There are few major devel op ments in the domestic polit ics of liberal capit al ist demo cra cies that have provoked as much alarm and concern in recent years as the elect oral gains of rightwing parties and move ments. Initially dismissed as a flash in the pan, which would die down as quickly as it had emerged, the radical right has argu ably become the most formid able new polit ical chal lenge to liberal demo cracy in Western Europe and else where, and this for good reasons: as Roger Griffin has recently pointed out, unlike the ‘old’ radical right in the nineteenth and twen ti eth century, the contem por ary radical right ‘enthu si ast ic ally embraces the liberal system’ while, at the same time, ‘making a conscious effort to abide by the demo cratic rules of the game and respect the rights of others to hold conflict ing opin ions and live out contrast ing value systems’.1 Under the circum stances, tradi tional approaches to deal with the radical right-such as proscrip tion, margin al isa tion and shun ning (as was tried, most famously, in the case of the FPÖ by the EU)—no longer seem to work. To the contrary: radical right-wing parties and move ments have been increas ingly success ful in market ing them selves as cham pi ons of ‘true’ demo cracy and defend ers of the values and interests of ordin ary people, too often ignored if not dismissed by the polit ical estab lish ment. In the process, the radical right has defined the public debate on a number of import ant issues, ranging from immig ra tion and citizen ship to ques tions of secur ity and law and order, while forcing a-not always completely-reluct ant estab lish ment to accord these issues high prior ity on the polit ical agenda. Griffin’s char ac ter isa tion of the contem por ary radical right, echoed by a growing number
of special ists on the subject, has not gone unchal lenged.2 The most signi fic ant attempt to defend the notion of right-wing extrem ism as a useful analyt ical tool for the analysis of contem por ary right-wing parties is advanced by Piero Ignazi in his most recent book, Extreme Right Parties in Western Europe.3 In order to make his case, Ignazi starts out with an extens ive discus sion of the meaning and defin i tion of right and left as well as extrem ism. He concludes that for a party to be counted among the extreme right it must either refer to ‘one of the estab lished right-extrem ist tradi tions of thought’ (e.g. fascism, nazism, nouvelle droite) or present ‘an anti-system discourse’ (where the system is gener ally defined as the insti tu tions and values of liberal demo cracy).4 Parties that disavow the former but promote the latter belong to what he refers to as the new postin dus trial extreme right. Unfortunately Ignazi, like most others who argue along the same line, fails to offer the
detailed compar at ive analysis of radical right-wing discourse that would have been neces sary to substan ti ate his provoc at ive claim.5 This does not mean, however, that his point is without merit. To be sure, the polit ical project promoted and defen ded by the contem por ary radical
right is a far cry from the program advanced by the fascists and the tradi tional extreme right, which expli citly aimed at over turn ing the demo cratic order and repla cing it with an authorit arian system. While contem por ary radical right-wing parties gener ally have no problem with demo cracy per se, they undoubtedly repres ent a major chal lenge to liberal demo cracy and its proponents. Even if the contem por ary radical right has been able to ‘mobil ize on polit ical discon tent without being stig mat ized as anti-demo crats’, it still promotes an aggress ive discourse that directly aims at weak en ing and under min ing the values and insti tutional arrange ments and proced ures central to liberal demo cracy and repla cing them with a funda ment ally differ ent system. Radical right-wing parties are thus radical both with respect to the language they employ in confront ing their polit ical oppon ents and the polit ical project they promote and defend. What makes it so diffi cult to get a firm grip on the nature of the contem por ary radical right is that it is both demo cratic and extreme. One of the contempor ary radical right’s most import ant innov a tions has been its ability to recon cile formal support for demo cracy as the best system for the artic u la tion and repres ent a tion of interests with a polit ical doctrine that is profoundly anti-liberal and, in this sense, can be qual i fied as extrem ist. In the remainder of this article we will explore the main features of the contem por ary
radical right’s polit ical project through an extens ive analysis of its polit ical strategy and ideolo gical discourse. The main argu ment under ly ing this analysis is that the contem por ary radical right repres ents a radical type of right-wing popu lism, whose proponents seek to trans form liberal demo cracy into an ethno cratic regime, which gives suprem acy to the interests of ‘the people’, defined in terms of a narrow concep tion of citizen ship. Radical right-wing popu lism, while adopt ing some of the social and economic concerns of the traditional left, accords prior ity to ‘new polit ics’ issues, such as ques tions of iden tity and recog nition.6 For this reason, radical right-wing popu list discourse repres ents a compre hens ive ideo logy that seeks to span-and tran scend-the modern/post mod ern cleav age.