The rise of right-wing popu list parties over the past several decades is one of the most dramatic devel op ments in recent West European polit ics. The ‘first wave’ of schol ar ship on the post-war far right sought to explain why such parties had arisen across advanced indus trial soci et ies (Betz, 1994; Ignazi, 1992; Von Beyme, 1988). More recently, schol ars have tried to unravel the puzzle of why these parties have become strong in some states but fizzled, or failed to develop, in others. Some analysts have focused on immig ra tion rates as a primary vari able (Gibson, 2002; Golder, 2003a; Knigge, 1998), while others have chal lenged this explan a tion (Kitschelt, 1995; Norris, 2005). Differences in elect oral rules have been deemed import ant by some (Golder, 2003b; Jackman and Volpert, 1996), while others have argued that the correla tion between effect ive thresholds and vote share for the far right is not stat ist ic ally signi fic ant (Carter, 2002). A third line of argu ment focuses on the programme of far-right parties, specifically their ability to create a cross-class coali tion between middle class advoc ates of neolib eral ism and working class resent ment toward foreign ers (Kitschelt, 1995). Recently, a fourth group of schol ars have focused on the inter ac tion between right-wing
popu list chal lengers and exist ing polit ical parties (Downs, 2001; Eatwell and Mudde, 2004; Meguid, 2002; Minkenberg, 2001). Such factors as the open ness of coali tion markets (Bale, 2003; Kestel and Godmer, 2004) and the legit im acy that other polit ical parties extend to the far right (Bale, 2003) have been deemed crit ical to the elect oral success of right-wing populism. This article seeks to further develop and provide empir ical support for this argu ment. In addi tion to the reac tion of polit ical parties, I also contend that the reac tions of the print media and civil society to the far right are import ant factors in determ in ing the far right’s traject ory. By ‘combat ing’ right-wing popu list parties soon after they appear, main stream polit ical elites, civic activ ists and the media under mine the far right’s elect oral appeal, its ability to recruit capable party members, and weaken its polit ical organ iz a tion. Conversely, when main stream polit ical forces either cooper ate with or are agnostic toward the far right, right-wing popu list parties gain elect oral strength, legit im acy and polit ical entre pren eurs that can trans form them into perman ent forces in the party system. It is import ant to stress up-front that timing is crit ical: once the organ iz a tions of far-right parties have become strong, their support ers loyal and their offi cials entrenched in local, state or national govern ments, efforts to ‘combat’ the far right may well prove inef fect ive or coun ter pro duct ive. This describes the current situ ation in France and Belgium. The traject ory of far-right parties, similar to those of other polit ical parties, can thus be viewed as path-depend ent (Lipset and Rokkan, 1967; Panebianco, 1988). This article applies this ‘inter ac tion’ argu ment to Germany and Austria.1 In the mid to late
1980s, right-wing popu list parties emerged in each state: the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ)
in Austria and the Republikaner party (here after REPs) in Germany. Yet while the FPÖ went on to become one of the most elect or ally success ful far-right parties in Europe and entered a national coali tion with the conser vat ive Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in 2000, the REPs disin teg rated over the course of the 1990s, never captur ing more than 2.5 percent in national elec tions. The collapse of the REPs and the rise of the FPÖ were the direct results of the dramat ic ally differ ent strategies that other polit ical parties, the media and civil groups in the two states adopted toward the far right: German actors combated the REPs, while their Austrian coun ter parts sought to ‘tame’ or cooper ate with the FPÖ.