Right-wing populist parties? Was there ever a happy ending?

I’m looking for a GQ answer to the question in the title but I also hope for some robust debate around my premises. Hence, GD.

The news that Obama’s support among the white working class is close to a record low for a democratic president…

…got me thinking about previous periods in history where parties of the right were popular among the working class.

It seems to me that the natural order of things is that working class folks tend to support parties of the left and that rich folks tend to support parties of the right but that, occasionally, and especially during times of economic stress, this natural order of things is inverted.

This paper documents the phenomenon in various European countries but I hope you’ll agree that the Tea Party provides a strong parallel in the United States.

The paper offers several interesting hypotheses as to what triggers this kind of inversion as well as some hard data documenting the phenomenon but what I am really interested in learning is whether there are any precedents for right-wing populist parties (in that paper’s jargon, RPPs) gaining power and using it to good ends.

I hope and expect that my assumptions will be robustly challenged and will consider this thread to be a success if someone can point out examples of right-wing populist movements that resulted in admirable outcomes. I also hope that the shade of Godwin’s ghost will not cast its shadow here.

I was perusing the wikipedia article on The national front:


The point being, it isn’t necessarily fruitful to compare simple “right wing populist” movements, as they’re all different. Ones in Europe especially have and do differ from ones in America. For instance, you’d never see a position like that from a far-right wing group in America. (Although, if true, it does make a bit of sense, in that they want the British land to keep it’s characteristic British character.)

A happy ending? Isn’t that a little personal?

Sure, they are all a bit different - in fact, the paper I quoted goes into some detail about how they differ from country to country - but they all have some elements in common, surely. For example, they tend to invoke a sense that the rights and priviledges of the working class are threatened by some out-group.

The thing about this is that the alliance between what we now call social conservatism and economic conservatism is a relatively new development. Before the middle of the 20th century, positions on economic issues tended to cut across positions on social issues, and vice-versa.

However, as suffrage expanded and lower class voters became more politically-aware, it became virtually impossible for an economic conservative party to achieve electoral success. As a result, they had to adopt other positions with an aim towards maximizing their appeal. I think, as a result, virtually every modern conservative party is populist to a certain extent. What positions are “populist” depends from country to country, but usually they’re the sorts of religious, nationalist, and sometimes quasi-racist positions we associate with “social conservatism.”

What’s interesting is that these alliances have persisted for so long that they’ve become internalized as the generations have gone by, with social conservatives becoming economic conservatives (generally against their economic interests) and economic conservative becoming more socially-conservative, to the point that even economic conservatism itself has become something of a populist position.

An enthusiasm for environmental issues among the extreme right goes back at last as far as the Nazis; often rooted in some theme of going back to the land in search of the “good old days”. The torch-the-planet attitudes common among the modern right in my opinion are due to the merger between the economic and social Right that GreasyJack speaks of.

There’s nothing here that I disagree with but it seems to me that there is a qualitative difference between traditional conservative parties that garner some working class support by appeals to traditional social values and the kind of far-right party that is gaining support in Europe. Thatcher’s Conservative party is substantially different from the National Front as is Sarkosy’s UMP from Le Pen’s Front National.

That aside, my question is not so much about how these odd alliances come about or why, it’s about whether there is an example from history where a right-wing populist party took power and it didn’t go badly.

The Republican Party was a right-wing populist party when it started in 1854. It was right wing because it called for a return to the original intent of the founding fathers on the issue of slavery, which was namely that its existence was tolerated, but was viewed as a necessary evil which would ultimately wither away. What are the right wingers talking about now? Free markets, low taxation (keeping the fruits of a man’s labor), deregulated capitalism, and enforcement of moral issues (pro-life movement). What were the Republicans talking about back in the 19th century? Free labor ideology, unregulated capitalism (Social "Darwinism), enforcement of moral issues (the belief that slavery was evil and couldn’t be compromised with no longer). It was populist because it called for free labor and the improvement of the white working class and middle class against the slaveowning aristocracy.

I’d say it’s been a pretty happy ending.

I agree that there is a big difference between a mainstream conservative party and a National Front type party, but I think populism isn’t it. It’s a matter of differences in ideological extremity, but not really the fundamental flavor of that ideology.

As for whether any extremist “populist” parties have ever come to power with non-terrible results, I don’t really think so. That’s mostly because extremist parties in general (right and left) don’t come to power outright very often, at least not through normal elections. These parties appeal to marginalized people, and it requires very extraordinary circumstances for the majority of the electorate to feel sufficiently excluded to resort to extremist politics. The goal of the parties during ordinary times usually isn’t to come to power outright, but to form coalitions and otherwise agitate to move the agenda of the mainstream parties further to the right (or left).

Also, when an extremist party does seize power (legally or otherwise), it’s almost invariably during some sort of crisis. So when very bad things happen under their watch, it may sometimes be hard to say they are entirely to blame, or if the very bad things are merely a continuation of the very bad things that created conditions conducive to their rise to power.

Why? People will support the parties that do the most for them or share their beliefs. Margaret Thatcher, for instance, appealed to the working classes, ‘Selsdon Man’ IIRC, the aspirational working class.

I think it depends on exactly what you call right wing, and what you call populist.

The first example that comes to mind is the French revolution. You could call it progressivist and left-wing because it’s trying to overthrow the monarchy, but it was such a muddled state of affairs, that you could make an argument it was right wing because of its focus on maintaining French culture and society, as well. And it was certainly populist. It ended up with the overthrow of the monarchy and a democratic system of government (before Napoleon got involved), so that’s pretty good for the masses.

The other examples that come to mind are the enlightened monarchies of the 18th century. Monarchies are pretty right wing by nature, and the enlightened monarchs like Friedrich II certainly did a lot to help the plight of the common man, especially farmers. That continued in the German Empire - lots of social programs to benefit the poor and traditionally ignored groups like the elderly, but definitely pretty strong social stratification and militarism as well. Discounting the time during and after the gigantic blunder of WWI, it was a pretty good time to be a German.

Say what? It has been at least 30 years, now, arguably longer, since the GOP has been anything but a force for pure evil in America – its decline in value marching in step with its ideological shift rightward.

It’s true that Thatcher at attempted to appeal to the working class (my mum was very happy to buy her council house) but the working class in England overwhelmingly voted against her and most of her support came from the upper segments of society (if there is such a thing).

Maybe I should clarify my thesis?

It is certainly true that conservative parties appeal to working class folks in normal times. But, in normal times, most of their support does not come from working class folks - it comes from the middle class. Conversely, in normal times, most working class people support parties of the left. The paper I quoted goes into some detail about this with lots of numbers to support it.

In times of economic stress, parties often arise to the right of the mainstream conservative parties and appeal primarily to the working class. it’s parties like that that I am concerned with.

Supery00n, I’m not a student of American history, but I’m guessing that Republicans circa 1860 (or any other era before 1980) did not appeal primarily to the working class nor did most working class folks vote for them.

Ele, I agree that The French revolution doesn’t breakdown easily into left and right but most of the protagonists are usually considered of the left. In any case, any ending that includes the phrase “reign of terror” probably does not qualify as happy. I don’t know enough about 19th century Germany - I’ll look into it - but my memory of that period has Prussians wearing pointy hats and invading neighboring countries. Not cool.

GreasyJack, I’m interested in the idea that I have cause and effect wrong. I assumed:

1 economic stress causes
2 RPPs (and, yes, LPPs; and totalitarians parties in general) which cause
3 Very Bad Outcomes

Your suggestion is that we can explain the bad outcomes as a direct result of the economic crisis rather than the Right-wing (or other totalitarian) populist party. I can think of two examples to support my version of the causality:

Firstly, the whole world experienced the economic crisis of the 1930s but, while there were fascist elements in the UK and US they didn’t gain power. The countries where fascists did take power, including Germany, Italy and Spain, had much less happy outcomes.

The second example is playing out now: Greece just elected a far-right party with massive popular support. In a do-over, they came to their senses and voted them out again. The storm has not yet passed and there is plenty of time for an unhappy ending but, can anyone doubt that it would have been far worse for Greece if the right-wing extremists had stayed in control?

The Republican Party of the 19th century favored high tariffs and anti-trust legislation. I wouldn’t exactly call that unregulated capitalism.

Umm… no. Or you’ve got an odd definition of working classes. The upper segments of society are by definition the minority by a large degree. The working classes mostly supported Thatcher, else she would not have got elected.

Is there mandatory voting in the UK? The working classes might not have voted at all, or “mostly” supported the opponent to a very small degree leaving the upper segments to push her over the top, or a combination of the two.

It has been my experience that both the Democrat and Republican parties have their share of rich, middle class and poor members.

Some generalizations and offensive stereotypes just for fun :

Rich Republicans - Usually old money rich inherited from previous generations, went to college at Duke or SMU and vacations in the Hamptons. Examples would be the Rockefellers and the Bush family, Mitt Romney.

Rich Democrats - Usually self made millionaires, schooled at Harvard or other New England school, and concerned about the environment. Often works as lawyers. Examples would be the Kennedys, Barack Obama, John Kerry, John Edwards, George Clooney, Matt Damon, etc.

Middle class Republicans - often small business owners, or professionals like doctors or accountants, engineers. Drives a conservative car like a Camry or a gas guzzling SUV.

Middle class Democrats - often college educated, concerned about the environment, drives a Prius or Volt. Common occupations include being a college professor, teacher or social worker.

Blue collar Republicans - classically found in the deep South, enjoys hunting, fishing, and owns multiple firearms. Typically drives a pick up truck, always Ford or Chevy, preferably with a gun rack on the back window.

Blue Collar Demoncrats - typically lives in a large, urban city, with a job that has ties to a union.

Check your definitions.

From The Lifecycle of the Conservative Government 1979 to 1997,

High tariffs can be considered a pro-business policy to protect American manufactuers while the working class supported free trade to have cheaper consumer goods.

Kennedys by the 60s certainly were the established wealthy not self-made men. I’d probably reverse this in general.

This is how the Pubs were viewed when they got started: Negro equality, vegetarianism, free love, women’s suffrage, redistribution of wealth, and . . . popery! :eek: