Jan 192019

What is the “winter school” for Germany’s New Right?

This weekend, Alexander Gauland, co-leader of the AfD, will give a lecture at the annual “winter school”, a weekend seminar that is organised by the “Institut für Staatspolitik” (IfS). The IfS is a Wannabe-Nouvelle-Droite think tank based in Schnellroda, a tiny village in Saxony-Anhalt. Its mastermind is Götz Kubitschek, a far-right publisher, author and self-styled “New Right” intellectual.

Götz Kubitschek, co-founder of the IfS, invites Gauland to Schnellroda

Götz Kubitschek Metropolico.org [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Kubitschek believes in meta-politic: a conscious attempt to alter the meaning of words and establish new frames, to shift discourses and to form the minds of new generations, all in a bid to change the course of the nation. He and his associates borrowed this concept from the French Nouvelle Droite, who in turn got some ideas from the German “Konservative Revolution” of the 1920s and 1930s and mixed them, ironically, with a bit of Gramsci.

Their “winter school” is a crucial part of the meta-political strategy. It is run exclusively for people under the age of 35. Students pay just 60 € for two nights, including full board and access to all lectures. If they subscribe to “Sezession”, a highbrow right-wing magazine published by Kubitschek and the IfS, this is further discounted to 40 €. Getting to Schnellroda is definitively the most costly part of the weekend. But why is Gauland going to Schnellroda as a speaker? why is Gauland going to Schnellroda as a speaker? Click To Tweet

Schnellroda: Götz Kubitschek, the IfS, and the AfD

Kubitschek lives the Altdeutsch dream. More specifically, he lives in the local manor house, together his wife Ellen Kositza (also a far-right author) and their many children, who bear traditional Germanic names. We know all this from the newspapers. Kubitschek’s elite brand of far-right politics has attracted an unhealthy interest from mainstream journalists, who are occasionally allowed to visit the couple in exchange for half-gushy, half-disgusted home stories. Scientists are similarly intrigued, and there is a lot of research (in German) about the “New Right” networks Kubitschek and his ilk form. I sometimes wonder if his influence and importance are seriously overestimated.

Helmut Kellershohn: Das Institut für Staatspolitik und das jungkonservative Hegemonieprojekt. In: Stephan Braun, Alexander Geisler, Martin Gerster (Hrsg.): Strategien der extremen Rechten: Hintergründe – Analysen – Antworten. 2. aktualisierte und erweiterte Auflage, Springer Fachmedien, Wiesbaden 2015,

In the past, Kubitschek’s radicalism and elitism made for an uneasy relationship with the AfD. In 2015, when the party’s transformation from soft-eurosceptic to radical right came under way, he and Kositza applied for membership. They were initially accepted, but within days, the national executive, then still controlled by Bernd Lucke, intervened and rejected their applications. Nonetheless, Kubitschek is closely involved with the most radical Eastern circles in the party, whose members regularly attend events at Schnellroda. It was here, at an IfS meeting, that Höcke made his infamous speech about “Africans”, and it was Kubitschek who put a video of that speech online.

Kubitschek is closely involved with the most radical Eastern circles in the #AfD Click To Tweet

In his characteristically cringeworthy style, Höcke has praised the manor house as a sort of spiritual home for the AfD’s hardliners. In turn, Kubitschek and Kositza have attended conferences organised by the “Flügel”, the far-right network that is now under scrutiny by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), i.e. the secret service.

AfD leader Gauland speaks at Schnellroda, the infamous far-right gathering run by the IfS

Leader of the opposition, leader of the AfD, keynote speaker at Schnellroda – all in a day’s work Original picture: Metropolico.org [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Kubitschek has also spoken at “Pegida” and “Legida” events. At the invitation of Matteo Salvini, he has attended a Lega conference, but he also has contacts to the neo-fascist Casa Pound and has even published a Casa-inspired book in translation. He is friends with Martin Sellner, one of the most prominent figures in the “Identitarian” movement, and works closely with Jürgen Elsässer, one of the most prominent figures of the German far-out-right. Kubitschek is no neo-Nazi – that would be far to vulgar. But he puts himself into the succession line of the “Konservative Revolution”, the young, revolutionary and above all anti-democratic movement that operated at the fringes of conservatism in the Weimar Republic and helped to pave the way for the real Nazis.

What is Gauland doing at the Schnellroda “Winter School”?

In short, the IfS’s “winter school” is a remarkable event for Gauland to attend, let alone to give a lecture. Gauland is by no means the first AfD politician to speak at Schnellroda, but as national co-leader and co-leader of the AfD’s caucus in the Bundestag, he is by far the most prominent one. Gauland has attended “Flügel” meetings in the past, and has repeatedly defended Höcke. But he is still widely seen as “bürgerlich”, because as a former high-ranking bureaucrat, CDU member and conservative journalist, he is a card-carrying member of the elite that has run this country for seven decades.

In a press conference this week, the BfV announced that they would put the Flügel under enhanced scrutiny, which can even include measures such as phone tapping. When a journalist asked whether this could also affect Gauland, the BfV’s president said that would depend on what kind of information they would come unearth in the coming weeks and months. In this situation, speaking at Schnellroda is either particularly brave or extraordinarily stupid. Either way, we have reached the point where, within a single week, we have learned that the leader of the biggest opposition party in the Bundestag a) may come under observation by the secret service and b) is the headline speaker at a notorious far-right gathering. What a time to be alive. the leader of the biggest opposition party in Germany is also the keynote speaker at a notorious far-right gathering Click To Tweet

Jan 182019

An Economist study finds that the quality of democracy is highest in Australia, Canada, and Scandinavia. No big surprise here. Time to move?

You may have heard that a prominent member of the AfD was physically attacked in Bremen, which the AfD managed to put all over social media. The police say the initial account of the story does not match CCTV from the scene.

Another police officer in Hesse has come under scrutiny over ties to right-wing extremist networks: he is accused of leaking police information to two Neo Nazis. Worrying, to say the least.

Pankaj Mishra thinks that Brexit reflects everything British upper-middle and upper classes have inflicted on the large parts of Asia and Africa. A scathing and not implausible reading of modern history.

Jan 142019

Terminology matters for science. If people use different words for the same thing, or even worse, the same word for different things, scientific communication turns into a dialogue of the deaf. European Radical Right Studies are a field where this is potentially a big problem: we use labels like “New”, “Populist”, “Radical”, “Extreme” or even “Extremist” with abandon. 

But how bad is it really? In a recent chapter (author’s version, not paywalled), I argue that communication in Radical Right studies still works. Texts using all 50 shades of “Right” are still cited together, indicating that later scholars realised they were all talking about (more or less) the same thing.

I have written a number of short blogs about the change in terminology over time, the extraction of the co-citation network, and the interpretation of the findings. But sometimes, all this reading is getting a bit much, and so I tried something different: using some newfangled software for noobs, I turned my findings into a short video. Have a look for yourself and tell me what you think.

Jan 122019
AfD: split, not purge

Yesterday, Andre Poggenburg, formerly the AfD’s head honcho in Saxony-Anhalt announced that he had left the AfD and launched a new party further to the right: the “Awakening of German Patriots”. Before his fall from grace, Poggenburg was one of the more visible members of the party’s ultra-nationalist “völkisch” wing, which is particularly strong in the East.

Today, German public radio interviewed Klaus-Peter Schöppner, a well-known pollster, who claimed that the party could benefit “from throwing out the extrepmists”. This is exactly the spin the AfD is trying to put on the whole affair. They claim that they are getting rid of a problematic, bumbling character who would take his few and equally deranged supporters with him.

Don't believe in the spin. It's a trap

When you recognise the framing for what it is

Nothing could be further from the truth. Other leading members of the vökisch wing had sidelined Poggenburg more than a year ago over his gaffes and petty affairs. And these guys show no inclination whatsoever to leave the party. On the contrary, they will continue to shape the AfD in their image.

Björn Höcke, the most prominent of them, was re-elected as leader in Thuringia less than two months ago and is the party’s frontrunner for the state election in October 2019. Andreas Kalbitz became Gauland’s successor as state party leader in Brandenburg. Last week, he was confirmed as the frontrunner for the state election in September 2019. Jens Maier, the former judge who tried to silence our colleague Steffen Kaillitz, is a sitting MP. Hans-Thomas Tillschneider is a state MP in Saxony and will likely be re-elected come September. And the list goes on.


They cultivate links to the Pegida movement and to the Identitarians. They attend seminars run by New Right pseudo-intellectuals and dream of a “meta-political” transformation of German society. They were a driving force behind the AfDs’s metamorphosis to a Radical Right party, and it is unlikely that they will stop at that.

Don’t believe for a second that there was a purge. It’s a trap Click To Tweet.

Jan 112019
Putsch in the AfD?

Putsch in the AfD!

This morning, I woke up to the news that Andre Poggenburg, former leader of the AfD in Saxony-Anhalt and former chair of the AfD’s delegation in the state parliament is now also a former member of the AfD. And thanks to @TheDanHough, I quickly learned that he has already set up his own party: “Awakening of German Patriots – Central Germany” (AdP). In other words, they are playing our special song. Once more, with feeling.

Putsch in the AfD?

The AfD and Bruce Springsteen. You would have to ask @BDStanley what it means.

Who is Andre Poggenburg?

The AfD began its life as a moderately Eurosceptic party to the right of the Christian Democrats. During its first two years, the AfD’s public image was dominated by men (mostly) that could have been members, or had in fact been members, of the postwar German centre-right parties. The gradual radicalisation of the party became more visible in 2015. By the end of 2015, the AfD had become a bog-standard Radical Right party.

The AfD’s transformation was sped up by circles on the very right of the party, chiefly based in former East Germany. As leader in Saxony-Anhalt, Poggenburg was a relatively prominent representative of these forces, although he always played second fiddle to Björn Höcke, who leads the AfD in Thuringia. In 2016, Poggenburg led a state-level campaign that was unusually aggressive even by the new standards of the AfD, and won their best result ever (so far): 24.3 per cent of the vote.

While most European Populist Radical Right parties shy away from traditional right-wing extremism and draw a (sometimes thin) line between themselves and those who openly campaign against democratic values and principles, the Eastern chapters of the AfD are remarkably relaxed in this respect. As early as 2015, Höcke voiced sympathy for not just voters but also for members of the right-wing extremist NPD. On other occasions, he has shown thinly veiled support for biological racism and has demanded that Germany performs a “U-turn” with respect to its attempts to come to terms with the Nazi past. Whenever Höcke came under fire from more moderate characters in the party, Poggenburg rose to his defence.

Poggenburg’s political positions and style are hardly different from Höcke’s. For years, the two men were allies, and perhaps even friends. But more recently, Poggenburg became a bit of an embarrassment, and his political star began to sink. His power grabs, his iron-fist approach to intra-party opposition and his chaotic, undisciplined leadership put off many party members in Saxony-Anhalt. As early as 2016, it emerged that Poggenburg, who was a small business owner before becoming a full-time politician, had not paid back money that he owed and had hidden from the bailiffs on several occasions. In 2017 Poggenburg was accused of nepotism when it became known that the AfD employs his girlfriend as a trainee Click To Tweet. All in all, he is not exactly a model law-and-order politician.
And so Poggenburg lost first his influence within the Eastern right-wing circles, then his seat on the national executive (in 2017), and finally, in 2018, his leadership positions in Saxony-Anhalt.

Trump on Poggenburg (source: https://tenor.com/view/no-one-loves-aloser-unloveable-loser-donald-trump-our-cartoon-president-gif-11428270)

His real problem, however, is that he lacks Höcke’s air of pseudo-intellectualism and does neither understand the concept of (im)plausible deniability nor the need for tactical moderation. In various states and at the federal level, authorities are currently pondering the question whether the AfD is an extremist party and should hence come under surveillance by the secret service. Such a move would not just be inconvenient but would put off many voters and would probably lead to a mass exodus of members who fear for their careers. Because of this threat, the national leadership is consulting with constitutional lawyers and has compiled a list of words and phrases that should be avoided because they are too obviously beyond the democratic pale.

Poggenburg baulked at this. He complained, without apparent irony, about a “lurch to the left” within the AfD. He began using a blue cornflower as his header image on social media, a symbol that was used by anti-semitic parties in Austria and Germany in the 19th century and became the shibboleth of the then-illegal Nazi party in pre-1938 Austria. And finally, he Poggenburg kicked off 2019 by sending “patriotic well-wishes” to the “Volksgemeinschaft” Click To Tweet (the community of the people)- a Nazi-era term that was used to legitimise first the exclusion, then the murder of Jews, socialists, communists, homosexuals, Roma, and anyone else who did not fit into the totalitarian vision of German society.

A couple of years ago, that might have been worth a half-hearted explanation (“I misstyped …”), but in the current climate, the national executive decided to ban Poggenburg from holding party offices for two years. And so the man left, then made his announcement, all just in time for a slow-news Friday and for the upcoming AfD party conference.

What are the likely consequences of this split?

Glad that you ask. The AfD has previous form for de-facto splits. In 2015 and 2017, the respective leaders left and went on to set-up their own parties: Lucke’s ALFA (now LKR) and Petry’s Blue Party. Ironically, both were self-styled moderates that broke with the AfD over its radicalisation (that they had furthered, up to a point). Poggenburg, on the other hand, is a true radical who leaves over the party’s alleged moderation.

Sometimes a flower is not just a flower

Three and a half year down the line, ALFA/LKR is dead in the water. The Blue Party looks pretty blue on the national level (could not resist – sorry), but may play a role in the upcoming election in Saxony, where it has a small parliamentary presence due to defections from the AfD. But by and large, there seems to be no demand for an entirely moderate AfD: voters can simply return to the centre-right, especially now that Merkel’s chancellorship is coming to a close.

Poggenburg’s AdP is a completely different proposition. He is aiming for East Germany (or Central Germany in his parlance) only, and he Poggenburg plans to out-AfD the AfD in the German East Click To Tweet elections of 2019. That could work if Eastern voters were of the opinion that the AfD is indeed lurching to the left, selling out, etc., etc., etc. But so far, the AfD’s numbers in the polls look pretty solid. The Eastern state party chapters already operate to the right of most Western chapters. They have access to state funding that their parliamentary presence has earned them, they have party machines in place, and they have a cohort of reasonably seasoned politicians. Poggenburg, on the other hand, has all the experience of winning an election, then blowing it.

It’s early days still (the first day, actually), but so far, Poggenburg has only convinced two semi-prominent right-wingers to jump ship and join his new outfit. With this small team, he is mainly gunning for the small-ish group of voters that have previously supported the NPD. But even these voters might still find the AfD reasonably attractive and will be reluctant to potentially waste their vote. In 2019, the AfD is an established brand whereas the AdP, which has adopted the cornflower symbol, looks like a radicalised knock-off lead by a man who has previously overestimated his political capital by a considerable margin.

My colleague Hans Vorländer has speculated on public radio that Höcke might want to join the party (groan! enough with the puns!). Without doubt, that would be a game-changer.
But why would Höcke do such a thing? Höcke was instrumental in transforming the AfD. The division of labour between the AfD's more respectable and its more radical/revolutionary wing has paid off handsomely for both Click To Tweet, and the current national executive is willing to give Höcke and his associates considerable leeway. Not a single word of support for Poggenburg has come from Höcke in all of 2018. And so I think that this split will be as inconsequential as the last ones. But then again, I have been completely wrong before.

Jan 102019

Topic modelling does not work well for (my) research paper abstracts

The Radical Right Research Robot is a fun side project whose life began exactly one year ago. The Robot exists to promote the very large body of knowledge on Radical Right parties and their voters that social scientists have accumulated over decades. At its core is a loop that randomly selects one of the more than 800 titles on my online bibliography on the Extreme/Radical Right every few hours and spits it out on twitter.

Yet the little android’s aim was always for some sort of serendipity, and so it tries to extract meaning from the abstracts (where available), sometimes with rather funny consequences. The robots’s first idea was to make use (structural) topic modelling. There are some implementations available in R and the first results looked promising, but in the end, topic modelling did not find meaningful clusters of papers that could easily be labelled with a common theme. One possible reason is that the abstracts are short, and that there are relatively few (less than 400) of them. And so the Robot reverted to using a small and fairly arbitrary set of keywords for identifying topics.

This approach produced some embarrassing howlers like this one:

Or this one (clearly the robot has a thing for media studies – who doesn’t?):

There are two problems here: first, even a single instance of a keyword in a given abstract is enough to trigger a classification, and second, the bot’s pedestrian implementation would classify an abstract using the last keyword that it detected, even if it was the most peripheral of several hits. Not good enough for world domination, obviously.

Newsmap works reasonably well for classifying topics in research paper abstracts

Looking for an alternative solution, the robot came across newsmap (now also available within quanteda), a geographical news classifier developed by Kohei Watanabe. Newsmap is semi-supervised: it starts with a dictionary of proper nouns and adjectives that all refer to geographical entities, say

'France': [Paris, France, French*] 
'Germany': [German*, Berlin]

But newsmap is able to pick up additional words that also help to identify the respective country with high probability, e.g. “Macron”, “Merkel”, “Marseille”, “Hamburg”, or even “Lederhosen”. In a (limited) sense, it learns to identify geographical context even when the country in question is not mentioned explicitly.

But the algorithm is not restricted to geographical entities. It can also identify topics from a list. An so these days, the robot starts with a dictionary of seed words that is work in progress but looks mostly like this at the moment:

'religion & culture': [muslim*, islam*, relig*, cultur*]
'media': [TV, newspaper*, journalis*]
'group conflict': [group*,contact, prejudice, stereotyp*, competition]

Results are not perfect, but at least they are less embarrassing than those from the simple keyword approach. One remaining problem is that newsmap tags each abstract with (at most) one topic. In reality, any given article will refer to two or more themes in the literature. Topic models are much more attractive in this respect, because they treat each text as a mixture of topics, and so the robot may have to revisit them in the future.

Dec 222018
10 most popular blogs 2018

A year ago, I wrote a slightly maudlin blog about the good and the not-so-good reasons for solo-blogging in this time and age. Good reasons or not, I kept up the good work with 35 blogs in 2018. That is a bit less than my long-term annual average, but Chapeau to my good self nonetheless.

But what were the most popular (used in a strictly relative sense) posts on the blog in 2018? Here is your handy guide:

Dec 162018

Christmas comes early this year for political scientists, sociologists, social psychologists, and anyone else interested in research on the Extreme Right/Radical Right: the winter 2018 edition of the Extreme Right Bibliography is here. The latest iteration brings the total to 808 titles: 539 journal articles, 102 monographs, and 167 chapters.

Since the April edition, there have been 75 additions. About half of these, an unusually large number, are book chapters. This is because I have included just about every contribution to the excellent Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right (edited by Jens Rydgren), including my own chapter on Explaining Electoral Support for the Radical Right.

Most new titles (56) have appeared only this year. Seven were published in 2017, and three are from 2016. The rest are older vintages (2006-2015) but have only recently come to my attention. I’m grateful to the many folks who sent me references, even if some of them did not make the list.

What are the prominent themes in these 75 additional contributions?

  • Only one is about euroscepticism
  • One other deals with gender issues, a venerable but still somewhat under-researched topic
  • Two more are about Social Media/Facebook
  • 11 have “immigration” in their title. No big surprise here
  • Populism features prominently, i.e. in more than 25 titles
  • Country/single party studies (including studies that look at a country and aim to generalise) abound, but there is comparative stuff, too.

In short, the field is thriving – just like the objects of our research 😠.

The usual disclaimer applies: I maintain this list primarily for my own research but hope that others may find it useful, too. If you think that something should be on the list but currently isn’t (including your own research – don’t be shy), please send me an email, DM, or leave a comment here.

Dec 132018

Reprise: The co-citation network in European Radical Right studies

In the last post, I tried to reconstruct the co-citation network in European Radical Right studies and ended up with this neat graph.

Co-citations within top 20 titles in Extreme / Radical Right studies

Co-citations within top 20 titles in Extreme / Radical Right studies

The titles are arranged in groups, with the “Extreme Right” camp on the right, the “Radical Right” group in the lower-left corner, and a small number of publications that is committed to neither in the upper-left corner. The width of the lines represents the number of co-citations connecting the titles.

What does the pattern look like? The articles by Knigge (1998) and Bale et al. (2010) are both in the “nothing in particular” group, but are never cited together, at least not in the data that I extracted. One potential reason is that they are twelve years apart and address quite different research questions.

Want to watch a video of this blog?

Apart from this gap, the network is complete, i.e. everyone is cited with everyone else in the top 20. This is already rather compelling against the idea of a split into incompatible two incompatible strands. Intriguingly, there are even some strong ties that bridge alleged intellectual cleavages, e.g. between Kitschelt’s monograph and the article by Golder, or between Lubbers, Gijsberts and Scheepers on the one hand and Norris and Kitschelt on the other.

While the use of identical terminology seems to play a minor role, the picture also suggests that co-citations are chiefly driven by the general prominence of the titles involved. However, network graphs can be notoriously misleading.

Modelling the number of co-citations in European Radical Right studies

Modelling the number of co-citations provides a more formal test for this intuition. There are \frac{20\times 19}{2}=190 counts of co-citations amongst the top 20 titles, ranging from 0 to 5476, with a mean count of 695 and a variance of 651,143. Because the variance is so much bigger than the mean, a regression model that assumes a negative binomial distribution, which can accommodate such overdispersion, is more adequate than one built around a Poison distribution. “General prominence” is operationalised as the sum of external co-citations of the two titles involved. Here are the results.

external co-citations0.0004.00002<0.05
same terminology0.4240.120<0.05


The findings show that controlling for general prominence (operationalised as the sum of co-citations outside the top 20), using the same terminology (coded as “extreme” / “radical” / “unspecific or other” does have a positive effect on the expected number of co-citations. But what do the numbers mean?

The model is additive in the logs. To recover the counts (and transform the model into its multiplicative form), one needs to exponentiate the coefficients. Accordingly, the effect of using the same terminology translates into a factor of exp(0.424) = 1.53.

What do these numbers mean?

But how relevant is this in practical terms? Because the model is non-linear, it’s best to plot the expected counts for equal/unequal terminology, together with their areas of confidence, against a plausible range of external co-citations.

Effect of external co-citations and use of terminology on predicted number of co-citations within top 20

Effect of external co-citations and use of terminology on predicted number of co-citations within top 20

As it turns out, terminology has only a small effect on the expected number of co-citations for works that have between 6,000 and 8,000 external co-citations. From this point on, the expected number of co-citations grows somewhat more quickly for dyads that share the same terminology. However, over the whole range of 6,000 to 12,000 external co-citations, the confidence intervals overlap and so this difference is not statistically significant.

Unless two titles have a very high number of external co-citations, the probability of them being both cited in a third work does not depend on the terminology they use. Even for the (few) heavily cited works, the evidence is insufficient to reject the null hypothesis that terminology makes no difference.

While the analysis is confined to the relationships between just 20 titles, these titles matter most, because they form the core of ERRS. If we cannot find separation here, that does not necessarily mean that it does not happen elsewhere, but if happens elsewhere, that is much less relevant. So: no two schools. Everyone is citing the same prominent stuff, whether the respective authors prefer “Radical” or “Extreme”. Communication happens, which seems good to me.

Are you surprised?

Got to the first part of this mini series, or read the full article on concepts in European Radical Right research here:

  • Arzheimer, Kai. “Conceptual Confusion is not Always a Bad Thing: The Curious Case of European Radical Right Studies.” Demokratie und Entscheidung. Eds. Marker, Karl, Michael Roseneck, Annette Schmitt, and Jürgen Sirsch. Wiesbaden: Springer, 2018. 23-40. doi:10.1007/978-3-658-24529-0_3
    [BibTeX] [Download PDF] [HTML]
    author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
    title = {Conceptual Confusion is not Always a Bad Thing: The Curious Case of
    European Radical Right Studies},
    booktitle = {Demokratie und Entscheidung},
    publisher = {Springer},
    address = {Wiesbaden},
    pages = {forthcoming},
    year = 2018,
    url =
    doi = {10.1007/978-3-658-24529-0_3},
    pages = {23-40},
    html =
    editor = {Marker, Karl and Roseneck, Michael and Schmitt, Annette and Sirsch,
    dateadded = {01-06-2018}