Far Right in Time and Space

Populism as a better far-right description?

In most academic literature on the far-right, scholars argue that current political parties that are seen as far-right are populist, or have populist characteristics. However, is this a fair assessment, and what does it even mean to have populist characteristics?

Populism in theory

The characteristics of populism can be found in and derived from their policies. These characteristics have been described extensively by scholars such as Akkerman, Mudde, Zaslova, Kriesi and Pappas, to name a few. These characteristics can be broken down into four distinct points. 1) There are two distinct groups in society; the people and the elite. 2) There is an opposing relationship between these two distinct groups. 3) The people are seen as good, and the elite are seen as lesser. 4) The will of the people is seen as the source of legitimacy. Mudde also argues that populism is based on three distinct elements. 1) anti-establishmentism, 2) authoritarianism, and 3) nativism.

Together, these points show the central ideas and workings of right-wing populist parties. Most parties will promise meaningful and positive change from the current situation. This change cannot be promised by other parties, because they are accused of being responsible for the current situation. This idea reflects the first and second characteristics. The party claims that change is necessary from the situation created by the elite, which should be positive for the people. Furthermore, since the will of the people is central in the workings of populist parties, it supplies a feeling of hope and the idea that the people are heard. This idea reflects the fourth characteristic.

If we also explore the theory behind the “losers of globalization”, we can partially explain the sudden rise in popularity of these populist parties. This theory states that globalization has brought forward winners and losers and that both sides have differing world views and political ideas as a consequence. Generally, the losers of globalization are seen as those who have been negatively impacted by globalization. Either menial, hard-working and rewarding labour has moved to different countries or their skill sets no longer pave the way to a stable life. They seem to be left behind in this changing society and therefore oppose what they believe to be the main causes of this problem, such as open borders or institutions such as the EU.

From the elements described by Mudde, some scholars created models to describe populism. One such model was made by Pippa Norris and Robert Inglehart to argue theories on the rise of populism. They argue that populism is either a reaction to economic insecurity since those left behind by economic change from a globalizing world harbour more resentment towards the established elite. The other theory states that populism is a counterreaction to the ‘silent revolution’ of the 1970s where liberal values became much more prominent and as a result, parts of the majority saw the erosion of their traditional values to such an extent, that they now vote against the established elite and for the conservation of their values.

Cover photo of the book by Jorge Tamames

These theories have also been used by other scholars to distinguish left-wing populism from right-wing populism. Personally, I agree most with the ideas from Samir Gandesha, who argues that the aforementioned theories should always be used in conjunction with each other and that both hold merits. However, the extent to which one theory accurately reflects the real-world situation is dependent on the position the party holds on the political spectrum. Left-wing parties more often work from a socio-economic perspective in their ideology, whereas right-wing parties more often focus on aspects such as migration and other cultural points in politics. I especially appreciate these ideas of his, since it also ties in with the ‘losers of globalization’ and expands on this theory.

However, it is important to mention that certain scholars disagree with the general literature on the theories behind the cultural backlash and economic insecurity arguments. A common criticism is that authors present biases towards either theory and thereby are unable to provide a proper analysis of these theories. Whilst I do agree that these biases can present problems for particular case studies, I do not believe that it would obstruct the general understanding behind the theories, considering a bias for one theory does not invalidate the other theory.

Far-Right Populism in Europe

Photo by James Debono on MaltaToday

Within Europe, far-right populism has been on the rise for some time, but especially in the last two decades. Each country has at least one party that is described as far-right populist, with varying degrees of success in their respective elections. There are the PVV and FvD in the Netherlands, the AfD in Germany, the FN in France, VOX in Spain, the Sverigedemokraterna in Sweden and the list goes on.

I hope that this blog post, along with the previous post on Fascism, has provided some understanding of two common far-right ideologies. In the next two blog posts, we will discuss whether these ideologies fit with contemporary political parties, namely VOX in Spain and the Sverigedemokraterna in Sweden.

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12 thoughts on “Populism as a better far-right description?

  1. What an interesting start! We know this is a draft and it is not complete yet, but we already have some recommendations to share with you. Considering that this article touches upon both Spain and Sweden, it would be useful to separate the two examples with subheadings. Also strengthen your introduction by explaining all the aspects you are going to focus on. Don’t forget to add pictures and hyperlinks!

    1. Thank you for the suggestions! I’ve improved upon the introduction following your suggestion, so I hope that this makes the blog post more readable for you.

      1. We’re happy to see that you have found our suggestion useful! As a last recommendation, maybe add 2 or 3 pictures. You’re definitely on the good track!

  2. This is a very interesting post! We believe that you explain really well the central ideas of populist parties and it helps to understand better their ideology. However, we think that you could explain the difference between describing a political party as being populist and as being far-right. Moreover, we would like to know your opinion about the topic so you should position yourself in the text. Lastly, we believe that the sub-titles could be more original. However, we have really liked your post and we can’t wait to read the final draft of your post!

    1. I’m glad you like the post so far! I’ve added a paragraph on the discussion between scholars on the place of populism in the far-right and positioned myself within that debate. Additionally, I’ve attempted to improve the subheadings. The suggestions were very helpful, so thank you very much!

  3. The content of your blog post is presented clear, and it is interesting to read your article. It is nice that you hyperlink different authors in the field, but you could also provide hyperlinks to non-academic sources. As mentioned by a previous commenter, you could include some pictures that accompany the text of your post. Other than that, it is a genuinely nice blog post!

    1. I’m glad you like the topic. I’ve increased the number of hyperlinks and included some non-academic sources as well. Also, thank you for the compliment!

  4. Its very useful the connecting line at the end of the blog. The definition for the populism is very interesting and very clear; however more nuance might be useful when discussing that populism is not only used by the far right, if one uses the definition mentioned.
    Also as other commenters have mentioned adding non-academic sources would provide a grounding of populism in Europe.

    1. It’s nice that you mentioned that a bit of nuance was missing and I’ve now added a paragraph to position populism more clearly within the far-right. This should explain the its role within our discussion more accurately. Thank you for the suggestion!

  5. Good work overall! However, we suggest two points of improvement. First, you should offer a clear and unambiguous definition of the differences between “far-right” and “far-right populism” as you have done well with stating the meaning of “populism” that you are working with. Second, the title of your blog post misleads the reader into questioning the use of populism for describing the far-right, while your second subheading presents the “far-right” nuance as a type of populism. What is the reason for this?

    Moreover, it is interesting indeed how such parties portray “the people”. Here is an academic article on this matter that you might find insightful: http://hdl.handle.net/2268/214114

    1. I’ve added a paragraph to give a clearer definition of far-right populism in order to make the distinction with the far-right clearer. For your question, I agree that the original post does not clarify whether populism can be used to describe the far-right. My intention was not to make the reader question if the far-right is (or can be) populist, but to make the reader question if current far-right parties identify more with the populist ideology than the fascist ideology. The other posts of this blog discuss the fascist ideology and explore the ideologies of far-right parties, namely VOX and the Sverigedemokraterna. Together, these posts should give a better insight into the proper descriptions of the far-right.
      However, I’ve changed the sub-heading now so it doesn’t conflict with the title of the post. I hope that this both answers your question and improves the blog. Thank you for your insightful comment!

      1. Thank you for taking into account the feedback! The post is unambiguous in its entirety and definitely an interesting read.

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