It is forty-five years since Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan published their famous ‘freez ing hypo thesis’ of West European party systems (Lipset & Rokkan 1967).1 While the thesis has been contested after nearly every elect oral victory of a new party, or major defeat of an old party, Peter Mair (1997: 3) still concluded in the mid-1990s that ‘the freez ing hypo thesis remains largely valid, at least up till now’. A lot has changed since Mair wrote those words. Of partic u lar import ance to this lecture, popu list radical right parties (PRRPs) have not only further increased their elect oral support and parliament ary pres ence across Western Europe, they have also finally entered national govern ments. Since the humble begin nings of the so-called ‘third wave’ of the radical right three decades
ago (Von Beyme 1988), comment at ors have been warning of its dangers to European democracy. Asked by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung about the greatest risks for Europe, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said, refer ring expli citly to the Vlaams Belang in his native country, ‘the big danger is popu lism’ (Stabenow 2010). He said this in 2010, at the height of the biggest economic crisis in the postwar era! The sense of a growing danger and influ ence of the popu list radical right is not limited
to polit ical compet it ors, however. The media are full of articles about Europe’s popu list radical right being ‘on the rise’ (The Guardian, 6 November 2011) or, more dramat ic ally, ‘on the march’ (The Economist, 17 March 2010), leading to ‘Europe’s drift to the right’ (Los Angeles Times, 23 April 2002) and ‘Europe’s far right problem’ (CNN, 26 July 2011). The perceived import ance of PRRPs can also be seen in the dispro por tion ate academic
atten tion devoted to them. While one is hard-pressed to find many non-German studies on the popu list radical right before 1990, today more than a hundred schol ars from across the globe work on the topic, and produce many more articles and books on this partic u lar party family than on all other party famil ies combined! Most academ ics suggest, or claim outright, that the popu list radical right is an import ant
factor in contem por ary European polit ics. They point to a broad range of devel op ments that have caused PRRPs to move ‘from the margins to the main stream’ of European polit ics, and which are allegedly caused by that move – from increased dissat is fac tion with polit ics and racist viol ence at the mass level to the domin ance of right-wing discourse and polit ics at the elite level. In most cases the evid ence is illus trat ive at best, and correl a tion is taken for causa tion. To be fair, many effects are theor et ic ally very diffi cult to prove, given that they relate to indir ect effects or are depend ent upon non-exist ent data.