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ANRV316-SO33-12 ARI 24 May 2007 10:31

The Sociology of the

Radical Right
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

Jens Rydgren
Department of Sociology, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden;
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Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007. 33:241–62 Key Words

First published online as a Review in Advance on ethnic relations, extreme right, nationalism, political sociology,
February 21, 2007
The Annual Review of Sociology is online at Abstract
This article’s doi: During the past two decades, the radical right has reemerged as
an electoral force in Western Europe, as well as in other stable
Copyright  c 2007 by Annual Reviews. democracies such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Aside
All rights reserved
from discussing the ideology of this party family and how it re-
0360-0572/07/0811-0241$20.00 lates to older forms of right-wing radicalism and extremism, such as
fascism, this review deals with the question of how the emergence
of radical right-wing parties can be explained and why such par-
ties have been considerably more successful among voters in some
countries than in others. Possible explanations are grouped into two
parts: The first consists of so-called demand-centered explanations,
that is, explanations that focus on changing preferences, beliefs, and
attitudes among voters. The second consists of so-called supply-side
explanations, that is, explanations that focus on political opportunity
structures and party organizational factors.

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INTRODUCTION late to older forms of right-wing radicalism

and extremism, such as fascism? The remain-
During the past two decades, the radical right
ing two parts deal with how the emergence
has reemerged as an electoral force in Western
of radical right-wing parties can be explained
Europe, as well as in other stable democracies
and why such parties have been considerably
such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
more successful among the voters in some
Since the early 1980s, parties such as the
countries than in others. The first of these
French Front National, the Belgian Vlaams
parts reviews so-called demand-centered ex-
Blok, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), the
planations: explanations that focus on chang-
Italian Lega Nord, and the Danish People’s
ing preferences, beliefs, and attitudes among
Party, among several others, have established
the voters. The last section discusses supply-
themselves in their respective party systems,
side explanations: political opportunity struc-
sometimes with voter shares exceeding 20%.
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

tures and party organizational factors.

Austria (2000) and Italy (1994 and 2001) have
formed governments involving the Freedom
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Party and the Lega Nord, respectively. Hence,

for the first time since World War II, the radi- WHAT IS RADICAL
cal right constitutes a significant force in West RIGHT-WING POPULISM?
European democracies (Betz 2001, p. 407). The literature on the new radical right lacks
This development has revived the inter- consensus on core definitions and ideolog-
ests of social scientists in the radical and/or ical characteristics of this new party family
extreme right. Much like the social scientists (cf. Fennema 1997, Mudde 1996a), despite the
in the 1950s and 1960s, who tried to under- near consensus on which parties should be in-
stand the rise of interwar fascism in Europe cluded in the party family. This is certainly not
(e.g., Arendt 1951, Lipset 1981) and early a satisfying situation; thus, I devote this sec-
postwar right-wing radicalism in the United tion to the ideology of the new radical right
States (Bell 2002b, Shils 1956), contempo- and to definitions of this party family. This is
rary social scientists have been intrigued by not a question merely of semantics; it is an im-
the question of why millions of voters living portant step in understanding the parties and
in liberal democracies give support to radical explaining their emergence.
right-wing parties that promote xenophobia The new radical right-wing parties share
(and sometimes racism), ethno-nationalism, an emphasis on ethno-nationalism rooted in
sociocultural authoritarianism, and antisys- myths about the distant past. Their program
tem populism. Moreover, the reemergence of is directed toward strengthening the nation
a strong radical right has provoked sociolog- by making it more ethnically homogeneous
ically significant questions because it contra- and by returning to traditional values. They
dicts several of the core hypotheses of postwar generally view individual rights as secondary
political sociology, such as Lipset & Rokkan’s to the goals of the nation. They also tend
(1967) freezing hypothesis (which failed to to be populists in accusing elites of putting
predict the emergence of new party families) internationalism ahead of the nation and of
and Inglehart’s (1977) postmaterialist theory putting their own narrow self-interests and
(which predicted only new left-liberal parties various special interests ahead of the interest
and movements) (cf. Veugelers 1999). of the people. Hence, the new radical right-
This review consists of three parts. The wing parties share a core of ethno-nationalist
first part deals with how the party family xenophobia and antiestablishment populism.
of new radical right-wing parties can be de- In their political platforms this ideological
fined. What are its characteristic ideological core is embedded in a general sociocultural
and programmatic features? How does it re- authoritarianism that stresses themes such as

242 Rydgren
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law and order and family values (Rydgren mentary type, which participates in public
2005a; see also Minkenberg 2001). Below, I elections and aspires to win representation
account for these ideological core themes, but within democratic political institutions, is
first I discuss the two constituting concepts referred to as radical right (see, e.g., Eatwell
of the definition—“radical” (or extreme) and 2000, pp. 410–411; Zaslove 2004b, p. 66).
“right-wing”—as well as how this new party Furthermore, the new radical right does not
family differs from other (and older) forms of usually oppose democracy per se (as an idea),
right-wing extremism, such as fascism. although they typically are hostile to rep-
resentative democracy and the way existing
democratic institutions actually work. In fact,
Radical these parties argue that they represent true
In what manner are the new radical right democracy (in contrast to the sham democ-
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

parties radical, or even extremist (as many racy characterizing contemporary Western
scholars would have it; see, e.g., Mudde 2000, Europe).
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Eatwell 1994)? According to Powell (1986, Hence, although the radical right-wing
p. 359), an extremist party “represents a de- parties reject cleavages and division lines
mand for major transformation of the society, within “the people”—they are typically an-
either towards some future vision or back to an tiparty parties (Ignazi 1996, Mudde 1996b)—
idealized past. Such demands diverge from the they are extremists primarily because they re-
general, current policy consensus.” Accord- ject pluralist values. Despite the radical right’s
ing to this definition, the new radical right acceptance of procedural democracy, its ideal
can in most instances be considered exam- society is ethnocracy, which in many ways
ples of extremist parties. However, it may also runs counter to the pluralistic values of liberal
be useful to consider Lipset & Raab’s (1970) democracy (Betz 2005, Minkenberg 2000).
more specific definition of political extremism
as antipluralism or monism. The “operational
heart of extremism,” to follow the argument of Right
Lipset & Raab (1970, p. 6), “is the repression One common way to distinguish between left
of difference and dissent, the closing down of and right is to view the former as egalitarian
the market place of ideas. More precisely, the and the latter as nonegalitarian (Bobbio 1996)
operational essence of extremism, or monism, or the left as universalistic and the right as par-
is the tendency to treat cleavage and ambiva- ticularistic (see, e.g., Eatwell 2004). Two prob-
lence as illegitimate.” lems with this distinction, of course, are that
Political monism of the extreme right is it is unclear on what policies parties should be
expressed in two ways: as a rejection of the judged and that parties can, for instance, be
democratic political system and/or a rejection nonegalitarian and universalistic at the same
of universalistic and egalitarian, sometimes time. More specifically, we may define a party
called democratic, values. We should here as left or right according to its position on so-
distinguish between two different subtypes cioeconomic politics, which concerns the de-
of right-wing extremism, namely the parlia- gree of state involvement in the economy (i.e.,
mentary and the nonparliamentary. Whereas economic socialism versus economic liberal-
the latter is opposed to the constitution, the ism), or on its positions on sociocultural poli-
former is only hostile toward the constitution tics, which relates to value-laden issues such as
(see Mudde 2000, p. 12). It is common to national identity, law and order, immigration
reserve the use of the term right-wing ex- policy, abortion, and so on (i.e., sociocultural
tremism exclusively for the nonparliamentary liberalism versus authoritarianism). The new
type, which has chosen to take action outside radical right is right-wing primarily in the so-
the parliamentary arena, whereas the parlia- ciocultural sense of the term. • The Sociology of the Radical Right 243

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The new radical right gives priority to The French Front National adopted this
sociocultural issues, in particular to issues notion from the Nouvelle Droite and made it
related to national identity, and its cen- the core of the party’s political program and
tral political program can be understood as rhetorical profile (see Rydgren 2003b). Today
“a response to the erosion of the system of it is the most distinguishing ideological char-
‘ethno-national dominance’, which character- acteristic of the new radical right party family
ized much of the history of modern nation (Rydgren 2005a; see also Betz 2005). By using
states” (Betz & Johnson 2004, p. 323). More the ethno-pluralist ideology, the radical right-
specifically, the new radical right builds on wing parties claim the right of European na-
the idea of ethno-pluralism, an idea that is tional cultures to protect their cultural iden-
in line with right-wing ideas going back to tity. According to the new radical right, there
Herder (Berlin 1976, Holmes 2000) and that are several threats against their national iden-
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

in modern times was elaborated by the French tity, of which the alleged invasion of im-
Nouvelle Droite. Nouvelle Droite was a com- migrants is the most important. Immigrants
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posite term for intellectual groups that, in- from Muslim countries are singled out as par-
spired by Gramsci’s notion of cultural hege- ticularly threatening to European values, al-
mony, formed in France during the late 1960s legedly because they are the least commen-
and 1970s to counter the intellectual and cul- surable and the least inclined to assimilation
tural dominance of the left. For the Nouvelle (see, e.g., Zaslove 2004b). Other threats are
Droite, as for related groups in Italy and supranational entities such as the European
Germany, the principal aim was Kulturkampf, Union and, increasingly, multinational corpo-
and not party politics (Minkenberg 2000). De- rations and economic globalization, as well as
parting from the left’s notion of différence— cosmopolitan elites, and other processes be-
on which the doctrine of multiculturalism lieved to foster universalization and homoge-
(that is, the idea that migrants should have nization (Betz & Johnson 2004, Griffin 2000,
the right to preserve habits and traditions Zaslove 2004a).
of their home countries) is largely based— Also, more generally, anti-immigration is-
the notion of ethno-pluralism states that, to sues are the core message of the new radi-
preserve the unique national characters of cal right.1 These parties have used four ar-
different peoples, they have to be kept sep- guments to frame immigrants as national/
arated. Mixing of different ethnicities only cultural threats: First, as implied above, for
leads to cultural extinction (see Griffin 2000, the radical right, immigrants are a threat to
Minkenberg 1997, Taguieff 1988). More- ethno-national identity; second, they are a
over, in this doctrine, which claims the right major cause of criminality and other kinds of
to difference, culture and ethnicity are de- social insecurity; third, they are a cause of un-
terministic and monolithic; chances for in- employment; and fourth, they are abusers of
dividual change and ingroup variation are the generosity of the welfare states of Western
believed to be slight. Yet, contrary to the tra- democracies, which results in fewer state sub-
ditional conception of racism, the doctrine sidies, etc., for natives (see, e.g., Rydgren
of ethno-pluralism, as such, is not hierarchi-
cal: Different ethnicities are not necessarily
superior or inferior, only different, incompat- 1
Hence, scholars such as Kitschelt (1995), Knigge (1998),
ible, and incommensurable (Betz & Johnson and Taggart (1996) are incorrect in claiming that the new
radical right only uses the immigration issue as a catalyst
2004, Taguieff 1988). Hence, whereas old for their discontent with contemporary, parliamentary pol-
racism, common in colonial settings, aimed itics as a whole. There are several reasons for this misun-
at subordination, the ethno-pluralist doc- derstanding, the most important being that they have not
analyzed the ideology and rhetorical strategies of these par-
trine basically aims at expulsion (Fennema ties, but rather have looked at the reasons voters gave for
2005). voting for them.

244 Rydgren
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2003a). Using the third and fourth frames, the does not necessary imply that the parties pro-
new radical right-wing parties have promoted mote promarket politics. Second, Kitschelt
the idea of national preference, that is, giving is conflating neoliberalism and populism. As
natives priority when it comes to jobs, hous- Eatwell (2000) has argued, the radical right-
ing, health care, and so on. Their proposals wing parties’ attacks on “the big state” have
can be characterized as a sort of reversed af- been more populist than (neo-)liberal. In fact,
firmative action (e.g., Zaslove 2004a, Rydgren the radical right is opposed to liberal values:
2003b). For all these reasons, radical right- “[T]here is no fundamental commitment to
wing parties promote an ethnic view of citi- markets in the sense of liberal values (individ-
zenship ( jus sanguinis) and oppose models of ualism, economic nonegalitarianism, interna-
residential citizenship ( jus soli ) (cf. Brubaker tionalism, and so on). The underlying extrem-
1992). ist Weltanschauung is based more on features
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

The picture is more ambiguous as far as such as family, religion and distrust of out-
economic policies are concerned. Most of the siders” (Eatwell 2000, p. 413).
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radical right-wing parties backed neoliberal

economics of one sort or another during the
1980s, often manifested in campaigns for rad- Populism
ical tax cuts. However, during the 1990s, most Some scholars (e.g., Betz 1993, 1994; Taggart
of the new radical right parties changed po- 1996, 2000) have argued that populism is
sitions and have become more economically a defining characteristic of the new radical
protectionist, which implies a more centrist right. This is true insofar as these parties tend
position on economic policies. As a result, to view society as “ultimately separated into
many radical right-wing parties today sup- two homogeneous and antagonistic groups,
port the capitalist system nationally, while at the ‘pure’ people versus ‘the corrupt elite’”—
the same time strongly opposing globaliza- a worldview that, according to Cas Mudde
tion (Zaslove 2004b). In this vein, for ex- (2004, p. 543), is characteristic of populism—
ample, Bruno Mégret, then member of the and that the populist antiestablishment strat-
French Front National, launched the idea egy has been crucial to the success of the new
of national capitalism (see Rydgren 2003b). radical right-wing parties. In the case of the
Simultaneously, however, welfare chauvinism new radical right-wing parties, not only elites
became increasingly important to the new but other groups as well (immigrants, eth-
radical right-wing parties and led some of nic minorities) are excluded from the “pure
them to present themselves as ardent support- people.” A party that uses the antiestablish-
ers of the welfare state (Betz & Johnson 2004, ment strategy tries to construct an image of
Evans et al. 2001). itself as in opposition to the political class,
Building on data from 1990, Kitschelt while trying actively not to appear antidemo-
(1995) argued that radical right-wing parties cratic. A party that is viewed as antidemocratic
had to present a winning formula of market will be stigmatized and marginalized as long as
(neo-)liberalism and right-wing authoritari- the overwhelming majority of the electorate is
anism to become electorally successful, a view in favor of democracy per se (Schedler 1996;
that he still defends a decade later (McGann see also Van der Brug et al. 2005).
& Kitschelt 2005). This view has several fail- To create distance between themselves and
ings. First, Kitschelt does not support his ar- the established political parties (i.e., both the
gument with an analysis of the program and government and the anti-incumbent oppo-
propaganda of the radical right-wing parties, sition), populist parties aim at recoding the
but on the attitudes of their voters. It is un- political space, with its diversity of parties,
tenable to infer the former from the latter: into one single, homogeneous political class.
That a segment of their voters are promarket One way of achieving this goal is to argue • The Sociology of the Radical Right 245

ANRV316-SO33-12 ARI 24 May 2007 10:31

that the differences between government and inwards, it still constitutes the ideological core
established opposition parties are irrelevant of these parties. The new radical right’s long-
surface phenomena. According to the new ing for ethnic purity, homogeneity, and or-
radical right-wing parties, in reality the es- ganic order places them in the same tradi-
tablished parties do not compete but collude tion as fascism. Second, decadence has been
[Schedler (1996); cf. Abedi (2002); see also a recurrent ideological and rhetorical theme
Sartori’s (1976) conception of antisystem par- of some of the new radical right-wing parties
ties]. Part of this strategy is often also to crit- (e.g., the French Front National), but less so
icize the established parties for focusing on in others (e.g., Lega Nord). In any case, the
obsolete issues, while at the same time sup- ideological differences between fascism and
pressing political issues associated with the the radical right-wing parties mainly concern
real conflict between national identity and the third point, the rebirth myth. According
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multiculturalism. to Griffin (1991), the fascist myth of rebirth,

The populist antiestablishment strategy what he calls the palingenetic myth, refers “to
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makes it possible for the new radical right- the sense of a new start or of regeneration after
wing parties to present themselves as the real a phase of crisis or decline . . . . At the heart of
champions of true democracy—as a new kind palingenetic political myth lies the belief that
of party—which takes the worries and inter- contemporaries are living through or about
ests of the common man into account (see, to live through a ‘sea-change,’ or ‘water-shed’
e.g., Betz & Johnson 2004, Mudde 2004). or ‘turning-point’ in the historical process”
Yet, the Manichean worldview of the new (Griffin 1991, pp. 33, 35). Although such a
radical right-wing parties makes the poli- myth also exists among the new radical right-
tics of compromise and bargaining of lib- wing parties, it is much weaker, and it does not
eral democracy difficult. Thus, the new rad- aim at replacing the democratic system with a
ical right-wing parties commonly demand new order (Griffin 2000). Equally important,
more referenda, which encourage clear yes or whereas fascism was oriented toward the fu-
no answers, while discouraging compromise ture (Sternhell 1986), these parties are rather
(Eatwell 2004). oriented toward the past (or, in fact, toward an
Yet one can argue that populism is a charac- idealized idea of the past). Rather than create
teristic but not a distinctive feature of the new a new society, rising “phoenix-like after a pe-
radical right. Other parties use the populist riod of encroaching decadence” (Griffin 1991,
antiestablishment strategy as well, and several p. 38), the new radical right-wing parties wish
parties of other political shades in Western to restore the status quo ante (see von Beyme
Europe can be said to be populist in some way 1988).2
or another. Yet, although the new radical right-wing
parties are not fascist, there are affinities to
fascism. In conducting interviews with repre-
Fascism sentatives of the new radical right-wing par-
By examining the three mythic components ties in the European Parliament, Fennema
that, according to Griffin (1991, p. 201), con- & Pollman (1998) showed that representa-
stitute the fascist minimum—populist ultra- tives of these parties (the Italian MSI, the
nationalism, the myth of decadence, and the Belgian Vlaams Blok, and the French Front
rebirth myth—we find similarities as well as National) made quite explicit references to
differences between fascism and the new rad-
ical right-wing parties. First, although the
populist ultranationalism (i.e., organic ethno- Using slightly different defining criteria of fascism,
Michael Mann (2004, p. 370) came to a similar conclu-
nationalism) of the new radical right is less sion, claiming that the new radical right-wing parties are
aggressive and expansive, and rather turned “not seriously fascist under the terms of my definition.”

246 Rydgren
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prewar fascist intellectuals and cited them based on both the social breakdown thesis
as their ideological inspiration. However, al- and the relative deprivation thesis), the eth-
though they also displayed other fascist ideas, nic competition thesis, as well as other ex-
such as ethnic nationalism, antimaterialism, planations focusing on popular xenophobia
and conspiracy theory, there were few signs and political discontent. Most of these expla-
of the antidemocratic elements of fascism (see nations have in common that they are based
also Fennema 2005, p. 8). in different ways on grievance theory, in fo-
cusing on the objective—mostly macrostruc-
turally shaped—conditions that have in-
EXPLAINING THE EMERGENCE creased grievances and discontent among the
OF NEW RADICAL RIGHT-WING people (De Witte & Klandermans 2000,
PARTIES Koopmans et al. 2005).
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

Most research on the new radical right-wing

parties has focused on singular national cases Anomie/social breakdown. The use of the
by Rutgers University Libraries on 06/05/09. For personal use only.

(see, e.g., Hainsworth 1992, 2000; Betz & anomie or social breakdown thesis within the
Immerfall 1998; Merkl & Weinberg 1993, literature on the new radical right—which ar-
1997, 2003). Because this research takes a gues that isolated individuals living in atom-
large variety of factors into account, it of- ized, socially disintegrated societies are partic-
ten provides important insights. Sometimes, ularly likely to support ethno-nationalist and
however, it is also highly problematic: By ig- populist politics—is a remnant from mass so-
noring research done on similar parties in ciety theory (Arendt 1951, Kornhauser 1959),
other countries, it often leads to ad hoc theo- which was one of the dominant theories
rizing. Owing to limited space in this review, for explaining the rise of interwar fascism
however, I mainly examine research that is and Nazism. This theory lost influence after
comparative in scope. new empirical research (e.g., Hamilton 1982)
In discussing different explanations of demonstrated that interwar fascism was of-
the emergence and electoral fortunes of the ten strongest in communities that remained
new radical right, it is useful to distinguish strong, rather than in weak communities, and
among different types of explanations. The that support for Hitler was not overrepre-
most common family of explanations focuses sented among socially isolated voters (Eatwell
on the demand-side of politics: factors that 2005, Fennema 2005), yet it still lingers. How-
have changed the interests, emotions, atti- ever, in its original form the anomie/social
tudes, and preferences of West European vot- breakdown thesis has received little support
ers. These explanations often depart from in the empirically oriented literature: Voters
macrostructural processes. Another impor- of the new radical right-wing parties are not
tant group of explanations focuses on supply- the isolated, asocial individuals that would be
side factors: the political program that the new predicted from this theory (see, e.g., Eatwell
radical right-wing parties offer, their party or- 2003).
ganization, and a number of so-called political
opportunity structures, such as electoral sys- The relative deprivation/modernization
tems, elite responses, and the media. losers thesis. Relative deprivation theory fo-
cuses on the frustration arising from feelings
of relative deprivation. Feelings of relative de-
Demand-Side Factors privation, in turn, are caused by disappoint-
The most common demand-centered expla- ing comparisons with one’s own past (that is,
nations have been the anomie/social break- when the trajectory of one’s life suddenly de-
down thesis, the relative deprivation the- viates from the expected) or with social ref-
sis, the modernization losers thesis (which is erence groups (that is, when one’s ingroup is • The Sociology of the Radical Right 247

ANRV316-SO33-12 ARI 24 May 2007 10:31

negatively evaluated in comparison with sig- ditionally provided and sustained collective
nificant outgroups) (see, e.g., Gurr 1970, identities, are getting eroded and/or are be-
Runciman 1966). In practical terms, much re- ing destroyed . . . , and are giving way to a
search that builds on the relative deprivation ‘flux of contextualized identities’.” Taken to-
thesis has been operationalized in economic gether, these developments increase the im-
terms as declining market situations for in- portance of cultural capital, flexibility, and in-
dividuals or groups, or fear of economic de- dividual entrepreneurship for people’s efforts
cline in the near future. This has occurred to adapt to the rapidly changing circumstances
despite the early emphasis by Bell (2002a), of contemporary Western societies. Hence,
Lipset (1959), and others that loss of status those who possess these characteristics can
(or fear of loss of status) may be at least as be expected to be among the winners in the
important—and possibly more important—in postindustrial societies (Betz 1994, pp. 29–
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

explaining support for the radical right. 30). However, the losers, those who are unable
The modernization losers thesis, in turn, to cope with the “acceleration of economic,
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has been one of the central tenets in the liter- social, and cultural modernization” and/or are
ature on the new radical right-wing parties. It stuck in full or partial unemployment, run the
is basically a combination of the social break- risk of falling into the new underclass and of
down thesis and the relative deprivation the- becoming “superfluous and useless for soci-
sis. Minkenberg (2003, p. 151), for instance, ety” (Betz 1994, p. 32). This situation may fa-
argues that the rise of new radical right-wing vor the emergence of radical right-wing par-
parties can be understood as “the radical effort ties in three ways, according to Betz. First, the
to undo” social change associated with mod- losers in the postindustrialization processes
ernization, that is, “a growing autonomy of may be supposed to become anxious, bewil-
the individual (status mobility and role flexi- dered, insecure, and resentful, sentiments that
bility) and ongoing functional differentiation may be channeled into support for policy pro-
of the society (segmentation and growing au- posals that stress the need to return to the
tonomy of societal subsystems).” The ethno- traditional values of the status quo ante. Sec-
nationalistically defined, homogeneous com- ond, as a response to the established political
munity and the virtue of traditional roles parties’ inability to cope with the (at least per-
stressed by the new radical right constitute ceived) perverted effects of rampant economic
appealing counterweights for people who do and cultural transformation processes, many
not feel at home in a modernizing society. have become increasingly discontented and
Betz (1994, pp. 26–27) proposed a similar disenchanted, which has opened up a niche for
explanation in arguing that the emergence of parties ready to exploit popular political dis-
the new radical right-wing parties is largely content to win protest votes. Third, the frag-
“a consequence of a profound transformation mentation and individualization of postindus-
of the socioeconomic and sociocultural struc- trial societies lead to a decline in cleavage
ture of advanced Western European democ- politics, i.e., to a decreased salience of the eco-
racies,” and more specifically from an indus- nomic cleavage dimension, which may open
trial to a postindustrial economy. According up a space for parties that address new issues,
to Betz, this transition is largely character- such as the immigration question (Betz 1994,
ized by dissolution, fragmentation, and dif- pp. 34–35).3
ferentiation, which are the result of increased
individualization. These processes also have
implications for the cultures of contempo- 3
See also Bell (2002a, p. 42), who has described the politics
rary Western societies, in which, according of the radical right as the politics of frustration, based on
“the sour impotence of those who find themselves unable to
to Betz (1994, p. 29), “established subcul- understand, let alone command, the complex mass society
tures, milieus, and institutions, which tra- that is the polity today.”

248 Rydgren
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In practical terms, “modernization losers” p. 134), unemployment rates have been shown
has usually come to refer to unemployed to be a bad predictor of cross-national varia-
people and unskilled workers threatened by tion in the electoral fortunes of the new radical
unemployment in the near future (see, e.g., right-wing parties. Several macrolevel stud-
Betz 1994, 1998). However, others, such as ies have shown that there is either no sig-
Minkenberg (2000), have argued that mod- nificant relationship (Lubbers et al. 2002) or
ernization losers should be defined more a negative relationship (Arzheimer & Carter
broadly to include “the second-to-last fifth” 2006, Knigge 1998) between unemployment
stratum of society, a stratum that is “rather se- rates and differences in the electoral fortunes
cure but objectively can still lose something” of radical right-wing parties. Swank & Betz
(Minkenberg 2000, p. 187). One may com- (2003) find no significant association between
plain that this definition makes for poor pre- either the unemployment rate, slower eco-
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

dictions of which voter groups will turn to the nomic growth, or inflation rates and the suc-
new radical right-wing parties, but it largely cess of radical right-wing parties, although
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agrees with Lipset’s (1981, p. 489) well-known they do find a significant negative association
argument that the interwar fascist parties were between having a universal welfare state sys-
disproportionately supported by sections of tem (including an active labor market pro-
the old middle class (such as self-employed gram) and electoral success of new radical
craftsmen and small shop owners) that were right parties.4 Only Jackman & Volpert (1996)
“displaced or threatened by the emergence have reported a positive relationship for un-
of centralized, large-scale industry and the employment, whereas Golder (2003) found
growing power and status of organized la- a positive interaction effect: high unemploy-
bor.” Empirical research clearly shows that ment rates are favorable to new radical right-
workers and the old middle classes are indeed wing parties only in countries with a large (i.e.,
overrepresented among new radical right vot- 6.3% or more) presence of foreign resident
ers (Ivarsflaten 2005, p. 465; Lubbers et al. populations. I return to Golder’s finding when
2002, p. 364; Norris 2005, p. 139). When discussing the ethnic competition thesis,
considering voters’ education, however, em- below.
pirical findings seem to support the relative Yet, although the class profile of the radi-
deprivation theory better than the modern- cal right-wing parties is in line with the pre-
ization losers thesis (or at least Betz’s ver- dictions of the modernization losers thesis, it
sion of it). Although support for the new rad- would be premature to conclude that it has
ical right-wing parties varies inversely with been supported. These groups may support
the level of education—lower-educated vot- the new radical right for a variety of other
ers are overrepresented and highly educated reasons. Research findings are needed that
voters are underrepresented (Lubbers et al. show that the voters feel relatively deprived,
2002)—the relationship seems to be curvi- or that they are afraid of becoming so in the fu-
linear: The new radical right receives its ture. Moreover, the common assumption that
strongest support from the mid-school stra- the political establishment is rewarded when
tum (Arzheimer & Carter 2006, Evans 2005). the economy is good, whereas nonestablished
[Moreover, male voters tend to be highly over- contenders such as the new radical right-wing
represented among the voters of the new radi- parties are successful in times of economic cri-
cal right-wing populist parties (Givens 2004).] sis, is open to question. As already implied by
However, for the unemployed we find a
more ambiguous picture. Although there is
support for the claim that the unemployed are However, I am unsure that these results would hold today.
Swank & Betz’s data are from 1998, and since then new
overrepresented among the voters of the new radical right-wing populist parties have grown considerably
radical right (see, e.g., Lubbers et al. 2002, stronger in Denmark and Norway. • The Sociology of the Radical Right 249

ANRV316-SO33-12 ARI 24 May 2007 10:31

Hofstadter (2002a,b), a good economic sit- Several studies have presented findings
uation may increase the salience of political that support the first hypothesis, that the elec-
“issues of affluence,” such as status politics toral turnouts of new radical right-wing par-
and identity politics, and the radical right is ties are positively correlated to the number
likely to be more successful when such socio- of immigrants in a country (Knigge 1998,
cultural politics is salient and socioeconomic Lubbers et al. 2002) or to the number of
politics plays a secondary role. “Times of de- asylum seekers (Swank & Betz 2003, Van
pression and economic discontent,” accord- der Brug et al. 2005). Golder’s (2003) anal-
ing to Hofstadter (2002b, p. 84), are likely to ysis showed a positive relationship between
be dominated by socioeconomic interest pol- the proportion of immigrants in a country
itics. Such issues are less salient in times of and electoral turnout for the new radical
economic prosperity and well-being. I discuss right in situations in which the unemploy-
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

this further below. ment rates exceeded 1.3%. In contrast, the

analysis of Norris (2005) failed to show a
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Ethnic competition thesis. In contrast to significant relationship between ethnic het-

the three explanations so far discussed, which erogeneity (number of refugees, number of
focus on more diffuse changes in political de- asylum seekers, or proportion of noncitizens
mand, the ethnic competition thesis focuses and people born abroad) and the electoral
specifically on the immigration issue as the fortunes of the new radical right-wing par-
reason for the emergence of the new radical ties. Nor did possible interaction effects be-
right-wing parties. This makes some sense. tween such indicators of ethnic heterogeneity
Although not the only attitudinal factor for and unemployment prove significant. Yet, de-
predicting which voters will support a radical spite the positive associations found in several
right-wing party, anti-immigration is a very studies, I argue that research results present
important one, arguably the most important only weak support for the ethnic competi-
(Lubbers & Scheepers 2000, Lubbers et al. tion thesis. Although some competition is due
2002, Norris 2005). Even if not all voters who to the national proportion of foreign-borns
hold anti-immigration attitudes vote for a new (i.e., competition over welfare state benefits),
radical right-wing party, most voters who do most competition is more local in character.
vote for such parties hold such attitudes. It is an ecological fallacy to conclude from
According to the ethnic competition the- country-level data that voters living in eth-
sis, voters turn to the new radical right be- nically heterogeneous countries also live in
cause they want to reduce competition from ethnically heterogeneous local settings. Some
immigrants over scarce resources such as the of them probably do, but many others do
labor market, housing, welfare state benefits, not, and we do not know from these studies
or even the marriage market. From this fol- whether those who vote for the new radical
low two hypotheses: that radical right-wing right-wing parties belong to the former or the
parties will be more successful in areas with latter category. To test this hypothesis more
many immigrants, where this kind of competi- thoroughly, more fine-grained analysis (and
tion is more manifest; and that the new radical data) is warranted. A first step in this direction
right-wing parties will be supported foremost was taken by Bon & Cheylan (1988), who in
by voters who are more likely to be confronted their study of Toulouse and Marseille showed
by competition from immigrants, that is, by that the vote for the French Front National
lower-educated, unskilled, male voters who was higher among voters living close to areas
aspire to the same jobs and consumption as with a high concentration of non-European
most immigrant groups in Western Europe immigrants than for those living within these
(Fennema 2005, Koopmans et al. 2005, Kriesi areas. Moreover, using individual-level data,
1999; see also Olzak 1992). Rydgren (2006b) showed that voters living

250 Rydgren
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in areas with many immigrants were signifi- created an audience receptive to antisystem
cantly more likely to vote for the radical right and antiestablishment messages, and thus pro-
in Denmark and the Netherlands, but not in vided an opportunity for the new radical right-
Austria, Belgium, France, or Norway. wing parties to mobilize protest voters. This
explanation hinges on the populist character
Popular xenophobia. The fact that voters of the new radical right. Several studies have
who hold anti-immigrant attitudes are heav- demonstrated that voters who are dissatisfied
ily overrepresented among the new radical with the way democracy works, as well as vot-
right voters is not necessarily associated with ers who express lower trust and confidence in
economic trends and market competition. It politicians and in democratic institutions, are
may also be identified as popular xenophobia, more likely to vote for new radical right-wing
ethnocentrism, and defense of a national and parties (Lubbers et al. 2002; Norris 2005,
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

cultural identity that is perceived to be un- pp. 157–159). However, Van der Brug et al.
der threat. Congruent with the moderniza- (2000) found no evidence that the new radical
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tion losers thesis, Knigge (1998, p. 271) has right-wing party voters are more motivated
suggested that popular xenophobia and eth- by alienation and protest than other voters.
nocentrism have grown more common and/or Furthermore, it is reasonable to suspect
important as a result of “a crisis of national that political protest plays a more important
identity among the postindustrial democra- role in breakthrough elections of new radi-
cies brought about by the transformation into cal right-wing parties than in subsequent elec-
a multicultural society.” As Koopmans et al. tions. As protest voters tend to move back to
(2005, p. 5) have argued, for instance, many their old parties after one or two deviant elec-
people experience a loss of identity as a result tions, voters who find themselves in ideologi-
of globalization, and, because there “is noth- cal agreement with the new radical right-wing
ing beyond the nation-state that can serve as party or in other ways identify with the party
a new anchor for collective identities and can tend to stay. Rydgren (2003b) indicated this
renew the sense of control,” people turn to na- tendency in France, where the Front National
tionalism as a way to find such an anchorage. benefited from protest votes in particular be-
It has also been suggested that the rise fore 1988, but further research is needed to
of the new radical right can be explained by elaborate and generalize these findings.
the expansion of the European Union and its Yet, one problem with this hypothesis is
stronger role as a supranational actor after the that it remains rather unclear why voters who
Maastricht Treaty. This expansion may have are dissatisfied with the government should
benefited political parties of both the right and turn to a new radical right-wing party in-
left that opposed the EU; in the case of the stead of to any other opposition party (in
new radical right, leaders claimed that the EU particular to some other nonestablished one).
eroded national supremacy, and they decried Moreover, as Norris (2005, p. 164), among
elites and multinationalism. This is a plausible others, has emphasized, political discontent
suggestion, but it fails to explain why similar does not account for the substantial variation
parties have emerged outside of Europe (e.g., in the electoral results of new radical right-
in Canada, Australia, New Zealand) during wing parties. Mistrust of politicians and polit-
the same period (cf. Norris 2005, pp. 67–68). ical institutions has increased in most West
European countries, but new radical right-
Political discontent. Finally, one strand wing parties have only been electorally suc-
within the literature on the new radical right cessful in some of them. This is the case,
claims that the growing political alienation to a somewhat varying degree, with most
and discontent in Western European coun- of the demand-centered explanations dis-
tries (see, e.g., Putnam et al. 2000, p. 14) have cussed above. Grievances, postindustrialism, • The Sociology of the Radical Right 251

ANRV316-SO33-12 ARI 24 May 2007 10:31

increased cultural heterogeneity, and so on, litical opportunity structures have been dis-
are phenomena that most West European cussed in relation to the new radical right:
countries have experienced over the past two realignment processes; convergence between
decades and are therefore bad predictors of established parties in political space; electoral
cross-national variation in electoral support systems and thresholds; the presence or ab-
for the new radical right. Moreover, demand- sence of elite allies or, more specifically, the
side explanations may overestimate the im- relationship with the established political par-
portance of attitudinal change. As Eatwell ties within the party system; and the structure
(1994, p. 318), among others, has observed, of mass media.5
the “relationship between belief and action However, few of these political opportu-
is complex,” and the increased disposition nities distinctively benefit radical right-wing
among voters to vote for the xenophobic and parties. Opportunities associated with elec-
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

populist new radical right-wing parties is not toral systems and thresholds and with con-
necessarily associated with a change at the vergence processes are likely to benefit all
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level of xenophobic and populist attitudes. kinds of new parties; realignment processes
There may be very little change in attitudes at may present opportunities not only for the
all, or the change may be in salience and rel- radical right, but also for new left-wing par-
ative rank between different political issues, ties that promote identity politics based on
rather than in the attitudes themselves. As sociocultural liberal values (focusing on femi-
Ivarsflaten (2005, p. 467) has argued, the way nism, multiculturalism, etc.). In addition, op-
voters trade off political issues against each portunities related to the structure of mass
other “changes more frequently and less pre- media and the presence or absence of elite
dictably than issue preferences” as such. allies may benefit all kinds of parties, par-
These limitations of the demand-centered ticularly populist parties. This indicates that
approach are increasingly recognized. As a re- political opportunity structures, in isolation
sult, a growing number of researchers have or combined, may be necessary but not suffi-
turned to so-called supply-side factors. As will cient explanatory factors. To be effective they
be clear from the next section, demand-side should be combined with demand-centered
explanations and supply-side explanations do explanations.
not necessary contradict one another and can
be quite successfully combined. Realignment processes. It has been suggested
that dealignment and realignment processes
Supply-Side Factors may present favorable political opportunities
for new radical right-wing parties (see, e.g.,
Among the supply-centered explanations, we Kriesi et al. 1995; Rydgren 2003b, 2005a,
can distinguish three subgroups, those that fo- 2006a; Diani 1996). Several cleavage dimen-
cus on (a) different political opportunity struc- sions always exist simultaneously (Lipset &
tures; (b) party organizations; and (c) the mes- Rokkan 1967, Rokkan 1970), most of them ul-
sage of the radical right-wing parties, that is, timately based on social identity or interests.
their ideology and discourse. The latter was Although these cleavage dimensions exist side
discussed above; here, I focus on a and b. by side, either manifest or latent, their salience

Political opportunity structures. Political 5

Hence, I will not deal explicitly with political opportuni-
opportunity structures are commonly defined ties created by the demise of established parties. The situ-
as “consistent—but not necessary formal, per- ation in Italy, for instance, where the largest non-Socialist
manent, or national” resources that are ex- party, the Christian Democrats, almost disappeared be-
cause of the corruption scandals of the early 1990s, nat-
ternal to the party or movement in question urally presented huge opportunities for other right-wing
(Tarrow 1998, pp. 19–20). The following po- parties such as the Lega Nord.

252 Rydgren
ANRV316-SO33-12 ARI 24 May 2007 10:31

increases or declines during certain periods these attitudes are less likely to base their vot-
(Hout et al. 1996, pp. 55–56). Contempo- ing decisions on these particular attitudes be-
rary Western European democracies are char- cause there are other issues (and attitudes)
acterized by two major cleavage dimensions: deemed to be more important (partly, this
the economic cleavage dimension, which pits is also a result of the fact that other issues
workers against capital and concerns the de- are likely to dominate the media). As was
gree of state involvement in the economy; and established above, a defining characteristic
the sociocultural cleavage dimension, which of the new radical right-wing parties during
is a cleavage over values and concerns issues the 1990s has been their ability to mobilize
such as immigration, law and order, abortion, working-class voters. This ability has not nec-
and so on (see Cole 2005, p. 206). essarily been the effect of increased xeno-
Although issues belonging to the socio- phobia and authoritarianism among workers;
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

cultural cleavage dimension have existed at an alternative plausible interpretation is that

an attitudinal level throughout the twentieth it depends on the increased salience of im-
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century (Hofstadter 2002a), the economic migration matters, and of sociocultural is-
cleavage dimension has structured most po- sues generally, vis-à-vis socioeconomic issues.
litical behavior in the postwar era (Bartolini As Lipset (1959, 1981) has argued, although
2000, Bell 2002a, Budge & Robertson 1987). manual workers have traditionally been at
However, there are certain indications that odds with the left parties’ positions on socio-
the salience of the sociocultural cleavage cultural issues—by being considerably more
dimension has increased at the expense of the authoritarian, on average—this did not have
economic cleavage dimension during the past any practical effect on their voting patterns as
few decades, not least because of the politi- long as they identified with the socialist par-
cization of identity politics, and in particular ties’ economic positions. In such a situation,
issues such as immigration, multiculturalism, they voted for the left despite their conflict-
and feminism, as well as then environment ing opinions on sociocultural issues. However,
(for discussion and empirical indications, in political systems in which the economic
see, e.g., Betz 1994; Clark & Lipset 2001; cleavage dimension has lost salience—and
Ignazi 1996, 2003; Inglehart 1997; Kitschelt the sociocultural cleavage dimension has
1995, Rydgren 2003b). It is plausible that this gained salience—this has started to change (cf.
development has created expanding political Ivarsflaten 2005). Hence, it has been argued
opportunities for the new radical right-wing that support for new radical right-wing parties
parties. is likely to be weaker in countries in which
More specifically, we may expect that the old social institutions of the left (e.g., trade
relative strength or salience of old cleavages unions, left mass parties) have retained a rel-
influence the potential for mobilization on atively strong hold over working-class voters
issues and frames connecting to new cleav- (Eatwell 2000, Rydgren 2002).
ages (Kriesi et al. 1995), and the crosscut-
ting sociocultural dimension is considerably Convergence between established parties
more important than socioeconomic politics in political space. Many have argued that
for the new radical right-wing parties’ voter convergence in political space presents
mobilization. As Kriesi et al. (1995, p. 4) have expanding political opportunities for new
stressed, old cleavages may provide “a shield radical right-wing parties (Kitschelt 1995). A
against the framing attempts of rising col- convergence may result in a feeling that the
lective actors.” For instance, although xeno- established parties “are all the same.” This, in
phobic attitudes may be at least as common turn, may fuel popular distrust and discontent
in countries that are strongly dominated by in politicians and political parties and create
the socioeconomic dimension, voters sharing an audience receptive to parties ready to • The Sociology of the Radical Right 253

ANRV316-SO33-12 ARI 24 May 2007 10:31

mobilize protest votes. A convergence may closedness of the institutionalized political

also have direct effects in that it facilitates systems (cf. McAdam 1996) influences the
the emergence of niches within the political new radical right-wing parties’ potential to
space (Kriesi 1999). Finally, a convergence mobilize voters. The idea that the majority
within the dominant cleavage dimension (i.e., voting system places constraints on the emer-
the economic dimension) may contribute to gence of new parties is an idea that goes back
a depoliticization of this cleavage by making to Duverger (1954). According to Duverger,
it less engaging and vivid for the voters and there are two reasons for this constraint on
the media (Schattschneider 1975), which new parties. First, there is a mechanical ef-
may favor new contenders mobilizing on fect in that the third and fourth parties in an
alternative cleavage dimensions, such as the election held within a majority voting system
sociocultural dimension. will receive a much smaller share of legislative
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

The convergence hypothesis has been seats compared with the votes they received.
tested a number of times. However, one prob- Second, there is a psychological effect in that
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lem with these studies is that they have mostly many voters will feel that a vote for a small
used a one-dimensional scale for measuring party is a wasted vote, which makes them vote
convergence. It is often unclear exactly what for one of the two major parties instead. In
a position to the left or to the right on such a situation, the emergence of new polit-
the scale signifies (whether the scale is con- ical parties is less likely. Similarly, whether a
structed from expert interviews, the voters’ political system has an entrance threshold of
perceptions of the parties’ positions, or—too 2% or 4%, for instance, is believed to make a
uncommonly—the programs of the parties difference for the emergence of new parties.
themselves). There are reasons to suspect that The same psychological effect identified by
these scales mainly measure left-right posi- Duverger is likely to be operative here, as well.
tions on socioeconomic politics. At the same This hypothesis receives mixed support in
time, we may assume that if the new radical the literature. Van der Brug et al. (2005) and
right-wing parties were to benefit at all, they Carter (2002) found no evidence that radical
would benefit directly only from convergence right-wing parties are more electorally suc-
in the sociocultural dimension and indirectly cessful under proportional electoral systems.
only from convergence in the socioeconomic Norris (2005) found that the main effect of
dimension. proportional systems is that radical right-
Nevertheless, keeping these shortcomings wing parties receive more parliamentary seats
in mind, Norris (2005) found no support in relation to their voter shares than they
for the convergence thesis, whereas Van der do in majority electoral systems, but propor-
Brug et al. (2005) found that the new radical tional systems had no strong effect on how
right-wing parties tend to be more electorally many votes the parties received. Yet Swank
successful in situations in which the largest & Betz (2003), Jackman & Volpert (1996),
mainstream competitor occupies a centrist Golder (2003), and Veugelers & Magnan
position than when it is more right lean- (2005) concluded from their studies that
ing. Abedi (2002) also found support for the voter support for the new radical right-wing
convergence hypothesis. In the same vein, parties tended to be higher in countries with
Arzheimer & Carter (2006) found that sup- proportional electoral systems.
port of the radical right almost doubled when
there was a grand coalition government be- Media. Several researchers have suggested
fore the election. that the mass media play a pivotal role in
the emergence of new radical right-wing par-
Electoral systems and thresholds. Scholars ties. As Koopmans (2004, p. 8) has argued, for
have suggested that the relative openness or instance, the “action of gatekeepers [within

254 Rydgren
ANRV316-SO33-12 ARI 24 May 2007 10:31

the mass media] produce the first and most has been electoral successful, while the latter
basic selection mechanism . . . visibility.” The is still highly marginalized (Rydgren 2004).
media also play a role in their own right,
by taking part in agenda-setting and fram- The presence or absence of elite allies. There
ing of political issues. There also seems to seems to be a consensus in the literature
be a growing tendency to personalize issues that the relationship between the established
within the media, which may benefit parties parties and the new radical right-wing parties
like the new radical right-wing parties that matters for the latter’s chances of success
give the party leader a pronounced central in voter mobilization (on the cooperation
role (Eatwell 2003, 2005). With the increas- between radical right-wing parties and main-
ing struggle for readers and viewers that has stream parties generally, see Downs 2001).
resulted from new technologies and from the However, there are two opposing hypotheses
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

growing privatization of mass media in many regarding the effect this relationship may
countries, the media have exhibited a stronger have.
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tendency to focus on the most scandalous as- The first hypothesis claims that when the
pects of politics, which may contribute to anti- established parties choose to collaborate with
establishment sentiments (Mudde 2004). emerging new radical right-wing parties or
To date, there has been no systematic study associated actors, this collaboration lends le-
of the role of the mass media in the rise of new gitimacy to the emerging parties and lessens
radical right-wing parties. Yet there are scat- their stigma in the eyes of the voters (e.g.,
tered indications that important changes in Minkenberg 2003, Eatwell 2003, Jackman &
mass media over time, as well as rather large Volpert 1996). By being controversial, such
differences between different countries, may events are also likely to arouse the interest
play a role in the electoral fortunes of new of the mass media and hence give radical
radical right-wing parties. Rydgren (2006a), right-wing parties increased coverage. Simi-
for instance, argued that the development in larly, the propensity of mainstream parties and
Sweden from only two public service TV other political actors to approach policy po-
channels in the early 1980s to a variety of sitions originally taken by new radical right-
commercial channels in the 1990s increased wing parties or to adopt similar frames—a not
the opportunities for visibility of emerg- uncommon phenomenon according to Bale
ing new political contenders in the media, (2003)—may provide the radical right with ex-
which benefited the right-wing populist party panding political opportunities by giving in-
New Democracy, which emerged in the early creased legitimacy to the radical right-wing
1990s. Moreover, Eatwell (2005) has pointed parties and the issues they pursue. These is-
to the fact that the French Front National sues also tend to become more salient as main-
reached its electoral breakthrough shortly af- stream parties talk about them. Hence, this
ter Le Pen was given access to state television. hypothesis claims that cooperation between
The fact that the newspaper with the high- the established parties and new radical right-
est per capita readership within any country, wing parties results in more attractive, and
the Neue Kronen Zeitung in Austria, supported thus successful, radical right-wing parties.
Jörg Haider probably also partly explains the The second hypothesis claims that the
FPÖ’s electoral success in the 1990s (Art 2006, radical right tends to lose voters when they
Eatwell 2005). That the Danish media have cooperate too closely with established par-
generously published articles by representa- ties. The reason is that cooperation between
tives and supporters of the Danish People’s mainstream parties and radical right-wing
Party, whereas the Swedish media have largely parties may also result in shrinking niches for
put up a cordon sanitaire to keep the Sweden further electoral mobilization. Under certain
Democrats out partly explains why the former conditions, a situation in which mainstream • The Sociology of the Radical Right 255

ANRV316-SO33-12 ARI 24 May 2007 10:31

parties occupy the same ideological space as or with particular party leaders, any attempt
the radical right-wing parties has a preemptive by the party executive to modify certain as-
effect (see, e.g., Koopmans & Kriesi 1997), pects of the political program can potentially
as the mainstream parties are likely to win meet with resistance from the party organi-
(back) some of the voters that otherwise would zation. Proposed changes may generally not
have voted for the radical right. Cooperation depart too radically from the party line al-
may also make it more difficult for radical ready embarked upon without a great deal of
right-wing parties to use the antiestablish- hard, time-consuming work to win acceptance
ment strategy, that is, to present themselves and approval in the organization. Otherwise
as in opposition to the political class, whereas party unity is jeopardized or may even disin-
a radical right-wing party may be seen as the tegrate into opposing factions. This trade-off
only real opposition in the face of a cordon may help us understand why emerging radi-
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

sanitaire, especially if the mainstream parties cal right-wing parties sometimes fail to capi-
are forced to form grand coalitions to keep the talize on what would otherwise seem a favor-
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radical right out. able political opportunity structure for voter

Unfortunately, there are no conclusive mobilization.
comparative studies that demonstrate which As mentioned above, the populist anti-
of the hypotheses fits reality best, although a establishment strategy is one of the most im-
study by Van der Brug & Fennema (2003) has portant tools for emerging radical right-wing
concluded that cordon sanitaire has no effect parties. In using this strategy, a party must be
on electoral turnouts for radical right-wing able to neutralize, in a credible way, radical
parties. members of the organization who push for an
uncompromising, radical party line that may
Party organization. Whether new radical seem overly extreme and/or antidemocratic
right-wing parties emerge and attract vot- to voters. Such members are not uncommon:
ers not only hinges on the presence of ben- As Klandermans & Mayer’s (2005) research
eficial political opportunity structures; it is shows, activists of these parties are often more
also a matter of how well the parties them- radical than the radical right-wing voters, and
selves manage to exploit the opportunities that the activists also usually have a long history
present themselves. However, their ideologi- of continued affinity with the radical right.
cal/rhetorical profiles are not the only criti- In fact, their parents were often supporters
cal issues here; the structure of their internal of older forms of right-wing radicalism or
organizations and the available internal re- extremism. Hence, this is a difficult task for
sources are critical as well, and these issues many parties, particularly for those that have
have become increasingly noticed within the their roots in extraparliamentary right-wing
field. extremism and those that have scant access
Political parties have to act in a way that to alternative resources such as governmen-
does not undermine the cohesion of the party tal party support, external sponsors, and the
organization and its members’ willingness to media and are therefore more dependent on
do vital yet unpaid party work. Without a crit- volunteers.
ical mass of loyal volunteers on hand to dis- If a new radical right-wing party succeeds
tribute leaflets, put up posters, or give out in winning representation in the legislature,
voting slips during elections, most political it is likely to be forced to transform, in which
parties would find themselves in difficulties case the new party develops a broad and rela-
(cf. Gamson 1975, p. 60). The political par- tively coherent political platform and a more
ties still require a member organization. How- extensive party organization. These problems
ever, because party members identify with are likely to be exacerbated when a radical
the party ideology, with different policies, right-wing party is included in a governing

256 Rydgren
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coalition (Heinisch 2003) in which it may be CONCLUSIONS

considerably more difficult to pursue the pop- The political landscape of Western Europe
ulist antiestablishment strategy in a credible has undergone rather radical changes over the
way, and in which the party may be forced into past two decades, and here the emergence of
compromises that alienate core activists.6 the new radical right stands out as a princi-
However, there has been conspicuously lit- pal event, along with the emergence of the
tle research on the nonparty sector of the new new social movements and related political
radical right: the think tanks and more infor- parties (i.e., green parties and new left par-
mal circles of intellectuals, the party press and ties). However, with some important excep-
radio stations, and civil society organizations tions there has been a rather strict division
(youth organizations, women’s organizations, of labor between scholars studying the new
veteran organizations, circles for professional social movements and scholars studying the
Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2007.33:241-262. Downloaded from

groups, etc.) associated with the new radical new radical right. Granted, a certain measure
right (Minkenberg 2003). In the 1990s, for in- of specialization is necessary, but the literature
by Rutgers University Libraries on 06/05/09. For personal use only.

stance, the French Front National had 24 as- on the new radical right would benefit from
sociated organizations (DeClair 1999, p. 168). better integrating theoretical mechanisms and
Such groups and organizations often play an research findings from the social movement
important role in ideology production and field, as well as from related sociological ar-
the transnational diffusion of ideas, as well eas such as organizational studies, network
as in grassroots socialization (see, e.g., Betz analysis, and the sociology of ethnic relations.
1999). Moreover, no systematic research has More systematic comparative historical stud-
been done on the dynamics between different ies are warranted to answer questions about
radical right-wing or extreme right organiza- how a history of past radical right-wing mo-
tions within a country. In countries with two bilization, or a colonial past, for instance, in-
or more radical right-wing organizations, we fluences cross-national variation in the elec-
are likely to see more competition over poten- toral fortunes of the new radical right-wing
tial activists, which we may assume decreases parties.
the chances for any of them to grow large. Still, I am fairly optimistic about develop-
As Veugelers (1999) has suggested, population ments within the field. Much of the earlier
ecology models would be well suited for com- theorizing about the new radical right overfo-
parative analysis of this sort. cused on singular, national cases, and in com-
parative studies there was a tendency to sam-
Several scholars have argued that the charismatic party ple from the dependent variable in including
leaders of the new radical right-wing parties are a major only countries in which the radical right had
reason for their emergence and electoral successes (see in
particular Eatwell 2003, 2005). However, as Van der Brug been successful (see, e.g., Knigge 1998). Dur-
et al. (2005, p. 542), among others, have argued the “use- ing the past several years, studies have become
fulness of the term ‘charisma’ to explain electoral success more theoretically and methodologically so-
is . . . doubtful.” The reasoning easily becomes circular in
that successful politicians “are easily called charismatic, and phisticated and increasingly comparative in
an unsuccessful politician will never be called charismatic.” scope.

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Contents Volume 33, 2007

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Immigration and Religion
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Lost and Found: The Sociological Ambivalence Toward Childhood
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Urban and Rural Community Sociology

The Making of the Black Family: Race and Class in Qualitative Studies
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Sociology and World Regions

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Old Inequalities, New Disease: HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa

Carol A. Heimer p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p551


Cumulative Index of Contributing Authors, Volumes 24–33 p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p579

Cumulative Index of Chapter Titles, Volumes 24–33 p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p583


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Contents vii