Not so right after all? Making sense of the progressive rhetoric of Europe’s far-right parties

Publication Title

International Sociology

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Department or Program


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European politics, far-right parties, nationalism, progressivism, rhetorical logic, superiority


Several newly successful far-right European populist parties have deviated from traditional conservative stances by embracing progressive values such as gender equality, gay rights, religious freedoms, and the provision of generous social services. With what logic have they articulated such a counterintuitive ideological mix? Scholarship on this question is still in its early phases and does not extend across countries and multiple parties. This article argues that the parties, when stating their resolute commitment to their nations or Western civilization more generally, have pitted the tolerance and inclusiveness of their societies against the threats of backward immigrants – especially Muslim ones. In this context, all citizens, regardless of specific personal characteristics, are described as worthy of support and protection. Underlying such logic are two deeper ideas: nationalism (with its principles of equality, secularism, and sovereignty for members of the community) and European superiority vis-a-vis other cultures. The rhetoric can vary subtly. Evidence comes from the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the National Rally in France, and the Sweden Democrats in Sweden. In the conclusion, we reflect on the broader implications of the findings for the ideological and political landscapes of Europe.


Original version is available from the publisher at: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0268580919881862