This is not to say that the NPD is not a dangerous, racist and outright nasty party. Therefore, the idea of banning the NPD has surfaced time and again, becoming its own Doppelgänger after the 2001-2003 disaster. Upon granting the matter due consideration, I think the plan is largely bonkers. If this kind of concise verdict does not impress you much, you can read my full analysis of the proposed NPD ban at the extremis project, the go-to site for all thing, well, extreme.
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David Art: Inside the Radical Right. Cambridge University Press 2011. 288 pages, GBP 60 (Hardback)
Over the last thirty years, the Radical Right has established itself as a relevant player in many European political systems. Parties that are variously labelled as ‘extreme’, ‘populist’ or ‘anti-immigrant’ right are the subject of intense political and scientific scrutiny.
Perhaps one of the most striking facts about these parties is that electoral support for them varies so much over time and across political systems: some never get beyond the groupuscule stage, some are like the proverbial flash in the pan, while others are relatively stable over long periods and might even make or break governments. This empirical puzzle is the starting point for David Art’s latest book.
His is a contribution to the growing literature that focuses on the so-called ‘supply side’ of radical right politics. More specifically, Art claims that (collective) agency and structural factors interact to bring about radical right success or failure. Building on an argument whose intellectual lineage he traces back to Kitschelt and Downs, Art develops a simple yet useful typology of party activists by distinguishing between extremists, opportunists, and moderates, with the latter two groups being essential for a given party’s electoral success and organisational survival.
According to Art, structural factors, historical legacies and the initial reaction (permissive or repressive) to the new organisation determine how many and what type of activists will join. This mix, alongside with other factors such as the organisational abilities and other resources of the party founder(s) will shape the initial trajectory of the fledgling party.
While this causal mechanism may seem credible, it is obviously next to impossible to test the validity of the argument rigorously. Art responds to this challenge with a stupendous series of comparative case studies that go far beyond similar work on the Radical Right that has been done in the past. In four chapters, he traces the development of more than 20 radical right parties in ten Western European countries, trying to identify patterns that square with his assumptions. While few of his findings are completely new – after all, research on the radical right is a minor industry in political science and sociology – his expositions are very well structured and closely tied to the theoretical argument.
What sets the book apart, however, is the fact that large parts of it are based on not less than 140 interviews Art conducted with radical right party activists. Anyone who has ever worked in that field will know that getting and conducting even a single interview with a radical right activist is a formidable problem on more than one level, making Art’s feat all the more remarkable. Although these interviews are hardly unbiased and reliable sources, Art uses his unique material to give a nuanced account of the Radical Right’s internal dynamics. While the author’s determination to stick to his research design is laudable, one cannot help the feeling that there must be a whole host of more traditional books (on single parties or countries) waiting to be written on the basis of his notes.
Without doubt, Art’s book is an important and potentially controversial contribution that will refresh the sometimes slightly stale debate on causes of the differential success of the Radical Right. Its strict focus on the role of party activists (and elites outside the party) is both a strength and weakness. The real future challenge for the discipline will be to integrate the findings from party studies with the results from the literature on voter behaviour.
As an aside, it’s remarkable that this book was published in English. The volume as well as the conference on which it is based were sponsored by French and German institutions. A few years ago, that would have meant a bilingual conference and publication. Outside Luxembourg, what is the number of scholars working in the field who could have actively participated in the conference? And how much larger would have been the number of potential readers? Individually and collectively, French and German political science might still be too big to fail for the time being, but it’s good to see that we as a discipline chose relevance. Occasionally.
To celebrate this moment of pre-Christmas clarity, here’s the author’s version of my chapter
- The Radical Right in Central and Eastern Europe
- The Internationalisation of the Radical Right
- Will Fascism return?
- On the Borderline Between Protest and Violence: Political Movements of the New Radical Right
- Consequences of the surge of anti-immigration parties
- The Radical Right in Western Europe
- Inside the Radical Right: An Internalist Perspective
- Party-based Euroscepticism in Western and Eastern Europe
- Neighbourhood Effects Revisited: the Visualisation of Immigrants and Radical Right-Wing Voting
Each panel can have up to five paper givers, so the section offers us a chance to bring together cutting edge research on the Populist/Extreme/Radical Right from various subfields (parties, voters, rational choice, normative theory – you name it). Please submit your abstract via the the electronic submission system to the appropriate panel(s).