Radical right (Europe)

A 2015 demonstration of German radical right group Pegida.

In political science, the terms radical right and populist right[1] have been used to refer to the range of European right-wing parties that have grown in support since the late 1970s. Populist right wing groups have shared a number of causes, which typically include opposition to globalization, criticism of immigration and multiculturalism, opposition to the European Union, and social conservatism.

The ideological spectrum of the radical right extends from right-wing populism to white nationalism and neo-fascism. A number of commentators suggest that links to far right movements are overplayed by the media, avoiding dealing with the populist appeal of anti-globalization movements.

Terminology and definition

The Friedrich Ebert Foundation, in a 2011 book, defines the terms "right wing extremist" and "right wing populist" differently.[2]

In 1996, the Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde noted that in most European countries, the terms "radical right" and "extreme right" were used interchangeably.[3] He cited Germany as an exception, noting that among political scientists in that nation, the term "radical right" (Rechsradikalismus) was used in reference to those right-wing groups which were outside the political mainstream but which did not threaten "the free democratic order"; the term was thus used in contrast to the "extreme right" (Rechsextremen), which referred to groups which did threaten the constitutionality of the state and could therefore be banned under German law.[4]

The term "radical right" originated in U.S. political discourse, where it was applied to various anti-communist groups active in the 1950s era of McCarthyism.[5] The term and accompanying concept then entered Western Europe through the social sciences.[5] Conversely, the term "right-wing extremism" developed among European scholars, particularly those in Germany, to describe right-wing groups that developed in the decades following the Second World War, such as the West German National Democratic Party and the French Poujadists.[6] This term then came to be adopted by some scholars in the U.S.[7]

Defining Europe's populist right

"The rise of new parties on the right in the 1980s led to a great deal of controversy over how these parties are defined. Some authors argue that these parties share essential characteristics, while others point to the unique national features and circumstances of each party. Some see them as throwbacks to the fascist era, while others see them as mixing right-wing, liberal, and populist platforms to broaden their electoral appeal. The party ideologues themselves have argued that they cannot be placed on the left-to-right spectrum."

— Terri E. Givens, 2005.[8]

In his study of the radical right in Europe, David Art defined the term "radical right" as referring to "a specific type of far right party that began to emerge in the late 1970s"; as Art used it, "far right" was "an umbrella term for any political party, voluntary association, or extraparliamentary movement that differentiates itself from the mainstream right".[9] Most commentators have agreed that these varied radical right parties have a number of common characteristics.[10] Givens stated that the two characteristics shared by these radical rights groups were:

"They take an anti-immigrant stance by proposing stronger immigrant controls and the repatriation of unemployed immigrants, and they call for a national (i.e., citizens only) preference in social benefits and employment ("welfare chauvinism").
In contrast to earlier extreme right or fascist parties, they work within a country's political and electoral system. Although they do not have the goal of tearing down the current political system, they are anti-establishment. They consider themselves "outsiders" in the party system, and therefore not tainted by government or mainstream parties' scandals."[10]

In 2000, Minkenberg characterised the "radical right" as "a political ideology, the core element of which is a myth of a homogeneous nation, a romantic and populist ultranationalism which is directed against the concept of liberal and pluralistic democracy and its underlying principles of individualism and universalism. The contemporary radical right does not want to return to pre-democratic regimes such as monarchy or feudalism. It wants government by the people, but in terms of ethnocracy instead of democracy."[11]

Journalist Nick Robins-Early characterised the European radical right as focusing on "sometimes vitriolic anti-Euro, anti-immigrant sentiment, as well as renewed security fears" within European nations.[12]

The European Migrant Crisis has caused a significant uptick in the populist support for right-wing parties.[13][14] A 2016 article in the New York Times argued that the "once-unthinkable" British vote to leave the EU is the result of "Populist anger against the established political order".[15]

Support base

The 2005 paper in the European Journal of Political Research argues that the two groups most likely to vote for populist right parties are "blue-collar workers – who support extensive state intervention in the economy – and owners of small businesses – who are against such state intervention".[16]

A 2014 article by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation argued that economic inequality is growing the gap "between the winners of globalisation and its losers. The first group live in urban areas, have relatively stable jobs and access to modern communications and transport, but fears nevertheless that it will soon share the fate of the second group. The second group, meanwhile, are threatened by unemployment or stuck in poorly paid and precarious jobs. They belong to the working class or consider themselves part of the lower middle class and fear – for themselves or their children – (further) social decline. Such people live in de-industrialised areas, or rural or semi-urban areas, on the periphery of globalised metropolises to which they have no access."[1]

Scholars have argued that neoliberalism has led to European "social and economic insecurity" in the working and middle classes, leading to the growth of right wing populism.[17]

Minkenberg termed the supporters of the radical right "modernization losers", in that they are from the sectors of society whose "social and cultural capital is shrinking and they are intent on defending it against encroachments on their traditional entitlements."[18] He described this base as those who exhibit "unease, rigid thinking, authoritarian attitudes and traditional values — all of which reinforce each other."[19]

Connections and links

French radical right protesters in Calais hold banners saying "Reimmigrate" and "Diversity is a code word for white genocide", 8 November 2015

A number of radical right elements express a desire for fascist or neo-Nazi rule in Europe.

Political scientist Michael Minkenberg stressed that the radical right was "a modern phenomenon", stating that it is only "vaguely connected" to previous right-wing movements because it has "undergone a phase of renewal, as a result of social and cultural modernization shifts in post-war Europe."[20] As such he opined that describing it using terms such as "fascism" or "neo-fascism", which were closely linked the right-wing movements of the early 20th century, was an "increasingly obsolete" approach.[21]

The Swedish Neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement group marching through Stockholm, 2007

Minkenberg argued that the radical right groups in Eastern Europe, including in Eastern Germany, were distinct from their counterparts in Western Europe.[22] He added that "the East European radical right is more reverse-oriented than its Western counterpart, i.e. more antidemocratic and more militant" and that because of the relatively new establishment of liberal democracy in Eastern Europe, violence still could be used as a political tool by the Eastern radical right.[23]

Jeffrey Kaplan and Leonard Weinberg's 1998 book The Emergence of a Euro-American Radical Right says that populist right wing movements are supported by extra-parliamentary groups with electorally unpalatable views, such as Christian Identity movements, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, the promotion of scientific racism and Holocaust denial, and neo-Nazi economic theories like Strasserism.[24]

Connection to U.S. radical right

"[There is a] growing similarity of economic and social conditions in Western Europe and the United States. The effect of this concurrence, the appearance of a multicultural and multiracial Western Europe and its consequent resemblance to the United States in particular, has promoted racial resentments. Some whites, defined as Aryans, Teutons, and so on, have become so alienated from their respective national societies they have become sympathetic to the formation of a racial folk community that is Euro-American in scope and indeed reaches out to include "kinsmen" in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand as well."

— Jeffrey Kaplan and Leonard Weinberg, 1998.[25]

In 1998, the political scientists Jeffrey Kaplan and Leonard Weinberg argued that the interaction of right-wingers and the transmission of ideas between right-wing groups in Western Europe and the United States was common, having been aided by the development of the internet.[26] They believed that in the late 20th century a discernible "Euro-American radical right" that would promote a trans-national White identity politics, promoting populist grievance narratives around groups who feel besieged by non-white peoples through multiculturalism.[27] This concept of a unified "white" race was not always explicitly racialist, in many cases instead being conceived of as being a bond created by "cultural affinity and a sense of common historical experience and a shared ultimate destiny".[27]

Kaplan and Weinberg also identified differences in the radical right movements of Europe and North America. They noted that European radical right parties had been able to achieve electoral successes in a way that their American counterparts had failed to do.[28] Instead, radical right activists in the U.S. had attempted to circumvent the restrictions of the two-party system by joining right-wing trends within the Republican Party.[29] They also noted that legal restrictions on such groups differed in the two continents; in the U.S., the First Amendment protected the free speech of radical right groups, while in most West European nations there were laws prohibiting hate speech and (in several countries) Holocaust denial, thus forcing European radical right groups to present a more moderate image.[30]

To extra-parliamentary right-wing groups

Alongside the radical right political parties, there are also extra-parliamentary groups which having no need to express views that will be electorally palatable are able to express a more heterogenous array of right-wing views.[31] These extra-parliamentary rightist groups are often religious in nature, affiliated either with Christian Identity or with Odinism,[24] reflecting a greater racial mysticism than was present in earlier right-wing movements.[32] Such groups often believe that Western governments are under the control of a Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG), thus expressing explicitly anti-Semitic views.[33] Such groups are also less enthusiastic about capitalism and free markets as the radical right political parties are, instead being influenced by Strasserism and favouring greater state control of the economy.[34] Such extra-parliamentary groups often exhibit ritual or ceremonial practices to commemorate perceived past achievements of the right-wing, for instance by marking Adolf Hitler's birthday or the death date of Rudolf Hess.[35] They are also associated with violent activities, with such violence often being utilised not just for political aims but also as an expressive and enjoyable activity.[35]

There are also more intellectually-oriented radical right organisations which hold conferences and publish journals devoted to the promotion of scientific racism and Holocaust denial.[36] Material promoting Holocaust denial is typically published in the United Kingdom or United States and then smuggled into continental Europe, where the publication of such material is widely illegal.[37]


A 2015 study on modern populism by Kirk A. Hawkins of Brigham Young University[38] used human coding to rate the level of perceived populist rhetoric in party manifestos and political speeches. Parties with high populism scores included the British National Party, the Swiss People's Party, the German NPD, the French National Front, the Belgian People's Party, along with the Italian Five Star Movement, Civil Revolution and Democratic Party, the Spanish United Left, the Swedish Left Party.

The political scientists Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin characterised the UK Independence Party as being on the radical right.[39]

See also



  1. 1 2 ernst Hillebrand (May 2014). "Right Wing Populism in Europe – How do we Respond?" (PDF). Friedrich Ebert Foundation.
  2. Nora Langenbacher; Britta Schellenberg; Karen Margolis, eds. (2011). Is Europe on the "Right" Path? Right-wing extremism and right-wing populism in Europe (PDF). Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Forum Berlin Project “Combating right-wing extremism“. ISBN 978-3-86872-617-6.
  3. Mudde 1996, p. 230.
  4. Mudde 1996, pp. 230231.
  5. 1 2 Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, p. 10.
  6. Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, pp. 1011.
  7. Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, p. 11.
  8. Givens 2005, p. 18.
  9. Art 2011, p. 10.
  10. 1 2 Givens 2005, p. 20.
  11. Minkenberg 2000, pp. 174175.
  12. Robins-Early 2015.
  13. "Europe's Populist Politicians Tap Into Deep-Seated Frustration - WSJ". 2 June 2016. Archived from the original on June 2, 2016.
  14. "Judy Asks: Will Populist Parties Run Europe? - Carnegie Europe - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace". 4 June 2016. Archived from the original on June 4, 2016.
  15. "Populist Anger Upends Politics on Both Sides of the Atlantic". The New York Times. 25 June 2016.
  16. Ivarsflaten, Elisabeth (2005). "The vulnerable populist right parties: No economic realignment fuelling their electoral success". European Journal of Political Research. 44 (3): 465–492. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6765.2005.00235.x. ISSN 0304-4130.
  17. "CHANGES IN WORKING LIFE AND THE APPEAL OF RIGHT-WING POPULISM IN EUROPE" (PDF). Forschungs- und Beratungsstelle Arbeitswelt. 17–18 June 2004.
  18. Minkenberg 2000, pp. 182183.
  19. Minkenberg 2000, p. 183.
  20. Minkenberg 2000, p. 170.
  21. Minkenberg 2000, pp. 170171.
  22. Minkenberg 2000, p. 188.
  23. Minkenberg 2000, p. 189.
  24. 1 2 Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, p. 56.
  25. Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, pp. 195196.
  26. Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, pp. 79.
  27. 1 2 Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, p. 18.
  28. Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, pp. 4546.
  29. Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, pp. 6162.
  30. Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, p. 46.
  31. Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, pp. 5556.
  32. Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, p. 128.
  33. Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, pp. 5657.
  34. Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, pp. 5758.
  35. 1 2 Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, p. 58.
  36. Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, pp. 8090.
  37. Kaplan & Weinberg 1998, p. 92.
  38. "Mapping Populist Parties in Europe and the Americas" (PDF). July 13, 2015.
  39. Ford & Goodwin 2014.


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