Cover page


To my readers,

in the hope that this book

will educate and empower you


Cas Mudde



Throughout my career, I have had the great fortune of receiving generous support from many wonderful colleagues and friends in the academic field of extremism and democracy. For this particular book, which has a much broader geographical and topical scope than my more narrow academic work, I called upon an exceptionally broad range of them for feedback and was yet again humbled by their response. Aurelien Mondon, Caterina Froio, Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, Duncan McDonnell, George Hawley, Jan-Werner Müller, Kathleen Blee, Léonie de Jonge, Matthew Feldman, and Uwe Backes all read the first full manuscript and provided me with many smaller and bigger suggestions. I was able to include several of them, but was forced to ignore some, because of the practical constraints of this relatively short book.

Special thanks go out to four more people. Alex DiBranco was able and willing to read over the later added chapter on gender and provided me with crucial feedback within a week. My amazing wife Maryann Gallagher not only facilitated my writing but also read an earlier draft of the gender chapter and helped me reshape and rethink it. My fantastic graduate student Jakub Wondreys did vital research assistance for the book and helped me construct the chronology and the glossary. He also read through the full manuscript and provided me with helpful comments. I thank him for all his work and cannot wait to repay it, by editing his dissertation. Finally, a shout out to my friend and publisher Craig Fowlie, who made time in his extremely busy schedule to provide me with great feedback on the full manuscript, despite the fact that it is published by a competitor. Perhaps he is right after all: Scousers are special.

I have written several books before, some purely academic, some mostly non-academic. In most cases, I acted quite quickly on the initial idea, but it then took me a (very) long time to turn it into a book. This book is the exact opposite. I have been brooding over this idea for more than a decade, returning to it each time I was asked for a recommendation for a relatively short, non-academic book after giving a public lecture. But once I approached Polity with the idea, the book almost wrote itself – if I could find time for it in between family, lectures, meetings, teaching, and travel. I want to thank the three anonymous referees for their constructive and encouraging reviews and my editors at Polity, Louise Knight and Sophie Wright, for their quick and hands-on editing style. It confirmed my long-held feeling that Polity is indeed the perfect publisher for this book.


AfD Alternative for Germany
ANS/NA Action Front of National Socialists/National Activists
APF Alliance for Peace and Freedom
B&H Blood & Honour
BJP Indian People’s Party
DF Danish People’s Party
EAF European Alliance for Freedom
EDL English Defence League
EKRE Conservative People’s Party of Estonia
ENF Europe of Nations and Freedom
ESM European Social Movement
FN National Front (France)
FPÖ Austrian Freedom Party
FvD Forum for Democracy
GRECE Research and Study Group for European Civilization
KKK Ku Klux Klan
LN Northern League
LPR League of Polish Families
L’SNS Kotleba – People’s Party Our Slovakia
MHP Nationalist Action Party
MSI Italian Social Movement
NF National Front (UK)
NMR Nordic Resistance Movement
NPD National Democratic Party of Germany
ONP One Nation Party
PEGIDA Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident
PiS Law and Justice
PVV Party for Freedom
REP The Republicans
RN National Rally
RSS National Volunteer Organization
SD Sweden Democrats
SNS Slovak National Party
SRP Socialist Reich Party
SVP Swiss People’s Party
UKIP United Kingdom Independence Party
VB Flemish Bloc/Flemish Interest
XA Golden Dawn


On a grey and drizzly day in January 2017, on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, the newly elected president of the United States gave a speech unlike any of his predecessors. It had the anger and frustration of the political fringes, but it came from the political mainstream. In his inaugural speech, the new “Leader of the Free World” said:

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered – but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes – starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.

The election of Donald Trump is in many ways illustrative of what this book is about: the mainstreaming and normalization of the far right in general, and the populist radical right in particular, in the twenty-first century. As I finish this manuscript, in May 2019, three of the five most populous countries in the world have a far-right leader (Brazil, India, and the US) and the biggest political party in the world is the populist radical right Indian People’s Party (BJP). Within the European Union (EU), two governments are fully controlled by populist radical right parties (Hungary and Poland), another four include such parties (Bulgaria, Estonia, Italy, Slovakia), and two are held up with support of a populist right party (Denmark and the United Kingdom).1 And in the latest European elections, far-right parties increased their presence in the European Parliament yet again, albeit modestly, as they had done in the previous elections in 2014 and 2009.

A lot has changed since I started working on the far right in the late 1980s, as a student at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, when the far right was still primarily a phenomenon of the political margins. Neo-Nazi groups could barely protest in the streets without being arrested and anti-immigration parties barely registered in the polls. Today, the far right is closely connected to the political mainstream; and in more and more countries it is becoming the political mainstream. Let me illustrate this disturbing transformation with three (European) examples.

In 1982, thousands of protesters filled the square in front of the Dutch parliament in The Hague. Carrying signs that read “They Are Back” and “Racism is Hate Against Humans,” they protested against one man, Hans Janmaat, leader of the misnamed Center Party, who, with fewer than 70,000 votes (0.8 percent), had entered the Second Chamber. Fast-forward more than three decades, and the Dutch parliament counts twenty-two (out of 150) far-right Members of Parliament (MPs), installed without any protests, while the main right-wing government parties advance and implement policies that are fully anchored in the Center Party’s main point of controversy: “The Netherlands is not an immigration country. Stop immigration!”

In 1999, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) gained its biggest electoral success to date, coming second with 26.9 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections. When the party entered the government the next year, it was met by mass demonstrations and an international boycott. When the FPÖ returned to government in 2018, few Austrians came out to demonstrate, while the international community embraced the coalition with virtually no protest.

And, finally, in France, most French people responded with horror when the leader of the National Front (FN), Jean-Marie Le Pen, made the 2002 presidential run-offs with 16.9 percent of the national vote. In response, turnout for the second round increased substantially, keeping Le Pen at 17.8 percent, less than one percent higher than in the first round. Fifteen years later, his daughter Marine made the second round with 21.3 percent. This time (even) fewer French people voted in the second round and Le Pen increased her support to 33.9 percent. With Marine Le Pen almost doubling her father’s 2002 score, most French people were relieved rather than upset. At least she didn’t win.

These examples illustrate the fundamental differences between the so-called “third wave” and “fourth wave” of the postwar far right. The third wave, roughly from 1980 till 2000, saw the rise of electorally successful populist radical right parties, although they were largely reduced to the political margins, as mainstream parties excluded them from political coalitions and often minimized “their” issues, notably immigration and European integration. In the fourth wave, which roughly started in the twenty-first century, radical right parties have become mainstreamed and increasingly normalized, not just in Europe, but across the world. And even extreme right parties have emerged, as extreme right sentiments (like antisemitism, historical revisionism, and racism) are openly flirted with in the media and politics.

The so-called “refugee crisis” of 2015 played a special role in this development. I put the term in quotes because whether or not it was indeed a crisis is more a matter of personal judgment than objective condition. The EU had the financial resources to deal with even these record numbers of asylum seekers, although for years it had neglected to build an infrastructure to properly take care of them. Mainstream media and politicians chose to frame the influx of asylum seekers as a “crisis,” thereby providing ammunition to the already mobilized far right.

The “refugee crisis” was not the initial cause of the mainstreaming of the far right, in Europe or beyond, but it has definitely functioned as a catalyst for the process. Anti-immigration demonstrations have become a common occurrence on the streets of major European cities, while far-right violence against anti-fascists, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and refugees has increased sharply. From Germany to the US, law enforcement and intelligence agencies warn of a growing far-right terrorist danger, often after decades of downplaying this threat.

This book aims to give an accessible and concise overview of the fourth wave of the postwar far right. While it includes several original observations which will also be of interest to more expert readers, this book is first and foremost written for a non-academic audience; for people who follow the news, are concerned about the rise of the far right, but feel that media accounts provide too little detail and insight, while academic and non-academic books are too complex or simply too long. It draws on more than a quarter-century of scholarship, including my own, and simplifies and summarizes this in ten clearly structured chapters.

My hope is that after reading this book, the reader will feel better equipped to assess the key challenges that the far right poses to liberal democracies in the twenty-first century and to feel empowered to defend liberal democracy against these challenges. But before she can do this, we have to address one of the most confusing and frustrating aspects of the academic and public debate on the topic: terminology.


The ideas and groups at the heart of this book are described with an ever-growing myriad of terms, often used interchangeably, yet without a clear definition or explanation of the differences and similarities. While issues of terminology might sound like a purely academic matter, they are crucial to politics and the public debate. For instance, in countries like Germany, “extreme right” groups can be banned, while “radical right” groups cannot.

It is true that most of the defining and terming is done by outsiders, that is, academics, anti-fascists, and journalists, rather than by the far right itself, but this is not to say that it does not care about terminology. Leaders from prominent far-right parties, like the FN (now National Rally, RN) and FPÖ, have taken academics and journalists to court for describing them as “fascist,” for example. Others have proudly proclaimed themselves to be populists, and sometimes even racist, albeit often after redefining the term more favorably. For example, Matteo Salvini, leader of the Northern League (LN; now just League) and Italy’s interior minister, said that while “populist” was used as an insult, for him, it was a compliment. And former Breitbart News CEO and Trump advisor Steve Bannon told FN activists at a party gathering, “Let them call you racists. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor.”

There is no academic consensus on the correct terms for the broader movement and the various subgroups within it. Moreover, the dominant term has been changing throughout the postwar era. In the first decades, these movements were primarily described in terms of “neo-fascism,” which changed to “extreme right” in the 1980s, “radical right” in the 1990s, some form of “right-wing populism” in the early twenty-first century, as well as “far right” in more recent years. This development reflects changes both within the movement itself and in the scholarly community that studies it.

Most academics agree that the movement is part of the broader right, but disagree over what that exactly means. The terms “left” and “right” date back to the French Revolution (1789–99), when supporters of the king sat to the right of the president of the French parliament and opponents to the left. This means that those on the right were in favor of the ancien régime, marked by its hierarchical order, while those on the left supported democratization and popular sovereignty. After the Industrial Revolution, the left–right division became mainly defined in terms of socio-economic policies, with the right supporting a free market and the left a more active role of the state, although alternative meanings remained popular – such as religious (right) versus secular (left). In more recent decades, left–right has become more defined in socio-cultural terms, with the right standing for either authoritarianism (versus the left’s libertarianism) or nationalism (versus the left’s internationalism) – or, in the terms of RN leader Marine Le Pen, “patriot–globalist.”

While these various interpretations differ on many points, they do share an essential core, which has been captured most accurately by the Italian philosopher Norberto Bobbio,2 who defines the key distinction between left and right on the basis of their view on (in)equality: the left considers the key inequalities between people to be artificial and negative, which should be overcome by an active state, whereas the right believes that inequalities between people are natural and positive, and should be either defended or left alone by the state. These inequalities can be (believed to be) cultural, economic, racial, religious, or however defined.

This book is not concerned with the so-called “mainstream right,” such as conservatives and liberals/libertarians, but only with those on the right who are “anti-system,” defined here as hostile to liberal democracy. This is what I call the far right, which is itself divided into two broader subgroups. The extreme right rejects the essence of democracy, that is, popular sovereignty and majority rule. The most infamous example of the extreme right is fascism, which brought to power German Führer Adolf Hitler and Italian Duce Benito Mussolini, and was responsible for the most destructive war in world history. The radical right accepts the essence of democracy, but opposes fundamental elements of liberal democracy, most notably minority rights, rule of law, and separation of powers. Both subgroups oppose the postwar liberal democratic consensus, but in fundamentally different ways. While the extreme right is revolutionary, the radical right is more reformist. In essence, the radical right trusts the power of the people, the extreme right does not.

Given the prevalence of the term populism in contemporary political discussions, let me quickly clarify both my understanding of that term and its relationship to the far right. I define populism as a (thin) ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, the pure people and the corrupt elite, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people (see also chapter 2). At least in theory, populism is pro-democracy, but anti-liberal democracy. Consequently, the extreme right is, by definition, not populist, while the radical right can be – and, in the twenty-first century, predominantly is.

Outline of the Book

This book focuses predominantly on the fourth wave, that is, on the far right in the twenty-first century. While I aim to present the far right in its diversity, including both the extreme right and the radical right, the emphasis will be on the most important ideas, organizations, and personalities of the contemporary period, that is, populist radical right leaders and parties. The first set of chapters focuses primarily on the far right itself (chapters 1–5), while the second deals with the far right within the (mostly western democratic) political context (chapters 6–8).

Chapter 1 provides a concise chronological overview of the four waves of postwar far-right politics. Chapter 2 introduces the key ideologies and issues of the contemporary far right. Chapter 3 focuses on the organizational structure of the far right, distinguishing between far-right parties, social movement organizations, and subcultures. Chapter 4 shifts the focus to the people within the far right, more specifically leaders, members and activists, and voters. Chapter 5 examines the main forms of mobilization, that is, elections, demonstrations, and violence.

The next three chapters situate the far right within its (western democratic) political context. Chapters 6 and 7 discuss the causes and consequences of the recent rise of the far right, summarizing some of the key academic and public debates – such as economic anxiety versus cultural backlash – and highlighting the broad variety of far-right challenges that western democracies are facing today. Chapter 8 reviews the different ways in which democracies have responded to the rise of the far right. Chapter 9 looks at the role of gender within the far right, relating it to most of the aspects discussed in the previous chapters. Finally, chapter 10 ends the book with twelve theses that highlight key characteristics and novelties of the fourth wave of the postwar far right.