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The British National Party and the Public Sphere

The British National Party and the Public Sphere

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Jonathon Booth. Originally submitted for Hist 436-Europe Since 1989 at McGill University, with lecturer James Krapfl in the category of Historical Studies & Archaeology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Jonathon Booth. Originally submitted for Hist 436-Europe Since 1989 at McGill University, with lecturer James Krapfl in the category of Historical Studies & Archaeology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
 The British National Party 
and the
Public Sphere
Jon BoothProf. James KrapflHist 436 4/16/12
 
The British National Party (BNP), the leading British far-right organization, has alwaysconstructed itself as a counterpublic. It sees itself and its supporters as a marginalized group, ex-cluded from a public sphere dominated by left-liberal ideology. To combat this marginalization ithas built an alternate public sphere in which its supporters can discuss and agitate around issuesthat have been excluded from public discussion, generally because they are (or are perceived tobe) racist. For its first seventeen years, the BNP was extremely marginal and was unable to build astrong counterpublic. Since Nick Griffin took control in 1999, however, it has been much moresuccessful in bringing topics that were previously taboo, such as anti-Islamic and anti-immigration ideas, into the hegemonic public sphere. It has achieved this success due to both ex-ternal factors and Griffin’s changes to the party’s ideology, organization, and rhetoric. In manyways, the BNP’s history has been a quest to create a more powerful counterpublic. In this essay, Iexamine the changes in the ideology, organization, and rhetoric of the BNP over its thirty-yearexistence and show how Griffin’s changes have allowed the BNP to push its issues into the publicsphere and influence the positions of mainstream political parties.
The Public Sphere and Counterpublics: Theoretical Background
 Jürgen Habermas created the idea of the bourgeois public sphere in his 1962 work 
TheStructural Transformation of the Public Sphere
, which, unfortunately, was not translated into Englishuntil 1989.
1
Habermas’s public sphere “designates a theater in modern societies in which politicalparticipation is enacted through the medium of talk. It is the space in which citizens deliberateabout their common affairs, hence, an institutionalized arena of discursive interaction.”
2
Impor-tantly, Habermas’s public sphere is distinct from both the state and the official economy. Haber-
1
1
Jürgen Habermas,
The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society,
tr. Tho-mas Burger with Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press, 1989).
2
Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,”
Social Text 
25/26 (1990): 57.
 
mas believed that the public sphere came into being in the early modern period and that it wasextremely important to the development of modernity and bourgeois society.In her 1990 essay, “Rethinking the Public Sphere,” Nancy Fraser critiques Habermas’sconception and envisions a “post-bourgeois model of the public sphere.”
3
The most importantaspect of her critique is her assertion that the bourgeois public sphere is not universal as Haber-mas believes. Certain groups, specifically women in Fraser’s account, are excluded from discus-sions of the “public interest” and, therefore, the “public opinion” that results from these discus-sions is not representative and the public sphere is not truly accessible.
4
However, Fraser contendsthat groups that are excluded from the bourgeois public sphere are able to form their own or-ganizations, which she terms counterpublics. Citing the historian Mary Ryan, Fraser gives theexample of late-nineteenth century American women’s clubs as a reaction to exclusion andwrites, “Virtually from the beginning, counterpublics contested the exclusionary norms of thebourgeois public, elaborating alternative styles of political behavior and alternative norms of public speech.”
5
After positing the existence of multiple competing public spheres Fraser discusses “inter-public relations,” the interactions between different public spheres.
6
She believes that multiplepublics are important in stratified societies because they give groups excluded from the he-gemonic public sphere “arenas for deliberation among themselves about their needs, objectives,and strategies.”
7
Fraser gives the example of the late-twentieth century feminist counterpublic,
2
3
Ibid., 58.
4
Ibid., 58-60.
5
Ibid., 61.
6
Ibid., 66.
7
Ibid..

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