FIFTY-FIVE YEARS AFTER THE FALL OF FASCISM AND THE END OF THE Second World War, right-wing radical movements and parties are part of the political normalcy in many Western democracies. In the face of the twentieth-century experiences of fascism and state socialism, and their failures, this stubborn persistence seems at the same time anachronistic and frightening. While there is no shortage of explanations and interpretations of this phenomenon in an evergrowing body of literature, most studies focus on national trends and derive their criteria from country-specific histories and discourses. Serious comparative scholarship on the radical right is still in its infancy.
This article is a plea for more comparative research on rightwing radicalism at the turn of the century. It begins by highlighting the three central dimensions of the problem. First, one must state that contemporary right-wing radicalism is an international phenomenon. Thus, more than before, comparative studies are needed both to analyse the international quality and to specify the nation-specific characteristics of the radical right in each country. Secondly, it must be borne in mind that contemporary right-wing radicalism is a modern phenomenon. It has undergone a phase of renewal, as a result of social and cultural modernization shifts in post-war Europe. Thus it is only vaguely connected with previous versions. Terms like ‘fascism’ or ‘neo-fascism’ which suggest a historical continuity from Munich to Mölln and Magdeburg in Germany, or from Vichy to Vitrolles in France, become increasingly obsolete. The third factor to bear in mind is that contemporary right-wing radicalism is a complex phenomenon. The ongoing specialization and compartmentalization in the social sciences, such as discourse analysis, party and electoral research, and youth sociology – to name but a few of the approaches applied to the radical right – fail to do justice to the complexity of the subject. Clearly, the many faces of right-wing radicalism require clear analytical distinctions, but ultimately they need to be approached in a truly interdisciplinary way.