In the decades follow ing the second world war, the liberal demo cra cies of western Europe enjoyed a remark able degree of social and polit ical stabil ity. Sustained economic growth, growing indi vidual afflu ence, and the expan sion and perfec tion of the welfare state each contrib uted to a social and polit ical climate condu cive to polit ical stabil ity while eroding support for extrem ist solu tions on both the left and right. However, stabil ity and consensus were only short-lived. The resur gence of ideo lo gical and polit ical turbu lence in the late 1960s, rising social conflicts in the early 1970s, and the spread of mass protest by new social move ments in the 1980s were symp toms of a profound trans form a tion of West European polit ics. Its contours are becom ing visible in the early 1990s. Crucial to this trans form a tion was the polit ical climate of the 1980s. It was marked by
disen chant ment with the major social and polit ical insti tu tions and profound distrust in their work ings, the weak en ing and decom pos i tion of elect oral align ments, and increased polit ical frag ment a tion and elect oral volat il ity. New polit ical issues emerged, promoted by new social actors outside and often against the estab lished polit ical chan nels. Growing aware ness of envir on mental degrad a tion gener ated rising ecolo gical protest; advances in general welfare led to demands for social equal ity and greater oppor tun it ies for polit ical parti cip a tion from women and minor it ies. It was expec ted that these conflicts would benefit the left, even if the demands of students,
women, and minor it ies were not neces sar ily compat ible with those of the tradi tional left. Indeed, the 1980s saw a signi fic ant frag ment a tion of the left. Distancing them selves from what they considered the growth-oriented “old polit ics” of social ists and social demo crats, left-liber tarian parties estab lished them selves in a number of advanced West European demo cra cies.1 Yet despite signi fic ant elect oral gains, the left-liber tarian project appears to have fallen short of the expect a tions of both support ers and detract ors. However, the stag nation and partial exhaus tion of several left-liber tarian parties-for example, in Germany, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland-have not auto mat ic ally benefited the tradi tional parties. Instead, West European party systems have increas ingly come under heavy pres sure from a radical popu list right. Radical right-wing popu list parties are radical in their rejec tion of the estab lished sociocul-
tural and soci opol it ical system and their advocacy of indi vidual achieve ment, a free marketplace, and a drastic reduc tion of the role of the state. They are right-wing in their rejec tion of indi vidual and social equal ity, in their oppos i tion to the social integ ra tion of margin al ized groups, and in their appeal to xeno pho bia, if not overt racism. They are popu list in their instru ment al iz a tion of senti ments of anxiety and disen chant ment and their appeal to the common man and his allegedly super ior common sense. In short, they tend to combine a classic liberal posi tion on the indi vidual and the economy with the soci opol it ical agenda of
the extreme and intel lec tual new right, and they deliver this amalgam to those disen chanted with their indi vidual life chances and the polit ical system.