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Radical right (Europe)

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Title: Radical right (Europe)  
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Collection: Right-Wing Politics, Right-Wing Populism
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Radical right (Europe)

A 2015 demonstration of German radical right group Pegida.

In political science, the term radical right has been used to refer to the range of European right-wing parties that have grown in support since the late 1970s. Those political parties which have been labelled as such have varied in their specific ideological approach, from right-wing populism to white nationalism and fascism. However, they have shared a number of common causes, which typically include criticism of immigration and multiculturalism, Eurosceptic opposition to the European Union, and social conservatism.

Also part of this milieu are extra-parliamentary right-wing groups. These consist of right-wing extremist groups such as scientific racism and Holocaust denial.


  • Terminology and definition 1
    • Defining Europe's radical right 1.1
  • Connections 2
    • To earlier right-wing movements 2.1
    • To the U.S. radical right 2.2
    • To extra-parliamentary right-wing groups 2.3
  • Support base 3

Terminology and definition

In 1996, the Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde noted that in most European countries, the terms "radical right" and "extreme right" were used interchangeably.[1] 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 who were outside the political mainstream but who 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.[2]

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.[3] The term and accompanying concept then entered Western Europe through the social sciences.[3] 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.[4] This term then came to be adopted by some scholars in the U.S.[5]

Defining Europe's radical 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.[6]

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".[7] Most commentators have agreed that these varied radical right parties have a number of common characteristics.[8] 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."[8]

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."[9]

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.[10]


To earlier right-wing movements

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."[11] 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.[12]

Minkenberg argued that the radical right groups in Eastern Europe, including in Eastern Germany, were distinct from their counterparts in Western Europe.[13] 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.[14]

To the 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.[15]

In 1998, the political scientists Jeffrey Kaplan and Leonard Weinberg noted 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.[16] They believed that in the late 20th century a discernible "Euro-American radical right" that crossed both continents could be identified, one which had developed on the basis of a shared racial identity as "whites" (sometimes alternatively conceived as "Aryans" or "Teutons"), a group whom the radical right believed were being besieged by non-white peoples through the establishment of multi-racial societies in Europe and North America.[17] 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".[17]

Kaplan and Weinberg stressed that this was not novel to the radical right of the late 20th century; although pointing out that early far right groups in the United States – such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Know Nothings, and the American Protective Association – were Protestant Nativists and thus mistrustful of European influences, they noted that European ideas and individuals had a significant impact on the American right during the First Red Scare of the 1920s and that both Italian Fascist and Nazi German ideas had also gained followers in the U.S. during the 1920s and 1930s.[18] They noted that by the 1990s, it was primarily a case of U.S. groups influencing the European radical right than the other way around.[19]

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.[20] 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.[21] 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.[22]

To extra-parliamentary right-wing groups

A neo-Nazi skinhead from Germany

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.[23] 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.[25] Such groups often believe that Western governments are under the control of a Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG), thus expressing explicitly anti-Semitic views.[26] 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.[27] 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.[28] 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.[28]

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.[29] 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.[30]

Support base

Research indicates that support for the radical right has been strongest among Europe's small business owners – who appreciate its defense

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