Populist Radical-Right Movements and Representative Democracy: Love It or Leave It

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Conference Proceeding

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Contempt for the system of representative democracy is a trademark of populist movements. Therefore, they should have little desire to participate in parliamentary elections and thereby to legitimize the system they seek to combat. Yet, operating from within the state is often a more efficient way to truly impact state policies than pressures from outside. How populist movements resolve this dilemma between principles and participation is the subject of this paper. Surprisingly, despite the resurgence of populism in established democracies, little attention has been paid to this issue. Why do some movements rapidly accept the electoral game while others resist integration in the party system? How does the decision to participate to elections affect the internal coherence of the movements? My project analyzes these questions. Based on primary and secondary sources, as well as archival data and interviews, I examine how far-right populist movements, such as the Social Credit movement in Canada, The Croix de Feu and the Poujade movement in France, and the 5 Star Movement in Italy dealt with this dilemma between principles and participation. These cases have been chosen for the variation in the time they emerged (interwar for the Croix de Feu), 1930s for the Social Credit movement, 1950s for the Poujade movement, and 2000s for the 5 Star movement, the political and cultural environment in which they appeared, and the way they responded to the appeal of electoral politics. Preliminary findings seem to indicate that the sociological composition of the movement impacts the decisions to participate in elections, and that the level of uniformity in the social status of its members affect the movement’s propensity for internal strife.


Presented at European Social Science History Conference, Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 2018

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