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Supremacist, Nazi, racist: Do you know the difference?

We’ve cleared some of the confusion around terms used to (correctly and incorrectly) describe right-wing politics.

RIGHT-WING, FASCIST, supremacist.

These terms are often used in the bowels of the internet during political arguments, but they’re not always used correctly.

With the rise of the ‘alt-right’ there is more and more interest in how to define various right-wing beliefs, and increased confusion over what they mean.

When someone shares a belief, it is of course subjective whether that view is morally correct or not, and can sometimes be difficult to define.

But words have a much more definite meaning – which we have listed here.


Definition: “The conservative or reactionary section of a political party or system.”

This is usually a type of politics that prefers a more traditional approach to governing: in short, this generally means less State help for individuals and fewer constraints on corporate companies.

Right-wing beliefs value tradition, leave individuals to ‘fend for themselves’ (think of the American ideal of ‘work hard and you’ll succeed’) and prioritise economic freedom. People described as ‘right wing’ often don’t believe the State should provide free education or healthcare.

In general, they want the ‘freedom to succeed’ over equality.


Germany Europe Nationalists Far-right leader and candidate for next spring presidential elections Marine le Pen from France, right, and Dutch populist anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders. Michael Probst Michael Probst

The alt-right is a term used to describe a ‘new wave’ or surge in support for anti-immigration, pro-nationalist policies, which are often associated with supporters of right-wing politics.

“I think the new wave is populist more than right-wing,” says Emanuel Coman, lecturer in political science at Trinity College Dublin. “Trump has pushed forward this wave of anti-immigration – but he’s also anti-trade deals and anti-globalisation, which makes him more of a populist than a conservative.”

The best word to describe Trump is populist.

“Marine Le Pen is something similar, there is a difference there from her father – she’s not that right-wing, it’s more tame, and more electable.”


Definition: “The extreme right-wing of a political party or group.”

This is where you believe in the most extreme versions of conservatism and not only don’t help individuals who need State assistance, but place restrictions on personal freedoms.

‘Fascism’ is at the end of the scale of far-right politics, but also involves another element…


Fascism is a mixture of far-right and authoritarian systems of governing. Although right-wing means there’s minimum government intervention in individual’s lives, authoritarian means that the State intervenes to ensure you obey the authorities’ every command.

Fascism restricts your personal freedoms so you’re not free to protest or criticise the government and usually involves heavy State surveillance.

There’s also an emphasis on ‘native’ citizens, and a clampdown on minorities to grow the ‘indigenous’ population. A fascist would be a believer in this way of governing.


Historically, this means a member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, but has been adopted recently to mean a person with extreme racist or authoritarian views – or a fascist.

During Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, he played on the depressed state of the indebted German nation, and built hope by blaming outsiders for their economic depression. This led to a persecution of Jews, the Polish community, homosexuals, people of colour, people with disabilities, and the gypsy community.

Nazi‘ is an abbreviation of the German word Nationalsozialist, meaning ‘national socialist’, probably by analogy with Sozi, from Sozialist, or ‘socialist’.


Definition (nationalism): ”1. Patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts. 2. An extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries.”

This term can be quite confusing depending on the context: although there’s nothing inherently negative about the first term – which effectively means to be proud of your country, there is seen to be something malicious in believing your country is ‘superior’ to others.

(And by extension assuming the people of your country are superior.)

If you mean the first term, it’s probably best to use the word ‘patriotic’ instead, than to use nationalist – especially since in its current usage, it seems to be used for its second meaning.


Definition: ”A person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.”

Pretty clear. What can be confusing, is defining what ‘race’ is and that the idea of race (as separate from a nationality) doesn’t have any real meaning, and is a social construct that is kind of racist in itself.


Define: “An advocate of the supremacy of a particular group, especially one determined by race or sex.”

So a racist is a type of supremacist, and a white supremacist is someone who believes in white people’s supremacy over those whose skin is a different shade. The prefix defines what kind of prejudice a supremacist has.

It’s often difficult to define a person’s entire beliefs as completely right-wing or conservative, so for the sake of accuracy, it might be helpful to define the specific view you’re debating them on as right-wing, or nationalist, for example.

Read: Meet the man championing musicians who were captured by the Nazis

Read: ‘These ideas won’t wash with Irish people’: Why the alt-right has little standing in Ireland

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