Lecture, ‘Dimensions of Conservatism’ 4 July 1977). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103411.
 Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (London: Harper Collins, 1993), 627.
 Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Party Conference, 14 October 1988. Margaret Thatcher Foundation document 107352: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107352.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech at St. Lawrence Jewry (‘I BELIEVE – a speech on Christianity and politics’ 30 March 1978). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103522.
 Thatcher, The Moral Basis of a Free Society. Op. Cit.
 Douglas Hurd had several important roles during Thatcher’s administration, including Home Office. Brian Griffiths was the chief of her Policy Unit from the middle 1980s and one of her principal advisors.
 Michael Alison, ‘The Feeding of the Billions’, in Michael Alison and David Edward (eds) Christianity & Conservatism. Are Christianity and conservatism compatible? (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990), 206-207; Brian Griffiths, ‘The Conservative Quadrilateral’, Alison and Edward, Christianity & Conservatism, 218; Robin Harris, Not for Turning (London: Corgi Books. 2013), 40.
 Griffiths, Christianity & Conservatism, 224-234.
 Margaret Thatcher. Speech to Conservative Party Conference 1985. Margaret Thatcher Foundation: http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106145.
 John Gummer, apud Martin Durham, ‘The Thatcher Government and “The Moral Right”’, Parliamentary Affair, 42 (1989), 64.
 American neoconservatives such as Charles Murray, George Gilder, Lawrence Mead, Michael Novak, etc., worked on the social, cultural, and moral consequences of the welfare state and the ‘long’ 1960s. They were also much more active in writing on citizenship issues. These authors had a profound influence on Thatcher’s Conservative Party through the think tanks networks. Murray and Novak, for instance, even attended Annual Conservative Party conferences and visited Thatcher and other Conservative members’ Party.
 Timothy Raison, Tories and the Welfare State. A history of Conservative Social Policy since the Second World War (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1990), 163.
 Geoffrey Finlayson, Citizen, State and Social Welfare in Britain 1830 – 1990 (Oxford, 1994), 376.
 Douglas Hurd, Memoirs (London: Abacus, 2003), 388.
 Richard Boyd, ‘The Unsteady and Precarious Contribution of Individuals’: Edmund Burke's Defence of Civil Society’. The Review of Politics, 61 (1999), 485.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech to General Assembly to the Church of Scotland, 21 May 1988. Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107246.
 Douglas Hurd, Tamworth Manifesto, 17 March 1988, London Review of Books: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v10/n06/douglas-hurd/douglas-hurds-tamworth-manifesto.
 Douglas Hurd, article for Church Times, 8 September 1988. THCR /1/17/111B. Churchill Archives, Churchill College, Cambridge University.
 Thatcher, Speech at St. Lawrence Jewry (1978), Op. Cit.
 Margaret Thatcher, apud Matthew Grimley. Thatcherism, Morality and Religion. In: Ben Jackson; Robert Saunders (Ed.). Making Thatcher’s Britain. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2012), 90.
 Many meetings emphasised this issue throughout 1986. CRD 4/307/4-7. Conservative Party Archives, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University.
 ‘Papers to end of July’, 18 June 1987. PREM 19/3494. National Archives, London.
 Edmund Neill, ‘British Political Thought in the 1990s: Thatcherism, Citizenship, and Social Democracy’, Mitteilungsblatt des Instituts fur soziale Bewegungen, 28 (2002), 171.
 Margaret Thatcher, ‘Speech to Finchley Inter-church luncheon club’, 17 November 1969. Margaret Thatcher foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/101704.
 Margaret Thatcher, interview to the Daily Mail, 22 May 2001, apud Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher, Vol. III Herself Alone (London: Penguin Books, 2019), 825.
 Margaret Thatcher, TV Interview for Granada World in Action ("rather swamped"), 27 January 1978. Margaret Thatcher foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103485.
 Oliver Letwin blocked help for black youth after 1985 riots. The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/30/oliver-letwin-blocked-help-for-black-youth-after-1985-riots.
 Paul Gilroy apud Simon Peplow. Race and riots in Thatcher’s Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019), 213.
 Grimley, Op. Cit., 92.
 Thatcher’s interview to Frank Field, apud Eliza Filby. God & Mrs Thatcher. The battle for Britain’s soul (London: Biteback, 2015), 348.
 Neill, Op. Cit., 181.
by Jan Niklas Rolf
With Russia deploying more than 100,000 troops near the border to Ukraine and China detaining more than 1,000,000 Uyghurs in the region of Xinjiang, Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), felt compelled to appeal to the Olympic spirit of peace in his Beijing 2022 opening ceremony speech: “This is the mission of the Olympic Games”, he said, “bringing us together in peaceful competition. Always building bridges, never erecting walls. Uniting humanity in all our diversity”.
Yet, given the US-led diplomatic boycott, there were hardly any officials to engage in the kind of ping-pong diplomacy that Nixon and Mao had practiced fifty years ago. Due to the regime’s strict zero-COVID policy, there were also no foreign spectators in China to make a connection, and the athletes and coaches that actually made it into the country were put in a bubble that prevented them from immersing into the culture. “Building bridges”, thus, seemed to come down to the commentators that bring one of the most televised events in the world into our homes.
By analysing the television coverage of the parade of nations during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, this post explores how commentators are engaging with other nations. The two TV stations chosen are the public-service broadcaster Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) and the pan-European network Eurosport 1, both of which are freely available in Germany. As the most successful nation at Olympic Winter Games, Germany has a strong Olympic fan base and, hence, should make for a good case study.
But first, we have to establish the link between the Olympics and peace. During the ancient Olympic Games, a truce was proclaimed to allow for a safe journey to and from historic Olympia. In 1992, the IOC renewed this tradition by calling upon all nations to put aside their political differences for the duration of the Games, and invoked it at every Games ever since. While a brief ceasefire during the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer allowed for the vaccination of an estimated 10,000 children in Bosnia, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Georgia took place on the day of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. The conflict in Ukraine, too, escalated around the time the 2014 Winter Games were held in nearby Sochi. In the face of Russia’s military build-up in the lead-up to the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly unanimously adopted the Olympic Truce Resolution that
“Urges Member States to observe the Olympic Truce individually and collectively, within the framework of the Charter of the United Nations, throughout the period from the seventh day before the start of the XXIV Olympic Winter Games until the seventh day following the end of the XIII Paralympic Winter Games, to be held in Beijing in 2022 […].”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine between the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, thus, constituted not only a violation of international law, but also of the Olympic Truce.
But even if observed, the Olympic Truce only guarantees a temporary or negative peace. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, was more interested in fostering a sustainable or positive peace:
“We shall not have peace until the prejudices which now separate the different races shall have been outlived. To attain this end, what better means than to bring the youth of all countries periodically together for amicable trials of muscular strength and agility?”
Like the current IOC president, de Coubertin saw the Games as a locus of encounter where people of different nations get “to know one another better”. Knowledge, in turn, “will replace dangerous ignorance, mutual understanding will soften unthinking hatreds”. Enshrined in the Olympic Charter, which pictures sports as means to “better understanding between each other and of friendship, thereby helping to build a better and more peaceful world”, and the Olympic Truce Resolution, according to which “sports can contribute to an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding among peoples and nations”, this view has taken on an “ossified form” over the years. However, unlike other elements of de Coubertin’s ideological morphology such as athleticism and amateurism, Simon Creak notes, it “has remained remarkably resistant to critical analysis ever since”.
This post examines whether commentators are engaging with the ‘other’ in a meaningful way, thereby promoting a deeper understanding of other countries and cultures that the IOC and UN deem critical for a more sustainable peace. To that end, it conducts a discursive analysis of the television coverage of the parade of nations—an integral part of the opening ceremony during which the teams of participating nations parade into the stadium—by the two networks ZDF and Eurosport 1 along the three dimensions of sports, politics and culture.
On both networks, the greatest chunk of commentary was on sports. And yet the focus was a very different one. The two ZDF commentators—reporter Nils Kaben and correspondent Ulf Röller—used the nation as a frame of reference, making frequent references to the Olympic record of national teams: We learn that Hungary and Poland have participated in all Winter Games so far, that Norway and Switzerland were particularly successful at the previous Winter Games and that Turkey and Azerbaijan are yet to win their first medals at Winter Games. Where references were made to individual athletes, they tended to be references to flag-bearers as representatives of their respective nations.
In contrast, the two Eurosport 1 commentators—reporter Siegfried Heinrich and journalist Birgit Nössing—seemed to follow the mantra of the Olympic Charter that—all appearances to the contrary—the “Games are contests between individuals and not between nations”, telling a number of personal stories: We learn that an athlete from Ecuador does not eat anything before her contests and that another athlete from Andorra always wears different colored FC Barcelona socks during her contests. When the national teams of Brazil and Spain entered the stadium, it was particular athletes that came to the mind of the commentator: “Brazil marches in. And there I’m thinking, if you allow, of the cross-country skier Bruna Moura […]”. “Now comes Spain […]. When I think of Spain, I think of [Francisco Fernández] Ochoa […]. And I have to think of Javier Fernández [López], the figure skater”. The exchange the commentator had with the co-commentator on figure skater Vladimir Litvintsev, flag-bearer of Azerbaijan, is particularly telling in this regard:
Co-commentator: “Until 2018, he skated under the Russian flag and then he changed to Azerbaijan.”
Commentator: “And why?”
Co-commentator: “ROC [Russian Olympic Committee] is the keyword.”
Co-commentator: “ROC [pause]. Well, the Russians are not allowed [to compete] under their own flag.”
Commentator: “No, not only. He changed because the competition in Russia had become too fierce.”
Co-commentator: “That’s what you mean.”
Commentator: “Yes. He said to himself, I'll go to Azerbaijan, because there I'll have my starting place for sure.”
For the co-commentator, Litvintsev’s decision to become an Azerbaijani citizen was governed by the fact that Russia, due to its state-sponsored doping, was banned from the Games, forbidding Russian athletes to compete under the Russian flag. For the commentator, in contrast, it was a rather opportunistic decision that had little to do with not being able to compete under the Russian flag, but with being able to compete at all, no matter under which national flag. Once again, the commentator refused to engage in “methodological nationalism”, that is, to conceive of the nation as the sole unit of analysis.
The second most discussed topic after sports was politics. Commentators from both broadcasters commented on the political situation in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Ukraine, Russia and China. In addition, Eurosport 1 commentators mentioned the unrest in Belarus and Kazakhstan. While Eurosport 1 commentators thus made more references to politics, the general tone was more tentative: “And now it’s going to be a bit political, that’s clear. Because now comes Chinese Taipei, that is, Taiwan […]”. “It remains a bit political when we have Hong Kong here […]”. “Ukraine, and things are getting a bit political here too […]”. While in each case the commentators added a few sentences about the political situation before turning the conversation to other issues, the introductory phrase “a bit political” downplayed the import of it.
ZDF commentators, in contrast, employed a number of superlatives when talking about politics: “This [the political status of Taiwan] is a super sensitive topic […]. It is the great political goal of Xi Jinping to bring Taiwan back to the mainland and there is a huge political dispute about this with the Americans”. The commentary was also more accusative, emotive and generalising in nature: “The pictures that we recently had to see from Hong Kong [in this moment, the camera captures the political leader of China] for which he, Xi Jinping, is responsible, also shook us to the core”, with the “us” supposedly referring to an assumed national, if not global, community. When the Chinese team entered the stadium, both ZDF and Eurosport 1 commentators talked about the government’s attempt to turn China into a competitive winter sports nation. And yet ZDF commentators were way more negative about this than Eurosport 1 commentators, as can be seen from a comparison of the following two conversations:
Commentator (ZDF): “With a lot of effort, with a lot of European trainer know-how, they want to close the gap with the world’s best. Very ambitious [in fact, China was among the three most successful nations at the Games, even outperforming the United States in gold medals].”
Co-commentator (ZDF): “Of course, China is not a winter sports nation, but they have bought heavily internationally, and have turned many athletes into Chinese people, given them a Chinese passport to improve the performance of the team.”
This patronising (“with a lot of European trainer know-how”) and slightly sinophobic (“turned many athletes into Chinese people”) language can be contrasted with the rather positive and personalised commentary on Eurosport 1:
Co-commentator (Eurosport 1): “In order to make China a winter sports nation they are bringing in the best of the best coaches […]. They are supposed to make stars out of the Chinese rough diamonds […]. And then there is Eileen Gu [a US born freestyle skier who competes for China, for which she has attracted a lot of criticism].”
Commentator (Eurosport 1): “Well, Eileen Gu, that’s the story par excellence […]. Dad is American. Mom is Chinese. And she said what I think is a really beautiful sentence: Nobody can deny that I’m American, she said, nobody can deny that I’m Chinese, and that’s almost a conciliatory story.”
Indeed, by starting for China, Gu hopes “to unite people, promote common understanding, create communication, and forge friendships between nations”. The Eurosport 1 commentator moved on to talk about the Chinese ice hockey team, which is mostly made up of former US-Americans and Canadians, only to conclude with: “But it’s nice that it happens like this”.
Surprisingly, culture was the least discussed topic during the carnival of cultures that is the parade of nations. The only time it featured in the ZDF commentary was when the Austrian team, rather coincidentally, entered the stadium to a waltz tune and the commentator, noticing this, commented: “And then there’s a bit of waltz music in the bird’s nest”. But comments on culture were not only sparse; sometimes they were also false. The Eurosport 1 commentator, for example, suggested that, instead of the national anthem, Russian gold medal winners will hear Beethoven’s 9th symphony where, in fact, it was Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto no. 1. On three more occasions, the Eurosport 1 commentator touched upon culture and customs. When the Argentinian team marched into the stadium, he complained:
“Well, Argentina. With six participants. I don’t understand that, because there are such great ski areas in Argentina and yet nothing comes out of it that would be remotely competitive athletes.”
With the co-commentator not responding, which could be interpreted as a sign of dissent, the commentator came to qualify his statement by attributing the lack of competitive athletes to a different culture:
“Not everyone sees sport as the main goal in life, you have to take this into consideration, of course. There are cultures where sport is important, there are cultures where sport is not so important or not that valued.”
This is indicative of a learning process that de Coubertin sought to instill in society at large: Being raised in a country that is passionate for (winter) sports, the commentator wonders in quite derogatory terms that a country with favorable conditions does not produce competitive athletes. After some reflection, however, he recognises that there are cultures that might not share his enthusiasm for sports. A similar learning process was evident when the commentators talked about a female athlete from Iran:
Commentator: “She is only the third woman from Iran to qualify for the Winter Games. I find that remarkable and very conciliatory when you know how hard women in Iran have to fight for recognition, for sporting recognition.”
Co-commentator: “Yes, and she is asked again and again, she said in an interview, are you allowed to ski at all, does your religion allow it and then of course she said that it is no problem at all. Some of the questions she doesn’t even understand. For example, is there snow in Iran and she always says, well, we are not a desert like Saudi Arabia.”
Commentator: “That’s probably true”.
Whereas the commentator was echoing the Western narrative that women in Iran and other Islamic republics are severely suppressed, the co-commentator, by citing the Iranian athlete, questioned that very narrative and other stereotypes about Iran, which the commentator, by responding with “that’s probably true”, seemed to accept. Lastly, when the flag-bearer of Timor-Leste entered the stadium in traditional clothes, the commentator made an approving comment of the costume. Apparently noting the Orientalism in his words, he added: “I wouldn’t consider it as exotic, it’s just something that one likes to see”.
While there was no further discussion of cultural artefacts, commentators did present some geographical facts about what they assumed to be lesser known countries, that is, far-away or small countries, or both. Eurosport 1 viewers learned that Timor-Leste is “an island nation in Southeast Asia near Indonesia” and ZDF viewers got to know that Madagascar is “the second largest island nation in the world by area after Indonesia, located in the Indian Ocean, east of Africa”. The latter audience was also told that San Marino is “a microstate surrounded by Italy” and that Andorra is “a principality in the Pyrenees”. Yet, rather than talking about its peculiarity, Andorra was compared to and lumped together with other European microstates: “By area, the largest of the six European microstates. San Marino, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Vatican City are all among them”. Madagascar, too, was only made sense of by reference to other African countries: “Madagascar, the first of five representatives from Africa”. When the national team of Ghana entered the stadium, the ZDF commentator proclaimed: “Ghana, the next representative of Africa”. Notably, no other teams were pictured as representatives of their respective continent—an expression of the common conflation of African countries with the African continent. The Eurosport 1 commentator, on the other hand, conflated Great Britain with England when he remarked: “In curling, the English, represented by Scotland, have recently beaten the Swedes [...]. The Scots are very important for England”. Strictly speaking, even the official brand name, “Team GB”, is not correct, as the team also includes athletes from Northern Ireland, which does not belong to Great Britain. Yet commentators did not even get some of the more basic facts straight.
Nor can commentators be expected to contribute towards a better knowledge of other cultures and countries within the thirty seconds or so that they have when a national team enters the stadium during the parade of nations. What commentators can do, however, is to set the tone. Here, the tentative and reflective tonality of Eurosport 1, focusing on the individual, seems to be more conducive towards cross-cultural understanding and, eventually, positive peace than the affective and accusative tonality of ZDF, applying a national frame. While there was no evidence of assertive nationalism or chauvinism, a national bias was clearly discernible.
Indeed, even the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), who, on their website, claim to provide “unbiased” and “neutral” coverage to national broadcasters (who then add their own commentary), were not able to fully deliver on that promise: When the German team entered the stadium, an applauding Thomas Bach—IOC president and German national—was captured by the cameras. When the Portuguese team paraded into the stadium, António Guterres—UN General-Secretary and Portuguese national—appeared on the screen. The same holds true for most of the state leaders—from Albert II of Monaco to Xi Jinping of China—that attended the opening ceremony. However, when the Russian Olympic Committee marched in with Russian flags stitched onto their otherwise neutral jackets, the OBS director—maybe in anticipation of what was yet to come—chose to edit out a cheering Vladimir Putin.
 H. L. Reid, ‘Olympic Sport and Its Lessons for Peace’, Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 33 (2006), pp. 205-214.
 Pierre de Coubertin, ‘The Olympic Games of 1896’, Century Magazine 53 (1896), pp. 39-53 at p. 53.
 Pierre de Coubertin, cited in J. J. MacAloon, This Great Symbol: Pierre de Coubertin and the Origins of the Modern Olympic Games (London and New York: Routledge, 2008), p. xxv.
 Simon Creak, ‘Friendship and Mutual Understanding. Sport and Regional Relations in Southeast Asia’, in B. J. Keys (ed.), The Ideals of Global Sport. From Peace to Human Rights (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), pp. 21-46 at p. 26.
 All comments have been transcribed and translated by the author.
 Andreas Wimmer and Nina Glick Schiller, ‘Methodological Nationalism and Beyond: Nation-State Building, Migration and the Social Sciences’, Global Networks 2 (2002), pp. 301-334.