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date: 12 May 2021

Religion and the Radical Right

Abstract and Keywords

Religion is on the rise again in the West and specifically “secular” Europe, mostly due to the influx of new religions via migration, new political conflicts, and the growing (re)assertion of the Christian heritage among domestic actors. This chapter discusses the extent to which religions provide an ideological component of the radical right, what kind of religion is at play, and whether and how religion can be used to explain the radical right’s successes. It looks at religion in the development and organizational profile of major radical right actors, explores the relevance of religion in the far right, and places the radical right trajectory into a larger context of societal and political change. It concludes that religion functions as a relevant context factor and frame for political mobilization, even in secularized societies, against the perceived threat of rapid sociocultural change and its (alleged) agents and protagonists.

Keywords: religion, xenophobia, radical right, religious beliefs, Western Europe, political mobilization, radical right mobilization

In today’s Western world, and especially in “secular Europe” (Berger, Davie, and Fokas 2008), religion is on the rise again, mostly due to the influx of new religions via migration, new political conflicts, and the growing (re)assertion of Christian heritage among domestic actors. In this way, at least, religion offers itself as a central frame of xenophobic and radical right mobilization: the German movement Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Pegida, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) claims to fight for the protection of the “occident” against alleged Islamization; in Switzerland, the radical right Schweizerische Volkspartei (SVP, Swiss People’s Party) initiates referenda against the building of minarets, among other things; in the United States, movements such as the Tea Party (and parts of the Republican Party) want to preserve what they call the “Judeo-Christian” identity of their country; and in Eastern Europe, organized religion in the shape of the ultra-Catholic Radio Maryja in Poland keeps railing at liberalism in its various manifestations. Yet in the academic debate, religion remains conspicuously absent in concepts of the radical right; instead, it is usually treated as a strategic ploy or superficial issue—with the notable exception of a few electoral studies (Arzheimer and Carter 2009; Immerzeel, Jaspers, and Lubbers, 2013; for a general overview see Camus 2011).

The question arises, then, of the extent to which religion provides an ideological component of the radical right, what kind of religion is at play, and whether and how it can be used to explain the radical right’s successes. These questions cannot be addressed without first clarifying how religion is understood and in what ways a conceptual link between the radical right in democratic societies and the various dimensions of religion can be established and, second, outlining the relevance of religion for the radical right in historical perspective. Subsequently, the chapter discusses the programmatic development and organizational profile of major radical right actors as far as religion is concerned (“supply side”), adds a look at the evidence for the relevance of religion on the “demand side,” and puts the radical right trajectory into a larger context of societal and (p. 367) political changes. This will be done with a focus on contemporary European and non-European democracies with a Christian legacy, such as “the West” (Taylor 2007); other regions shall be left for future treatment. An argument can be advanced that particular religious beliefs may not be a core element of the radical right, which in most Western countries is a largely secular movement or party family; however, religion functions as a relevant context factor and frame for political mobilization.

Concepts of the Radical Right: Bringing Religion Back In

Most popular definitions of the radical (or populist or extreme) right do without religion. Instead, ethnicity, racism, and/or the opposition to immigration constitute the definitional cores (see, e.g., Betz 1994; Carter 2005; Ignazi 2003; Mény and Surel 2000, 2002; Norris 2005). In a more elaborate definitional attempt, Cas Mudde lists nationalism as the key concept, which he then specifies by distinguishing the dimensions of internal homogenization, external exclusiveness, and ethnic and/or state nationalism before qualifying it with additional key features such as xenophobia, authoritarianism, and an anti-democratic stand (see Mudde 2007, 16–24).

In a similar vein and following earlier writings (see Minkenberg 2000, 2008), here right-wing radicalism shall be defined against the backdrop of modernization theory, with its emphasis on the fundamental processes of functional differentiation at the societal level and growing autonomy at the individual level (see Rucht 1994). It is seen as the radical effort to undo or fight such social and cultural change and their carriers by radicalizing inclusionary and exclusionary criteria (see Minkenberg 1998, 29–47; also Carter 2005, 14–20; Kitschelt 2007, 1179; Rydgren 2007). In line with an earlier explanatory model, the modernization-theoretical assumption is that the potential for radical right-wing movements exists in all industrial societies and can be understood as a “normal pathological” condition (Scheuch and Klingemann 1967). In all modernizing countries there are people, at the elite level and at the mass level, who react to the pressures of readjustment with rigidity and closed-mindedness. Under normal conditions these views are part of the mainstream, but in times of accelerated change they are radicalized by right-wing movements or parties offering political philosophies that promise an elimination of pressures by offering visions of a simpler, better society: a return to a romanticized version of the nation (see Minkenberg 2000). Whether they are seen as a “normal pathology” or a “pathological normalcy” (Mudde 2010), the central point remains unchanged: it is the overemphasis on, or radicalization of, images of social homogeneity that characterizes radical right-wing thinking. Right-wing radicalism is a political ideology, the core element of which lies in the myth of a homogeneous nation, a romantic and populist ultra-nationalism that is directed against the concept of liberal and pluralistic democracy and its underlying principles of individualism and universalism. (p. 368)

This definition focuses explicitly on the idea of the nation as the ultimate focal point, situated somewhere between the poles of demos and ethnos. The nationalistic myth consists of the construction of an idea of nation and national belonging by radicalizing criteria of exclusion that can be ethnically based but also may be cultural, that is, religious, aiming at the congruence between the state and the nation (Smith 2001, 34). Historically, this notion of homogeneity resulted from the transformation of an emancipatory nationalism to an integral or official version (see Alter 1985; Anderson 1983) and by the end of the nineteenth century culminated in a romantic ultra-nationalist myth of belonging; as such, it borders on or even inhabits chiliastic (that is, quasi-religious) characteristics, especially when moral qualities of the nation and the notion of a national rebirth were added (see Griffin 1991, 32–33).

If at all, the literature on the contemporary radical right considers the religious factor only when identifying religious minorities as targets of radical right thinking and activities or in electoral analyses where it is usually treated as one of many demographic variables (see Arzheimer 2008, 362; Norris 2005, 183; but see Arzheimer and Carter 2009; Immerzeel, Jaspers, and Lubbers 2013). In contrast, the nationalism scholarship abounds with references to religious characteristics beyond the obvious cases of Poland, Ireland, and the United States (see Haselby 2015; Marx 2003; Zubrzycki 2006). In fact, early research on national identity was closely linked to religion. German historian Friedrich Meinecke distinguished between state nation and cultural nation, the latter being rooted in religion, the most important of the “cultural goods” (Meinecke 1908, 2–3), and Ernest Renan, though defining the nation as an “everyday plebiscite,” added to this definition the requirement of a “soul,” that is, a spiritual dimension (Renan 1947 903).

Contemporary nationalism research continues to use these distinctions. An important strand of scholarship dissociates religion from nationalism, arguing, as does Benedict Anderson (1983), that secularization and the modern national movements resulted in replacing religion by nationalism, which in itself was then seen as a surrogate religion, or a “political religion” (Smith 2001, 35). Others go one step further and distinguish various ingredients of nationalism, such as language, ethnicity, religion, kingship, or the sense of belonging to a “historical nation” (Hobsbawm 1990, 67, 73). While Eric Hobsbawm dismisses religion as a necessary requirement for the emergence of nationalism (as he does with language, ethnicity, and kingship), he discovers, like Smith, quasi-religious traits, or the role of “holy icons” in it. A more conceptual effort to link up religion with nationalism has been suggested by Willfried Spohn (2003a, 2003b). In a worldwide review, he shows that even in Europe, where the form of secular nationalism dominates, nationalism includes Christian components, and he concludes that the contemporary rise of religious and ethnic nationalism can be explained as a reaction to the previous authoritarian imposition of the Western European model of state secularism within predominantly religious and multiethnic societies. A similarly systematic account of the relationship shows that religion, far from being replaced by an allegedly secular nationalism, is more often than not intertwined with nationalism, can constitute a distinct version of nationalism, and can be seen as a cause of nationalism (Brubaker 2012, 2013; see also Jaffrelot 2009). (p. 369)

But what is understood by religion varies greatly in these writings. Generally religion, like secularization, is a multidimensional concept and entails at least the two dimensions of belief (in the supernatural) and its institutionalization (see Bruce 2003, 9–10; also Bruce 1996, 7). With Max Weber (1980) and Roland Robertson (1987), the world’s large religions can be distinguished principally along these two dimensions of institutionalization and belief, the latter as a this-worldly or otherworldly orientation toward the world. The particular mix of a this-worldly orientation and a highly organized or formal structure, as in Christianity, makes an organized religion a potent political actor—and can contribute to tensions when its fundamental orientations differ from those of the polity in which it operates. On the level of the individual, Max Weber’s distinction between religion as beliefs and as practice is relevant for political behavior; in this vein, religion typically enters political studies as either denominational affiliation or church attendance, with different effects on politics (see also Driskell, Embry, and Lyon 2008). Seen in this multidimensional light, secularization does not necessarily mean the disappearance of religion. Understood as the ongoing differentiation of religious and nonreligious values and institutions, it represents a variant of theories of rationalization and modernization that postulates a continuing functional differentiation of modern societies (Weber 1920; also Bruce 2002; Norris and Inglehart 2011). But this modernization process reflects separate “moments of secularization” (Casanova 1994): “institutional differentiation,” in particular the separation of state and church; “decline,” or the loosening of ties between the individual and the values and institutions of religion; and “privatization,” the (forced or voluntary) retreat of religion from the public sphere (see also Taylor 2007, 1–3). Against this backdrop, religion as a politically relevant factor can be minimally distinguished in three respects: religion as worldview or identity (in terms of confessional or denominational content); religion as religiosity, that is, as attachment to religious values and authorities; and religion as (institutional) actors, such as churches and religious communities as well as their political allies (see Fox 2013). In all these dimensions, religion can be relevant for the radical right as part of the agenda, as lending legitimacy, and as a political support mechanism.

Religion and the Radical Right in Historical Perspective

Historically, the radical right as a fundamentally anti-liberal or anti-democratic force is closely connected to the counterrevolutionary tradition of Catholicism (see Camus 2011). With the onset of the Enlightenment and liberalization and democratization of European societies, the most vociferous opponents could be found in religious quarters that were deeply entangled with the ancien régime. Even in the United States, illiberal state churches persisted into the early nineteenth century, and the Protestant hegemony corresponded with and in some regions even transformed into the longtime (p. 370) dominance of anti-Catholicism, biological racism, and anti-Semitism (see Bennett 1988; Lipset and Raab 1978). Today, all major Christian churches and denominations embrace democracy and human rights as inviolable, but this process was far from linear and unidimensional.

In the Protestant countries of the European north and northwest, in which the church was also the national or state church—as in the Protestant majority countries outside Europe (the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) where the Protestant churches underwent disestablishment in the course of the nineteenth century—a convergence between Protestantism and liberal ideas occurred in the context of a progressing secularization triggered by the Protestant emphasis on individualism, egalitarianism, and acceptance of diversity (see Bruce 2002, 4; Bruce 2003; also Maddox 1996; Kallscheuer 2006). But within the world of Protestant Christianity, different paths of democratic development unfolded (see Berger, Davie, and Fokas 2007: 36–37; also Martin 2005). Where Reformed Protestantism, in particular Calvinism, dominated, an early evolution of parliamentary rule and republicanism could be observed (see Anderson 2009, 21–27; also Gorski 2011, 44–55). With a delay, Lutheran Scandinavia followed the liberal (but not republican) path, helped by “the internal variety within the state church and the laicist attitude of the devout” (Martin 1978, 68; see also Gustafsson 2003, 51–52).

The exceptional case is Protestant Brandenburg-Prussia, which during the seventeenth century developed into an absolutist state with illiberal elites that, together with the Lutheran state church, prohibited democratization until the late nineteenth century. A major cause for this development can be seen in the protracted conflict between a Calvinist state elite, in particular the Hohenzollern rulers, and the Lutheran estates, church, and population, all of whom were “disciplined” into submission to the state from above (see Gorski 2011, 55–71). The Lutheran emphasis on authority in the German lands also resulted in a split of German Protestantism in the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth over the issues of liberalism and democracy, with a majority supporting the authoritarian regime of the Second Empire and distrusting democracy in the Weimar Republic. Numerous studies show that while Catholics, deeply encapsulated in their Catholic milieus, were reluctant to support the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP, National Socialist German Workers’ Party), Protestants were more willing to open up toward the Nazi Party and regime (see Childers 1983; Falter 1991; Lipset 1963). While during the 1930s a split emerged between the pro-fascist Protestant majority and an anti-fascist minority, it took until 1985 for the Lutheran churches in West Germany to issue an official document endorsing democracy and human rights (see Graf 2009; Huber 1990, 2007).

In Catholic societies during nation-building, on the other hand, Protestantism and liberalism were seen as an attack on the Church and its power, and a conflictual if not antagonistic relationship between Catholicism and liberalism prevailed. Nation-building by mostly liberal elites put Catholicism on the defensive, and often the question of loyalty was invoked; democracy emerged as a “nightmare” (Anderson 2009, 31). In the French Third Republic, in unified Italy, and in the German Empire, these tensions culminated in an aggressive anti-clerical politics; as a result, Catholic milieus (p. 371) developed as an organized opposition to the nation-state and the nation-builders (see Grzymała-Busse 2015).

This is not to deny liberal and pro-democratic tendencies among nineteenth-century European Catholicism (e.g., the French priest Robert de Lamennais or the south German bishop Ketteler; see Uertz 2005, 17; also Maddox 1996, 196ff.). But only in Belgium did Catholic clergy and laity, by joining the liberals in their struggle for independence from the Netherlands, adopt liberal ideas, not without safeguarding substantial privileges for the Catholic Church (see Gould 1999, 25–44; Kalyvas 1996, 187–192). Overall, while in many countries Catholic parties emerged that more or less accommodated themselves with the liberal political order, Catholic churches and lay organizations continued their anti-liberal politics and in a number of cases allied themselves with racist or proto-fascist movements, such as the Action Française or the Falange in Spain (see Birnbaum 1993, 89–117; Meyer Resende 2015, 19; Winock 1993).

The uneven development of democracy along confessional lines and the “unholy alliance” between right-wing throne and Catholic altar manifest themselves in the particular paths taken in interwar Europe of the twentieth century (see Bruce 2003; also Whyte 1981, 76–82). With few exceptions, including the Weimar Republic in Germany and the liberal regime in Belgium, it was the Protestant countries in which democracy survived the crises of the 1920s and 1930s and the rise of fascism and communism, whereas fascist movements and elites were particularly successful in Catholic Europe. Steve Bruce ascribes to the Catholic Church an anti-democratic politics in countries with a Catholic monopoly: either they cooperated openly with right-wing authoritarian regimes and groups, as in Italy, Spain, or France (especially after the establishment of the Vichy regime) or they took a more passive role, as in Germany. His explanation points less at the doctrinal aspects of Catholicism than the structural aspects: “Catholicism, Orthodoxy and, to a lesser extent, Lutheranism, with their insistence on the primacy of the institution of the church, are much more likely to see the state of the political embodiment of ‘the people’ as a community, rather than as the expression of the preferences of individuals” (Bruce 2003, 110; see also Warren 1941). Table 19.1 provides an overview of democratic and right-wing authoritarian regimes in the interwar period, listing only those non-democratic regimes that emerged independently from or before German occupation, such as the Dollfuß regime in Austria or Marshall Pétain’s regime in France. German puppet regimes such as Tiso’s in Slovakia are not included.

The pattern in Table 19.1 corresponds to recent comparative research about the breakdown of democracy in interwar Europe, which emphasizes political and cultural causes instead of economic ones (see Berg-Schlosser and Mitchell 2002). With the exception of Belgium, there was not a single Catholic country that did not undergo a regime change and establishment of a fascist or right-wing dictatorship. Moreover, in many Catholic countries that turned to the right, the Catholic community experienced a split between pro- and anti-fascist forces (see Whyte 1981, 79–81).

Only twenty years after World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust, the Catholic Church reached reconciliation with liberalism and, in the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), accepted human rights, pluralism, and democracy (see Casanova 1994, (p. 372) 71; Anderson 2009, 38–40). However, this does not mean that all of Christianity has come to terms with democracy, tolerance, and pluralism in the postwar era. First, as a reaction to Vatican II, illiberal Catholic forces split from the church and formed their own, politically right-wing organizations that claimed to preserve the “true teachings” of the church. Most prominent in Western Europe is a group around ex-bishop Marcel Lefebvre (died 1991), the Fraternité St. Pie X, with a strong base in France (see Camus and Monzat 1992, 148–229). Similar right-wing Catholic groups exist in Eastern Europe, for example Radio Maryja in Poland, which recycles the ultra-Catholic, anti-democratic, and anti-Semitic ideas of Polish interwar politician Roman Dmowski (see Pankowski 2010, 95–98). Second, in an almost parallel movement, fundamentalist Protestant groups in Western democracies, in particular the United States but also in Nordic Europe, politically invisible for a long time, reacted to the modernization shifts of the 1960s and (p. 373) 1970s and the ongoing liberalization of Western societies with a pronounced shift to the right (see Minkenberg 1990). In fact, religious fundamentalism, whether Protestant or Catholic or any other denomination, has been defined as an anti-liberal and anti-modern religious force with immediate political consequences (see Fox 2013, 109–121; also Almond, Appleby, and Sivan 2003; Marty and Appleby 1991; Bruce 2000). Clearly, not every religious fundamentalism should be considered an expression of right-wing radicalism, but if it allies itself with the national idea, Christian fundamentalism in Western democracies is the quintessential radical right force in religious terms (see Fox 2013, 116–120). Finally, research after World War II has shown persistent links between authoritarian personality traits and (racial) prejudice, with religiously rigid orientations playing a key role (see Allport and Ross 1967; Altemeyer 2003; Doebler 2015).

Table 19.1 The Protestant-Catholic Divide, Church-State Relationships, and Political Regimes in Interwar Europe

Democracy

Right-Wing Authoritarian Regime (start of non-democratic regime; attitude of major church toward regime)

Catholic Countries

  • Belgium

  • [Czechoslovakia]

  • [Ireland]*

  • Austria (1934; supportive)

  • France (1940; supportive)

  • Hungary (1920s; supportive)

  • Italy (1922; supportive)

  • Poland (1938; supportive)

  • Portugal (1933; initially supportive)

  • Spain (1939; supportive)

Protestant or Mixed Protestant Countries

  • Denmark (occupied by Germany, 1940)

  • Finland (occupied by Germany, 1944)

  • Netherlands (occupied by Germany, 1940)

  • Sweden

  • Switzerland

  • United Kingdom

  • Germany (1933; passive)

  • Baltic states (“benign despotism” in the 1930s)

(*) Czechoslovakia had a numerical majority of Catholics in the interwar period but mixed religious traditions; moreover, in the first decade of its existence the country experienced a cross-partisan wave of anti-Catholicism, led by the first president, Tomas Masaryk.

(**) Ireland underwent a transition to full independence from the UK after World War I, which by 1937 resulted in a democratic constitution with substantial privileges for the Catholic Church, thus adding a dose of illiberalism to the regime, congruent with a political culture in which “a dogmatic overemphasis on Catholic rules, duties, and obligations” persisted (Dillon 2002, 55).

Sources: Anderson 2009, 49–54; Bruce 2003, 97–111; Whyte 1981, 79–81.

Ideology and Organization: Merging Religion and Nationalism

After World War II, Western democracies underwent several waves of radical right-wing mobilization, usually in terms of a “national opposition” directed at the democratic political order and centered on a crucial issue of democratization (see von Beyme 1988). In this sense, historian Wolfgang Wippermann rightly pointed out that “with the collapse of fascist regimes in Italy and Germany . . . the era of fascism has ended—but not the history of fascism” (Wippermann 1983, 183; my translation). In contrast to the earlier waves (1950s, 1960s, and 1970s), the third wave of a renewed radical right since the 1980s brought religion back on its agenda (see Minkenberg 2000).

This renewal of the radical right and the return of religion must be seen in the context of far-reaching social and cultural change in Western societies, variously labeled as “post-industrialism,” “value change,” “the third modernity,” and so on (e.g., Beck 1986; Inglehart 1990). What these concepts refer to is a heightened concern with cultural orientations and identity politics, a new surge of individualization and pluralization, and a deemphasis of authority, both religious and rational-legal in the Weberian sense, all of which opened the gates for religious messages even in the context of a secularizing world in at least the first two of Casanova’s dimensions (see above). The “silent revolution” of post-materialist value change, new social movements, and a left-libertarian discourse, with the Greens among the early advocates of multiculturalism, was then followed by a “silent counter-revolution” of right-wing authoritarian and ethnocultural parties and movements (see Ignazi 1992, 2003; Minkenberg 1990, 1993).

On the level of discourse, new radical right groups emerged that sought to shape public debate and the minds of people rather than voting behavior and which harbored a strong religious message. These groups—think tanks, intellectual circles, political entrepreneurs—are summarized as the “New Right” in the literature (see Bar-On 2007; Minkenberg 1998; Taguieff 1994). In Europe the most prominent groups were the French nouvelle droite groups Club de l’Horloge and especially GRECE, led by philosopher (p. 374) Alain de Benoist, and its European offshoots. They were inspired by the Weimar-era Conservative Revolution and the “political theology” of anti-liberal intellectual Carl Schmitt (2010). This New Right builds a bridge, or hinge, between established and traditional conservatism and the organizations of the new radical right. It is characterized by its effort to create a counterdiscourse to the “ideas of 1968”—the proclamation of an ethnocentrist cultural war with the goal of filling terms of public debate with a right-wing meaning of a homogeneous nation, a strong state, and discrimination against all things “foreign.” The most important ideological renewal consists of the New Right’s concept of “ethnopluralism,” which demarcates New Right thinking from old-fashioned ideas of biological racism and white superiority. In direct appropriation of the left’s concept of the right to be different, the New Right emphasizes the incompatibility of cultures and ethnicities and advocates the right of the Europeans to be different, to preserve the cultural (Christian) identity of the nation, and to resist cultural mixing—a countermodel to concepts of multiculturalism (see Camus 2011).

Later, smaller far right groups and movements without electoral ambitions and a more particular agenda emerged, introducing religious narratives and mobilizing against Islam in an increasingly aggressive fashion. To these belong Aarhus Against the Mosque in Denmark in the 1990s; the successful mobilization for the banning of minarets in Mosques in Switzerland in 2009; and since 2014, the East German Pegida movement (see Minkenberg 2008, 48–50; Rucht et al. 2015). From the nouvelle droite to Pegida, the ethnopluralist argument has turned religion into a master frame that is meant to provide a direct link between these groups and the political mainstream, thereby bypassing all parties and partisan discourse.

Likewise in the United States, the ideological renewal on the far right consists of leaving behind institutional racism and discrimination and traditional concepts of biological racism. After 1968, it was the fundamentalist Christian Right movement of the 1970s and 1980s, which, although not radical right in toto, advocated an anti-liberal and ultra-nationalist reinterpretation of American civil religion and contributed “a combination of the Bible and Edmund Burke” (Lowi 1996, 5) to U.S. politics (see Casanova 1994; Grzymała-Busse 2015; Minkenberg 1998). In the 1990s, the ethnocentrist America First movement joined the Christian Right, and its leader, Pat Buchanan, proclaimed at the Republican Party convention in 1992: “There is a religious war going on in this country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself” (quoted in Lowi 1995, 211). Both these movements strove to preserve the “European core” of the United States, and both stood for an updated version of a particular American tradition that fuses racism and religion (see Barkun 1994; Durham 2000; Swain 2002). More recently, the Tea Party has added its own brand of welfare chauvinism and anti-parliamentary zeal to the Republican Party’s programmatic development, often framing its issues in religious terms by proclaiming, in ahistorical fashion, that the United States was founded as a Christian nation (see Lepore 2011, 126–129). Considering that Christian Right activists and social conservatives make up a large portion of Tea Party activists, the movement has consolidated the cultural conservative current within the Republican (p. 375) Party (see Skocpol and Williamson 2012). Against this background, it should not come as a surprise that in 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump and his anti-Muslim and xenophobic message resonated widely in large parts of the Republican rank and file, as it did among White supremacists, thereby connecting the racist right with the religious conservatism and the Republican mainstream (see Mahler 2016; Piggott 2016). Donald Trump’s taking over the Presidency in January 2017 changed little in this regard.

In contrast to the United States, the European new radical right consisted mainly of political parties rather than movements, but initially they all cultivated a heavily ethnocentrist platform with little room for religion. This is especially true for those parties that began their career as economically oriented or anti-tax parties, such as the Progress Parties in Scandinavia or the Lega Nord in Italy. These parties have largely ignored the subject of religion in their platforms; in some countries such as Austria, anti-clerical traditions get in the way of mobilizing voters on religious issues. However, the recent shift of radical right parties toward emphasizing a religious divide by attacking Islam and claiming the role of defenders of the Christian or Judeo-Christian heritage in their respective countries, or Europe in general (Immerzeel, Jaspers, and Lubbers 2013, 946), does not need to be interpreted merely as a strategic ploy to gain political advantages (Arzheimer and Carter 2009, 989).

A number of these groups and parties already had long-standing links to ultra-conservative or fundamentalist currents of Christianity. For example, Le Pen’s Front National cultivated an alliance with the anti-liberal Lefebvrists, some of whom held prominent posts in the party, and party leaders such as Bruno Mégret emphasized the Catholic roots of French identity (see above, and Camus 2011; Minkenberg 1998. Likewise, despite the anti-clerical tradition in Austria, the Freiheitliche Partei Österreich (FPÖ, Freedom Party of Austria) and Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (BZÖ, Alliance for the Future of Austria), just like the Swiss SVP and the Italian Lega Nord, have increasingly attacked Islam as incompatible not only with their countries’ democratic order but also with their Christian identity (see Betz 2005, 159–164; Skenderovic 2009, 187). The British National Party (BNP) has discovered Islam as the country’s enemy, as has the Dansk Folkeparti (DF, Danish People’s Party) (see Goodwin 2011, 177–178; Rydgren 2004; Widfeldt 2015, 146–149, 171). Moreover, in Denmark, Protestant fundamentalists sided with the DF (see Minkenberg 2008, 48–50)—not to mention the Lijst Pim Fortuyn or Geert Wilders’s Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, Party for Freedom) in the Netherlands, which were centered on an strongly Islamophobic platform from their beginning (Art 2011, 179–187; Mudde 2007, 84). Recently, the German radical right enhanced this trend. While the Republikaner in the early 1990s still focused more on xenophobia than Islam, the more radical Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD, National Democratic Party) echoes its British counterparts in embracing anti-Semitism as well as Islamophobia. The new Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany), first organized as a fiercely anti-EU and anti-euro party in 2013, has moved further to the right and increasingly mobilized against immigrants, refugees, and Islam. Its various sub-organizations include a Protestant-pietist group, Christians in the AfD, similar to (p. 376) the Lefebvrists in the Front National (Häusler and Roeser 2015, 135–136). This brief summary of the West European radical right illustrates the travel of the concept of ethnopluralism from the intellectual New Right of the 1970s into the party platforms of nearly all contemporary radical right parties in the West (see Art 2011, 130–131; Mudde 2007, 84–86). Today, a religiously colored ethnopluralism serves as a master frame to mobilize support and appear more mainstream.

Where mainstreaming is not an issue, radical right groups remain outright racist and/or put more emphasis on anti-Semitism instead of Islamophobia, with the obvious results of finding political allies in anti-Semitic circles in the Muslim world (see Camus 2011, 272–274). It may be true that “the Extreme Right has little interest in Islam or Judaism as such: for it, supporting or opposing one or the other is merely a way of taking sides in the two major battles its adherents believe will shape the future of Europe” (274). Nonetheless, if these battles continue—and the prospects of further immigration of Muslims and non-Christians make this an almost certain development—the radical right in its various shades will become wedded to religion in ways unprecedented in postwar Europe.

In contrast to Western Europe, the East European radical right has stood for a merger of religion and ultra-nationalist platforms since it appeared on the political scene in the 1990s. Most notably, the Polish radical right professes an ultra-Catholicism that recycles the anti-liberal, anti-Semitic, and anti-Western doctrines of interwar ideologue Roman Dmowski, who popularized the phrase “Polak Katolik,” which declared Catholicism as a prerequisite for being Polish (see Porter-Szücs 2011, ch. 9; Zubricki 2006. These anti-modern ideas find particular resonance with listeners of Radio Maryja, in street marches organized by the All-Polish Youth, and in parties such as the now defunct League of Polish Families or the current Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS, Law and Justice) party (see Kasprowicz 2015; Pankowski 2010; Pytlas 2015, 86–106). The Slovenská Národná Strana (SNS, Slovak National Party) stands for a particularly strong fusion of national identity and Catholicism, which in the first phase of national independence in World War II bordered on clerical fascism. These traditions are carried on by today’s SNS, which, similar to the Polish radical right, merges Catholicism and nationalism; moreover, the previous leader, Jan Slota, even tried to rehabilitate the fascist priest Jozef Tiso and his regime under the aegis of Nazi Germany (see Pirro 2015, 89–91; Václavík 2015). In Hungary during the 1990s, the Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja (MIEP, Hungarian Justice and Life Party) and Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége (Fidesz, Alliance of Young Democrats) took over Catholic voters when the Hungarian Christian Democratic party declined in the wake of internal rivalries (see Kovács 2001, 258). Today, Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom (Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary) echoes other radical right parties in the region by emphasizing that Hungarian national identity and Christianity are “inseparable concepts” (see Pirro 2015, 71–73). Similarly in Bulgaria, Ataka (National Union Attack), which was formed as an anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim party, propagates a Bulgarian nation unified by the Orthodox Christian creed (see Avramov 2015, 300–301; Pirro 2015, 61). And in Romania, where radical right parties have declined since 2000, the Orthodox Church of Romania has taken over the role of an anti-liberal safeguard of the Orthodox identity of the country (see Andreescu 2015). (p. 377)

As a summary of the programmatic survey, Table 19.2 illustrates how and to what extent the radical right disseminates a religious agenda, either in terms of affirming a religious identity of the nation they claim to defend (typically Christian or more specifically Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox) or by attacking “others” on religious grounds. This reasoning leads to three major types: a largely non-religious radical right, a fundamentally religious radical right, and a radical right that added religion to its repertoire in the course of its existence.

Table 19.2 The Radical Right and Their Religious Agenda in Selected Countries Since the 1990s

Party

Movement

No explicit religious reference/agenda from the beginning

  • NPD/DVU, Republikaner (D)

  • NA/NNP/NVU, CD (NL)

  • MSI/AN (pre-1995) (I)

  • MSFT (I)

  • BNP (GB)

  • PRM (RO)

  • ANS/FAP, NPD (D)

  • Dansk Front (DK)

  • FANE (F)

  • ANS/JSN (NL)

  • NOP, ONR, PWN-PSN (PL)

  • MG, MÖM (H)

  • NSS, SNJ (SR)

  • VR (RO)

  • Aryan Nation (US)

Explicit religious reference/agenda as an addition to ethnocentrist platform

  • AfD (D)

  • Vlaams Blok/Belang (B)

  • Front National (F)

  • DF (DK)

  • Lega Nord (I)

  • FPÖ, BZÖ (A)

  • SVP (CH)

Tea Party (US)

Explicit religious reference/agenda as core of platform from the beginning

  • Lijst Pim Fortuyn, PVV (NL)

  • KPN-SN, ZChN, LPR (PL)

  • [PiS (PL)]

  • SNS (SR)

  • MIÉP, KDNP, Jobbik (H)

  • [Fidesz (H)]

  • Ataka (BG)

  • Constitution Party (US)

Identitarian Movement (various countries)Pegida (D)

  • CCS (F)

  • New Era (DK)

  • Aarhus Against the Mosque (DK)

  • Radio Maryja, All-Polish Youth (PL)

  • MS (SR)

  • [ROC (RO)]

  • Christian Identity (US)

  • [Christian Right (US)]

Notes: Parties with sustained electoral relevance and/or government participation are in bold.

Groups in square brackets are not strictly part of the radical right family but contain strong radical right tendencies.

Countries:

(A)  Austria

(B)  Belgium

(BG)  Bulgaria

(F)  France

(D)  Germany

(GB)  Great Britain

(H)  Hungary

(I)  Italy

(NL)  Netherlands

(PL)  Poland

(RO)  Romania

(SR)  Slovak Republic

(US)  United States

Parties and Movement Organizations:

AfD  Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany)

AN  Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance)

ANS  Aktionsfront Nationale Sozialisten (Action Front of National Socialists)

BNP  British National Party

BZÖ  Bündnis Zukunft Österreiches (Alliance for the Future of Austria)

CCS  Comités Chrétienité-Solidarité (Committees Christianity-Solidarity)

CD  Centrumdemocraten (Center Democrats)

DF  Dansk Folkepartiet (Danish People’s Party)

DVU  Deutsche Volksunion (Germam People’s Union)

FANE  Fédération Action National-Européen (Federation of National-European Action)

FAP  Freiheitliche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (Free German Workers Party)

Fidesz  Fidesz: Hungarian Civic Union Alliance

FNE  Faisceaux nationalistes européennes ((European National Fascists)

FPÖ  Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party of Austria)

GUD  Groupe Union Defense (Union Defense Group)

HZDS  Hnutie za demokratické Slovensko (Movement for a Democratic Slovakia)

JSN    Jeudg Storm Nederland, Stormfront (Netherlands Youth Storm)

KPN-SN  Konfederacja Polski Niepodleglej (Confederation for an Independent Poland)

KDNP  Kereszténydemokrata Néppárt (Christian Democratic Party)

LPR  Liga Polskich Rodzin (League of Polish Families)

MG  Magyar Garda (Hungarian Guard)

MIÉP   Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja (Hungarian Justice and Life Party)

MÖM  Magyar Önvédelmi Mozgalom (Hungarian Self-Defense Movement)

MS  Matica Slovenska (a cultural association for language and culture)

MSI  Movimento Sociale Italiano (Italian Social Movement)

MS-FT  Movimento Sociale Fiamma Tricolore (Social Movement—Tricolore Flame)

NA  Nationale Alliantie (National Alliance)

NNP  Nieuwe Nationale Partij (New National Party)

NPD  Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschland (National Democratic Party of Germany)

NSS  Nové Slobodne Slovensko (New Free Slovakia)

NVU  Nederlandse Volksunie (Dutch People’s Union)

ONR  Obóz Narodowo-Radikalny (National-Radical Camp)

NOP  Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski (Polish National Rebirth)

PiS  Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice)

PWN-PSN  Polska Wspólnota Narodowa: Polskie Stronnictwo Narodowe (Polish National Union)

PVV  Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party of Freedom)

PRM  Partidul Romania Mare (Party for Greater Romania)

ROC  Romanian Orthodox Church

SNJ  Slovenská Národná Jednota (Slovak National Union)

SNS  Slovenská Národná Strana (Slovak National Party)

VR  Vatra Romaneasca (Romanian Cradle)

ZChN  Zjednoczenie Chrześcijańsko Narodowe (Christian National Union)

Sources: Country chapters in Bertelsmann Stiftung 2009, updated.

(p. 378) (p. 379) Support Patterns for the Radical Right: The Changing Religious Cleavage

It has been almost a truism in political sociology that practicing Christians, in particular Catholics, are unlikely voters for radical right parties. The “master case” in the literature is Catholics in Weimar Germany, who were not easily seduced by the NSDAP, due to their attachment to the Zentrum party and the integration into a Catholic milieu tied to the church (Lipset 1963; Falter 1991; and above). Comparative studies in postwar Europe showed repeatedly that practicing Christian voters tended to lean toward the right but not the radical right (see Norris and Inglehart 2011, 204–207). The stability of the religious cleavage in Europe even in the context of widespread secularization (see Minkenberg 2010) may lead to the expectation that religious voters will remain unavailable to the radical right (see Arzheimer and Carter 2009, 988). A number of studies support this assumption on a country-level basis. For Belgium, Jaak Billiet (1995) found that practicing Catholics in Flanders were less xenophobic than the average Flemish voter and hence less likely to vote for the Vlaams Blok (VB, Flemish Bloc; now Vlaams Belang. And in France, Nonna Mayer (1999, 109–112) demonstrated that devout Catholics were underrepresented in the Front National’s electorate and that the Catholic Church, if it spoke out against the party, could depress the Catholic vote for the FN; only the small group of fundamentalist Catholics attached to the Fraternité St. Pie X (see above) voted disproportionately for the party. (p. 380)

Recent data from 2014 and 2015 by and large confirm these findings. Tables 19.3 and 19.4 summarize the religious support patterns in selected European countries. While Catholics are overrepresented in the electorates of the Austrian FPÖ and the French FN, these particular people attend church more infrequently or very rarely compared to those with strong ties to the church. This tends to be also true for the Danish except that those who never go to church are underrepresented among DF voters. Bi-confessional Germany exhibits an interesting confessional difference: while Catholics are underrepresented among AfD voters, Protestants and those with no affiliation (centered in the new Länder in the east) are overrepresented, as are those who never go to church. Apparently, the ties of Catholics to the church as well as to the Christian Democrats may still work against this AfD vote, while Protestants are more easily attracted. The same holds true for the Calvinist minority in Hungary, which casts their vote disproportionately for Jobbik, while the populist right in both Hungary and Poland (Fidesz, PiS) enjoy more support from devout Christians. These findings are contrasted by many studies showing that class is a rather reliable predictor of radical right voting, at least in Western Europe, and that in particular members of the working class vote disproportionately (p. 381) for the radical right across many West European countries (see Betz 1994; Oesch 2008; Rydgren 2013)—a finding that can be interpreted as another facet of the overall decline of the social class cleavage.

Table 19.3 Religious Denomination and the Radical Right Vote (percent of respondents)

France

Austria

Denmark

Germany

FN voters

(all)

FPÖ voters

(all)

DF voters

(all)

  • AFD

  • voters

(all)

Roman Catholic

98

(89)

98

(91)

2

(2)

22

(42)

Protestant

2

(3)

2

(3)

94

(93)

61

(52)

Other/None

0

(8)

0

(6)

4

(5)

17

(6)

N

55

(578)

97

(796)

86

(668)

18

(1203)

Poland

Hungary

PiS voters

(all)

Fidesz voters

Jobbik voters

(all)

Roman Catholic

100

(99)

78

63

(69)

Protestant

0

(n.d.)

22

30

(24)

Other/None

0

(1)

0

7

(4)

N

258

(707)

253

64

(470)

Source: European Social Survey (7th wave, between September 2014 and January 2015), author’s calculations. Recall question: “Which party did you vote for in the last national elections?”

Table 19.4 Religiosity (Frequency of Churchgoing) and the Radical Right Vote (percent of respondents)

France

Austria

Denmark

Germany

FN voters

(all)

FPÖ voters

(all)

DF voters

(all)

ADF voters

(all)

Several times a week

2

(2)

0

(2)

0

(1)

1

(1)

Weekly

3

(6)

8

(12)

2

(2)

4

(6)

Monthly

3

(6)

11

(16)

9

(9)

2

(11)

Rarely

35

(37)

53

(48)

62

(54)

23

(42)

Never

57

(49)

28

(22)

27

(34)

70

(40)

N

126

(1059)

153

(1093)

143

(1178)

69

(2082)

Poland

Hungary

PiS voters

(all)

Fidesz voters

Jobbik voters

(all)

Several times a week

14

(9)

0

0

(0)

Weekly

62

(46)

10

4

(7)

Monthly

12

(18)

12

4

(9)

Rarely

11

(22)

48

45

(48)

Never

1

(5)

30

47

(36)

N

260

(772)

415

158

(853)

Source: European Social Survey (7th wave, between September 2014 and January 2015), author’s calculations. Recall question: “Which party did you vote for in the last national elections?”

If the link between cleavage change and class voting is favorable for the radical right, then the robustness of the religious cleavage should be expected to work against a connection between religiosity and radical right voting. Recent studies, however, suggest that this might be a premature conclusion. A cross-country analysis of West European voters shows that, holding other variables constant, “religious people are neither more nor less likely to adopt negative attitudes towards immigrants than their agnostic compatriots” (Arzheimer and Carter 2009, 999). However, the authors add that this does (p. 382) not mean the political irrelevance of religion, because it is the attachment to Christian Democratic or conservative parties that keeps these voters from opting for the radical right (Arzheimer and Carter 2009; also Knutsen 2004, 82–83). This finding is supported by another more recent analysis (Immerzeel, Jaspers, and Lubbers 2013, 959) but here the authors point out that the practice dimension of religion needs to be separated from the belief dimension: in a number of countries, orthodox believers are more anti-immigrant than other believers and hence a likely electorate for radical right parties (960). In other words, where high religiosity combines with orthodox or fundamentalist beliefs that are dissociated from the established churches, such as with Calvinism in Holland and Hungary or the Lefebvrists in France, support for radical right positions or parties is more likely (see also Minkenberg 2009).

These and other studies point at the importance of the attachment of religious voters to Christian Democratic parties and, if no such party exists, conservative parties that are traditionally supported by the more religious segments of the electorate. Therefore, the role and relevance of the religious cleavage in Western democracies deserve particular attention. Far from declining like the class cleavage, the religious cleavage exhibits a robustness that is all the more striking if the general secularization trend—in terms of detachment from conventional religious institutions and beliefs—is taken into account (see above). However, there is evidence of significant shifts within the religious field: the gradual replacement of the confessional divide by the divide between secular and religious voters as well as a considerable variation between countries (see Minkenberg 2010). For example, Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart 2011, 206–207) show that in many Western democracies (and many more non-Western countries as well) the correlation between (subjective) religiosity, that is, the significance of God for the individual, and a general political orientation to the right or left remains strong. But the patterns diverge: the relationship between church religiosity and voting behavior is strongest in countries where Protestant or Catholic/Christian Democratic parties or movements have been established and which have experienced a particular shift in secularization as disenchantment. Here, religious issues are especially salient in party competition (see also Huber and Inglehart 1995). The new kind of polarization between the religiously devout and the religiously detached cannot by itself be interpreted as a “return of religion,” but it provides new opportunities for religion as a political frame in identity issues (instead of “secular frames” such as class interests or ethnic identity) that radical right actors can use. Moreover, the pluralization of the religious makeup of Western democracies contributes to the growing adoption of a religious frame in radical right discourse. Postwar developments in Europe as well as the entire history of immigration countries such as the United States or Australia have led to ever increasing levels of cultural and religious diversity. For example, a survey of new religious communities in Europe between 1960 and 2000 has yielded two thousand entries (Davie 2000, 116).

Against the background of the transformation of the religious cleavage and a growing religious diversity, religion, as conceptualized in terms of the (historically inherited) confessional makeup of society and the (recently relevant) presence of Islam, should be (p. 383) added to other explanatory factors on the demand side (see. e.g., Mudde’s list of factors, which excludes religion; Mudde 2007, ch. 9). In an earlier attempt by the author to identify key context factors for successful radical right mobilization, religion was included among various cultural variables, such as the dominant understanding of national identity, whether in ethnic, cultural, or political terms; the share of foreign-born population; and the level of resistance to multiculturalism. Structural factors were configured with regard to the degree of polarization or convergence between the major parties; the level of voting along a value-based, New Politics cleavage; the state’s and major parties’ response to the radical right; and the type of electoral system (see Minkenberg 2003, 2008). Table 19.5 presents an overview of these factors.

The data in Table 19.5 suggest a significant role of religion at the turn of the century (prior to 9/11 and the heated debate about Islam). In line with the historical record stated by Bruce and others (see Table 19.1), four of the five cases in which radical right-wing parties scored high in the 1990s were Catholic countries; seen from another angle, there were no Catholic countries where the radical right parties score low average results (with democratic “latecomers” Spain and Portugal being exceptions here). By the end of the 1990s, Protestant Denmark and Norway had joined the group.

In Table 19.6, the countries have been grouped according to the dominant religious tradition and level of secularization, the latter of which per se does not seem to favor radical right parties. Instead, one could argue that the combination of two cultural factors in particular feeds the resonance and mobilization of the radical right parties: a traditional Catholic or Protestant homogeneity or even monopoly, and a particularly strong presence of Islam that challenges this homogeneity, on the other. This, however, does not apply to movement mobilization, as Catholic countries exhibit comparatively weak radical right movements or, as far as comparable data are available, racist violence; these seem higher in Protestant countries (see Table 19.5 and Minkenberg 2008). From this observation, an inference can be made that the current radical right is strong where it couples its ultra-nationalist or racist message with Islamophobia, especially in countries with a long tradition of Christian mono-confessionalism. Widespread Islamophobia and the rejection of multiculturalism in large parts of Western European publics (see EUMC 2003, 2006) provide an opening for the radical right to look more “mainstream” and less extremist, in contrast to earlier racist discourses such as anti-Semitism or biological racism. In the following, this link shall be examined in a more dynamic way.

If accelerated social and cultural change (in light of the modernization-theoretical approach outlined above) provides opportunities for the radical right, then the changes in the religio-cultural map of Western democracies might feed the rise of these parties and movements more than a single confessional difference. In fact, the pluralization and increasing heterogeneity of the religious map lead to a growing number and intensity of conflicts at the intersection of politics and religion in many Western democracies (see Bramadat and Koenig 2009.

As shown earlier in a comparative overview of the religious composition of Western societies (Minkenberg 2007, tab. 2, 898–899), already in 2000 Islam was the third- or (p. 384) even second-largest religious community in fourteen out of nineteen democracies. The countries where Islam was second are among those that were traditionally very homogeneous in denominational terms, two Lutheran cases in Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway) and five Catholic cases (Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain; see also Pew 2010). In the (p. 385) group of Protestant immigrant countries (Australia, Canada, and the United States) plus Finland, it is the Orthodox Church that takes third or second place.

Table 19.5 Party Strength and Movement Strength of the Radical Right and Context Factors in Western Europe (c. 2000)

Culture

Structure

Actor

1a

1b

1c

1d

1e

2a

2b

2c

2d

Party Strength

Movement Strength

Austria

0.5

1

0.5

1

1

1

1

1

1

HIGH

LOW

France

0.5

1

0

1

1

0

0

0.5

0

HIGH

LOW

Italy

0.5

0

0.5

1

1

0

1

1

1

HIGH

LOW

Denmark

1

0

0.5

0

1

0.5

1

1

1

HIGH

MEDIUM

Norway

1

0

n.d.

0

1

0.5

0.5

1

1

HIGH

MEDIUM

Switzerland

0

1

n.d.

0

0.5

0.5

1

1

HIGH

MEDIUM

Belgium

0

0

1

1

1

1

1

0

1

HIGH-MED.

MEDIUM

Netherlands

0

1

0

0

0

0.5

1

1

1

LOW

MEDIUM

Germany (West)

0.5

1

1

0.5

0

1

1

0

1

LOW

MEDIUM

Germany (East)

1

0

1

0

0

1

0

0

1

LOW

HIGH

United Kingdom

1

0.5

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

LOW

HIGH

Sweden

1

1

0

0

0.5

0.5

0.5

0

1

LOW

HIGH

Context Factor 1: Culture

1a  Nation type: ethno-cultural nation 1, political nation 0

1b  Share of foreign-born population: 1 high, 0 low

1c  Level of resistance to multicultural society: 1 above EU level, 0 below EU level

1d  Predominant religious tradition: Catholic 1, Protestant 0

1e  Islam Second-largest religion 1, other 0

Context Factor 2: Structure

2a  Cleavages: convergence 1, polarization 0

2b  Cleavages: strong New Politics voting, 1 weak 0

2c  Political opportunity structures: state and parties’ latitude 1, exclusion/repression 0

2d  Political opportunity structures: PR electoral system 1, majority 0

Sources: See Minkenberg 2008.

Table 19.6 Confessional Makeup, Secularization, and the Radical Right in Western Democracies (post-2000)

Weak RR Presence

Strong RR Presence

Catholic

  • Ireland

  • Portugal

  • Spain*

  • Belgium*

  • France*

  • Italy*

  • Austria*

Mixed Protestant

  • Germany

  • Netherlands

  • Canada

Switzerland

Protestant

  • Great Britain

  • Sweden

  • Australia

  • United States

  • Denmark*

  • Norway*

  • Finland

Notes

Strong RR presence: countries with a radical right party that has received at least 4 percent of the vote in every national election in the past twenty years.

Countries with high levels of secularization (measured by low church-going rates) are underlined (for details of classification, see Minkenberg 2009 and Norris and Inglehart 2004).

Countries in which Islam is the second-largest religious community are marked by an asterisk.

Moreover, from around 1980 until around 2000, religious diversity increased in all Western democracies except for Sweden and the United States. These processes of pluralization and the growing presence of (non-Christian) immigrants do not only challenge the established institutional and political arrangements in the religio-political field (see Bramadat and Koenig 2009) but also provide opportunities for radical right parties. This dynamic is depicted in Table 19.7 which measures religious diversity as the degree of religious fragmentation.

One group of countries exhibits low levels of diversity and a low degree of pluralization (Ireland, Portugal); here the monopoly of Catholicism by and large persists, and the pressure for change is limited. In these countries, no radical right party has emerged. The situation changes in the next group, with low levels of diversity but a medium degree of pluralization (Belgium along with the Nordic countries except Sweden. These countries also start with a denominationally homogeneous society, but in all of them except Finland, Islam now occupies second place among the large religious communities. Here, with the exception of Finland, a radical right party has become a permanent fixture in the party systems. (p. 386)

Table 19.7 Religious Diversity, Pluralization, and the Radical Right in Western Democracies

Weak Pluralization (d < 0.10)

Moderate Pluralization (d = 0.10–0.20)

Strong Pluralization (d > 0.20)

  • Low level of diversity

  • (< 0.20)

  • Ireland

  • Portugal

  • (Sweden: d = negative)

  • Belgium

  • Denmark

  • Finland

  • Norway

  • France

  • Italy

  • Austria

  • Spain

  • Moderate diversity

  • (0.20–0.50)

High level of diversity (> 0.50)

  • Switzerland

  • Australia

  • Canada

  • New Zealand

  • (USA: d = negative)

  • Germany

  • Great Britain

  • Netherlands

Countries in bold have a strong radical right-wing party in their party system (at least 4 percent of the vote in every national election in the past twenty years.

Religious diversity is measured by 1 – H (where H is the value of the Herfindahl index, defined as the probability that two randomly drawn persons belong to different religious denominations).

Notes

Base of categorization: Diversity value of 1980 (0 completely homogeneous, 1.00 completely diverse).

d = Difference in diversity value between 1980 and 2000 (trend).

In countries in italics, Islam is the second-largest religious community.

Source: See Minkenberg 2007, 898–899.

This scenario grows more acute in the third group, where starting from a low level of diversity a strong degree of pluralization occurs. Again, in these countries, which are all predominantly Catholic (France, Italy, Austria, and Spain), Islam takes second place, and, except for Spain, the radical right has established itself firmly in the party system.

The remainder of the countries fall into the category of already elevated levels of diversity. This category comprises the non-European democracies and those European countries that constitute the heartland of the Protestant Reformation, which early on institutionalized religious diversity. These are the countries where the (initially) dominant Protestant church never had a clear monopoly; among them, Switzerland stands out with its strong radical right party, which had consolidated before the later waves of immigration (for the peculiarities of the radical right in Alpine countries, see Betz 2005). In all countries with a strong radical right, these parties belong to the middle category in Table 19.2 above: they started their career with a strong ethnocentrist message and have meanwhile added a substantial dose of religion to their agenda, mostly as self-declared defenders of the Christian identity and legacy of their country or Europe against the alleged Islamization. (p. 387)

Conclusions

Religion and the radical right in liberal democracies interact at various levels. These are the levels at which religion acquires a political quality: the levels of beliefs and doctrine (ideology), the organizational and institutional levels, the levels of legitimization and mobilization (see Fox 2013, 56–108). While there is nothing new in this connection, at least in modern European history, what is new is the “return of religion” in an age of secularization even among political actors who were long interpreted as providing a substitute for the waning powers of religion: an extreme “faith” in the nation as the key to meaning and problem-solving in the context of an increasingly complex world.

As this chapter suggests, this return of religion to the West European radical right agenda since the 1990s is mainly due to outside forces and a societal dynamism, in particular the process of religious pluralization, rather than the beliefs of the activists or the tradition of the parties concerned. It is a strategic adjustment, not the soul of the radical right, which remains its anti-plural ultra-nationalism. However, because of the enduring success of dyeing the radical right agenda with religion, in particular Islamophobia, religion may become a core component of the radical right ideology—as it has been in Eastern Europe since the radical right’s inception after the collapse of the Soviet empire. Here, secularization as a politically imposed process in the Communist era does not need processes of pluralization or a growing presence of Islam to ignite religious fervor: the extreme anti-communist impulse of the radical right leads directly to the historical connection between religion and nation-building in the region.

Where liberal democracies have marginalized illiberal religions or religious legacies that, historically, had fed the radical right, religion has returned to radical right mobilization, even in secularized societies, against the perceived threat of rapid sociocultural change and its (alleged) agents and protagonists. Overall, then, religion is to stay with the radical right, even more so in light of the waning confessional divides and the transformation of the religious cleavage into the believers, whatever their denominational background, and the non-believers.

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