New minority parties and movements -- "far right" parties of racial or national purity, and "far left" parties of environmental protection -- are gaining support in most developed countries and throwing a scare into establishment politicians.
Generally, these two forces are taken to be diametrically opposed, but actually they have a good deal in common: they are both simplistic reactions against a rapidly emerging global society, and they are both in the grip of romanticized visions of the past.
The most recent country to get caught in this pincer movement is Belgium, where the Vlaams Blok, a fiercely anti-immigrant and anti-European community party of the right, and Les Ecolos, a fiercely pro-nature party of the left, together took a surprisingly large chunk out of the mainstream parties.
The pattern is now a familiar one in Europe. Usually the environmental party is called the Greens. The parties on the right go by many names. Among the current crop are the Freedom party in Austria, the Deutsche Folks Union in Germany, the National Democratic party in Sweden and the National Front party in France.
A similar pattern is emerging in the United States, where Green parties are forming in many states and localities, and David Duke mounting a presidential primary campaign to bring his message of blow-dry white supremacy to the nation.
Although the ecological and nationalistic minority movements seem at first to be totally different from one another and aim their appeals at quite distinct population groups and regions, each builds its ideology on a mythic image of an idealized, fantasized past.
For the parties of the right, it is the past era of national greatness before the nation-states began to surrender their sovereignty to international organizations and open up their borders to hordes of new immigrants of different races and religions.
For the Greens, it is a lost time of pastoral simplicity, before the factories of the Industrial Revolution began to pollute the air and water. Greens tend to be strongly attracted to primitive religions, shamanism and the "noble savage" mystique of "Dances With Wolves."
Another area of striking similarity is the commitment to a certain notion of purity. For the right-wingers it is the purity of the dominant race and the national culture. For the Greens it is the purity of ecosystems and species. Most Green party platforms advocate bioregionalism -- meaning that "natural" ecosystems should form the boundaries of economies, governments and societies, with a minimum of commerce between them. The parties on the right worry about the contamination of races by intermarriage among people; the Greens worry about the contamination of plant and animal species by biotechnology, and some advocate laws to protect the "integrity" of species.
The most obvious feature of the new minority movements -- the thing that makes them most attractive to their followers and least capable of translating their ideas into practical programs of governance -- is their moral simplicity. They offer their followers a good-guy bad-guy view of the world, in which they are, of course, the good guys. They view the mainstream parties, with their deals and coalitions and endless compromises, as hopelessly corrupt.
The new movements of environmentalism and nationalism both have strong historical roots in Romanticism. In a sense, they are modern variations on themes that have been playing through Western Civilization since the 18th century -- a yearning for the heroic and the mysterious, a preference for feeling and action over thinking and talking, a deep dislike of modernism and its faith in progress. The movements on the right pick up the ancient myths of the Volk and the heroic leader; the Greens pick up the myth of the land and the reverence for Nature.
The two have something else in common, which is that the concerns they speak to are completely justified. People in Western Europe fear that their countries will never be the same again as they become more multi-racial and multi-cultural, and they are quite right. People everywhere fear ecological catastrophe and see economic and industrial progress as primary causes of pollution, and they are quite right. The new minority movements may not be able to solve these problems, but they know what they are talking about.
On behalf of the new minority movements of left and right, it could be said that they are performing a genuine service in expressing deeply-felt concerns. But are they truly speaking to those concerns, or merely exploiting them?
Neither seems to have much chance of slaying its dragon: there is little reason to believe that either the massive human movements and the weakening of national boundaries lamented the parties of the right, or the population growth and continuing industrialization condemned by the Green movements, are about to come to a quick halt.
History does not seem to have a reverse gear, and the future will belong to the more prosaic political parties who are prepared to do the unromantic work of governing in a less-than-perfect world.
Walter Truett Anderson is author of "Beyond Liberalism: Further Adventures of the Political Animal" and other books on politics and the environment. He wrote this commentary for Pacific News Service.