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The Politics of Fear. What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean

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Abstract

Populist right-wing politics is moving centre-stage, with some parties reaching the very top of the electoral ladder: but do we know why, and why now? In this book Ruth Wodak traces the trajectories of such parties from the margins of the political landscape to its centre, to understand and explain how they are transforming from fringe voices to persuasive political actors who set the agenda and frame media debates. Laying bare the normalization of nationalistic, xenophobic, racist and antisemitic rhetoric, she builds a new framework for this ‘politics of fear’ that is entrenching new social divides of nation, gender and body. The result reveals the micro-politics of right-wing populism: how discourses, genres, images and texts are performed and manipulated in both formal and also everyday contexts with profound consequences. This book is a must-read for scholars and students of linguistics, media and politics wishing to understand these dynamics that are re-shaping our political space.
rUTh WoDaK
The
poliTics
of
fear
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‘For fundamentalist elites all over the world, fear is an effective antidote
against the secularizing effects of communicative freedom.
Matteo Stocchetti (2007, 229)
Analysing the Micro-Politics of
Right-wing Populism
Whenever I lecture about right-wing populism and right-wing populist rhetoric, people in
the audience pose many questions, such as:
Are not all politicians populists?
Don’t other politicians sometimes construct scapegoats and use similar rhetorical
tropes as do right-wing populist politicians?
Don’t the so-called right-wing populist politicians all draw on the same plethora of
linguistic, pragmatic or rhetorical devices as already used by Cicero and other rheto-
ricians from antique times?
Such challenges raise the pertinent question of the novelty of this topic. What kind of new
knowledge or which kind of explanations could anybody actually add to what we have
long known about this complex phenomenon? Let me start with some brief answers to
these and similar questions.
Most importantly, right-wing populism does not only relate to the form of rhetoric but
to its specific contents: such parties successfully construct fear and – related to the various
real or imagined dangers – propose scapegoats that are blamed for threatening or actually
damaging our societies, in Europe and beyond.
Moreover, tendencies of renationalization across the EU and beyond can be observed;
tendencies of creating ever new borders (and even walls), of linking the nation state and
1POPULISM AND POLITICS:
TRANSGRESSING NORMS
AND TABOOS
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2
The Polics of Fear
citizenship (naturalization) with nativist (frequently gendered and fundamentalist religious)
body politics, lie at the core of right-wing populist ideologies. We thus seem to be experi-
encing a revival of the ‘Volk’ and the ‘Volkskörper1 in the separatist rhetoric of right-wing
populist parties, for example, in the Ukraine, Russia, Greece as well as Hungary. At the
same time, very real walls of stone, brick and cement are also being constructed to keep the
‘Others’ out, who are defined as different and deviant. Body politics are therefore integrated
with border politics.
Of course, much research in the social sciences provides ample evidence for the current rise
of right-wing populist movements and related political parties in most European Union (EU)
member states and beyond.2 On the one hand, we observe neo-Nazi movements in the form of
extreme far-right parties and horrific hate crimes such as that committed by Anders Breivik in
July 2011 in Norway, from which all right-wing populist parties immediately distanced them-
selves publicly;3 on the other hand, a salient shift is occurring in the forms and styles of political
rhetoric of ‘soft’ right-wing populist parties which could be labelled as ‘the Haiderization of
politics’, a label relating to the former leader of the Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei
Österreich or FPÖ), Jörg Haider. Haider’s performance, style, rhetoric and ideologies have
become the metonymic symbol of such parties’ success across Europe. Indeed, the FPÖ has
paved the way for the dissemination of a new, frequently coded xenophobic, racist and antise-
mitic, exclusionary and anti-elitist politics since 1989 and the fall of the so-called Iron Curtain.4
Right-wing populist parties across Europe and beyond draw on and combine different polit-
ical imaginaries5 and different traditions, evoke (and construct) different nationalist pasts in the
form of identity narratives, and emphasize a range of different issues in everyday politics: some
parties gain support via flaunting an ambivalent relationship with fascist and Nazi pasts (e.g. in
Austria, Hungary, Italy, Romania and France); some parties, in contrast, focus primarily on a per-
ceived threat from Islam (e.g. in the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland);
some parties restrict their propaganda to a perceived danger to their national identities from
ethnic minorities and migrants (e.g. in Hungary, Greece, Italy and the UK); and some parties
primarily endorse a traditional Christian (fundamentalist) conservative-reactionary agenda
(e.g. in the US).6 In their free-for-all rush for votes, most right-wing populist parties evidently
pursue several such strategies at once, depending on the specific audience and context; thus, the
above-mentioned distinctions are primarily of an analytic nature. In any case, I claim that:
• all right-wing populist parties instrumentalize some kind of ethnic/religious/linguistic/
political minority as a scapegoat for most if not all current woes and subsequently
construe the respective group as dangerous and a threat ‘to us’, to ‘our’ nation; this
phenomenon manifests itself as a ‘politics of fear’;
• all right-wing populist parties seem to endorse what can be recognized as the
arrogance of ignorance’; appeals to common-sense and anti-intellectualism
mark a return to pre-modernist or pre-Enlightenment thinking.
In this book I am concerned with the micro-politics of right-wing populist parties – how
they actually produce and reproduce their ideologies and exclusionary agenda in every-
day politics, in the media, in campaigning, in posters, slogans and speeches. Ultimately,
I am concerned with how they succeed (or fail) in sustaining their electoral success. The
dynamics of everyday performances frequently transcend careful analytic categorizations;
boundaries between categories are blurred and flexible, open to change and ever new
socio-economic developments.
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3
Populism and Polics: Transgressing Norms and Taboos
Below, I first elaborate on the many ways in which fear is continuously invoked and legit-
imized by right-wing populist parties; I then briefly trace the history of populist movements
and present a working definition of right-wing populism that should help in understanding the
impact of these political movements in the 21st century. Moreover, by way of example, I illus-
trate the typical politics of denial that characterizes much of right-wing populist rhetoric – the
specific ways in which media scandals are provoked and then dominate the agenda, forcing
all other important topics into the background. Indeed, instrumentalizing the media, both tra-
ditional and new, is part and parcel of the immediate success of such political movements.
After discussing the example in Vignette 1, I identify some of the typical characteristics and
rhetorical patterns of right-wing populist parties in a range of national contexts selected due to
the distinctions made above, such as Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary,
Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.
Right-wing Populism: Form and Content
Returning to the questions raised above, we see that they are not difficult to answer:
For example, the sociologist and media expert Dick Pels (2012, 31ff.) emphasizes that it
would be dangerous to regard modern populism as void of serious content or to reduce
the new right-wing populism to a ‘frivolity of form, pose and style’ and thus to downplay
its outreach, its messages and resonance. Indeed, it would be, Pels continues, ‘erroneous
to think there is no substance behind its political style. […] It is precisely through its
dynamic mix of substance and style that populist politics has gained an electoral lead
position in current media democracy’ (ibid., 32; see also Reisigl 2013, 159). Pels lists var-
ious important socio-political challenges that currently concern voters, especially during
times of financial and environmental crises, and which are related to a multitude of fears,
disaffection and pessimism: fear of losing one’s job; fear of ‘strangers’ (i.e. migrants);
fear of losing national autonomy; fear of losing old traditions and values; fear of climate
change; disappointment and even disgust with mainstream politics and corruption; anger
about the growing gap between rich and poor; disaffection due to the lack of transpar-
ency of political decision making and so forth (Rydgren 2007). Thus, when analysing
right-wing (or, indeed, left-wing) populist movements and their rhetoric, it is essential to
recognize that their propaganda – realized as it is in many genres across relevant social
domains – always combines and integrates form and content, targets specific audiences
and adapts to specific contexts. Only by doing so are we able to deconstruct, understand
and explain their messages, the resonance of their messages and their electoral success.
Right-wing Populism: Creating Scapegoats
‘Populism simplifies complex developments by looking for a culprit’, states the political
scientist Anton Pelinka (2013, 8). He argues that:
[a]s the enemy – the foreigner, the foreign culture – has already succeeded in breaking
into the fortress of the nation state, someone must be responsible. The élites are the
secondary ‘defining others’, responsible for the liberal democratic policies of accepting
cultural diversity. The populist answer to the complexities of a more and more pluralis-
tic society is not multiculturalism. […] right-wing populism sees multiculturalism as a
recipe to denationalize one’s (own) nation, to deconstruct one’s (own) people.
(ibid.)
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4
The Polics of Fear
Right-wing populist parties seem to offer simple and clear-cut answers to all the fears and
challenges mentioned above, for example by constructing scapegoats and enemies – ‘Others’
which are to blame for our current woes – by frequently tapping into traditional collective
stereotypes and images of the enemy. The latter depend, I further claim, on the respective
historical traditions in specific national, regional and even local contexts: sometimes, the
scapegoats are Jews, sometimes Muslims, sometimes Roma or other minorities, sometimes
capitalists, socialists, career women, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the EU, the
United Nations, the US or Communists, the governing parties, the elites, the media and so forth.
‘They’ are foreigners, defined by ‘race’, religion or language. ‘They’ are elites not only within
the respective country, but also on the European stage (‘Brussels’) and global level (‘Financial
Capital’). Important fissures and divides within a society, such as class, caste, religion, gender
and so forth, are neglected in focusing on such ‘Others’ or are interpreted as the result of ‘elitist
conspiracies’. The discursive strategies of ‘victim–perpetrator reversal’, ‘scapegoating’ and the
‘construction of conspiracy theories’ therefore belong to the necessary ‘toolkit’ of right-wing
populist rhetoric. In short, anybody can potentially be constructed as dangerous ‘Other’, should
it become expedient for specific strategic and manipulative purposes. Pelinka recently observed
a shift in the construction of the ‘Other’ and particularly emphasizes that
contemporary populism does not so much mobilize against the (perceived) enemy
above but more against the (perceived) enemy from abroad. Populism has become
more and more ethno-nationalistic. Populist anti-élitism today is directed against those
who seem to be responsible for Europeanization and globalization, and especially for
mass migration, against élites who have opened the doors to foreign influence and
to foreigners. […] And, of course, the tendency to see individuals (politicians – the
‘classe politica’, or intellectuals – ‘the chattering classes’) as responsible for modern-
izing trends is beyond any realistic and empirically sound analysis of the trend which
tends to put an end to the nation state.
(2013, 9)
It is therefore important that we attempt to understand and explain how right-wing populist
parties continuously construct fear in order to address the collective common-ground as
well as their reasons and (rhetorical and communicative) means. This is necessary in order
to understand why and how right-wing populist parties are achieving ever more success
across Europe and beyond, especially in recent national and European elections. This is the
main question that I attempt to answer throughout this book, by exploring and systematically
analysing a range of different socio-political contexts, histories and empirical examples.
Creang Fear: Legimizing a Polics of
Exclusion
Obviously, the phenomena of right-wing extremism and right-wing populism are not new.
And neither is their focus on fear. Indeed, David Altheide in his book Creating Fear (2002)
very convincingly presents the ways in which scenarios of danger have been constructed
ubiquitously in US media and politics for many years. He argues that
fear has become a dominant public perspective. Fear begins with things we fear, but
over time, with enough repetition and expanded use, it becomes a way of looking at life.
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5
Populism and Polics: Transgressing Norms and Taboos
Therefore, it is not ‘fear of crime’, for instance, that is so interesting to me, but rather how
fear has emerged as a framework for developing identities and for engaging in social life.
Fear is one of the perspectives that citizens share today; while liberals and conservatives
may differ in their object of fear, all sides express many fears and point to ‘blameworthy’
sources – often each other! The fear ‘market’ has also spawned an extensive cottage
industry that promotes new fears and an expanding array of ‘victims’.
(2002, 3)
Altheide goes on to emphasize that a large number of social scientists and experts are now
marketing ‘their self-help books, courses, research funds and expertise’ which address anxie-
ties related to the ‘self’ (2002, 3). Best (2001, 6) substantiates Altheide’s arguments and claims
that the media produce and reproduce fear and, simultaneously, sell solutions related to moral
assumptions to a quite passive audience in the US. Of course, such threats and dangers easily
refer to scenarios and horror stories created during the Cold War and continued after 9/11 (e.g.
Stocchetti 2007; Stone 2002). In the US (and elsewhere), these debates are frequently instru-
mental in legitimizing proposals for either more gun control or less gun control – a conflict
which has found its way into European debates as well; of course, the horrific ‘Breivik incident’
lends itself to such debates.
Right-wing populist parties successfully create fear and legitimize their policy proposals
(usually related to restricting immigration and so forth; see Wodak and Boukala 2014, 2015)
with an appeal to the necessities of security. As will be elaborated later, such arguments became
eminent after the end of the Cold War in 1989 and were, of course, forcefully invigorated after
9/11. Each crisis contributes to such scenarios, as can be observed with respect to the financial
crisis and the Euro-crisis (Angouri and Wodak 2014; Stråth and Wodak 2009). In such crisis sit-
uations, both politics and media tend to reduce complex historical processes to snap-shots which
allow constructing and triggering Manichean dichotomies – friends and foes, perpetrators and
victims, and so forth. As argued by Murray Edelman in his seminal book The Symbolic Uses of
Politics (1967), crises are promoted to serve the interests of political leaders and other interest
groups who will most certainly benefit from such definitions (e.g. Altheide 2002, 12). We are
therefore confronted by a contingency of factors that serve to facilitate dichotomist perspectives,
create scapegoats and play into the hands of right-wing populist parties: traditional and new
threat scenarios, real and exaggerated crises as well as related horror and moral narratives, real
and exaggerated security issues, media reporting that reproduces fear scenarios, and political
parties which instrumentalize all these factors to legitimize exclusionary policies. It is evident
that all of these factors are related to each other: that they are, in fact, interdependent. This contin-
gency is best understood by recalling the relevant observations made by Berger and Luckmann:
Legitimation as a process is best described as a ‘second-order’ objectivation of meaning as
it produces new meanings that serve to integrate the meanings already attached to dispa-
rate institutional processes. The function of legitimation is to make objectively available
and subjectively plausible the ‘first-order’ objectivations that have been institutionalized.
(1966, 110–111)
Moreover, the authors emphasize that
[t]he problem of legitimation inevitably arises when the objectivations of the (now his-
toric) institutional order are to be transmitted to a new generation […] when the unity
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6
The Polics of Fear
of history and biography is broken. In order to restore it, and thus to make intelligible
both aspects of it, there must be ‘explanations’ and justifications of the salient elements
of the institutional tradition. Legitimation is this process of ‘explaining’ and justifying.
Legitimation justifies the institutional order by giving a normative dignity to its prac-
tical imperatives. It is important to understand that legitimation has a cognitive as well
as a normative element. In other words, legitimation is not just a matter of ‘values’. It
always implies ‘knowledge’ as well.
(1966, 110–111)
Right-wing Populism: Crisis and
Rising Unemployment
Following the above definition of legitimation, Van Leeuwen and Wodak (1999) introduced
a framework for analysing the language of legitimation with four major categories: author-
ization, moral evaluation, rationalization and mythopoesis. Authorization is legitimation by
referring to authority, be that a person, tradition, custom or law. Moral evaluation means legiti-
mation by reference to value systems. Rationalization is legitimation by reference to knowledge
claims or arguments. Mythopoesis is legitimation achieved by narratives; these are often small
stories or fragments of narrative structures about the past or future. These main types involve
a number of sub-types and are also frequently connected. Thus, to understand the specific
dynamics of legitimation in particular contexts, such as the financial crisis of 2008 for example,
it is important to focus on the typical patterns and characteristics of these discursive strategies in
context. Indeed, it is of interest to understand what kind of arguments are put forward and res-
onate with the public; for example, when legitimizing further austerity measures, governments
tend to justify new cuts with necessity or responsibility – arbitrary cuts are then essentialized as
necessary in order to protect the nation state and its people (Sayer 2015). When analysing right-
wing populist rhetoric, we usually detect legitimization by moral evaluation and mythopoesis:
the use of specific moral stances and exemplary reformulated historical narratives (myths) to
legitimize ‘Othering’ and typically implement ever more restrictive immigration measures.
Accordingly, Dettke states that
[n]ationalist and radical right parties have emerged everywhere in Europe. East and
West, and once nationalist radical right wing parties become a stronger force also on
the European level, it will be more difficult to preserve the legitimacy and authority
of European institutions.
(2014, 10)
More specifically, Dettke (ibid.) argues that the collapse of the Soviet empire has allowed
long-suppressed national aspirations and goals to find their outlet in radical ethno-nationalist
parties and movements, whereas in Southern Europe youth unemployment has become a –
or perhaps the – salient problem, with more than one quarter (or even half) of the younger
generation facing unemployment. In the spring of 2014, youth unemployment in Greece stood
at 62.5 per cent, in Spain at 56.4 per cent, in Portugal at 42.5 per cent, and in Italy at 40.5
per cent;7 youth unemployment therefore might in fact unleash a new wave of xenophobia,
chauvinism and radicalism. These phenomena frequently remind us of the collective experiences
of the 20th century and the staggering economic crisis of the 1930s. However, the analogy
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7
Populism and Polics: Transgressing Norms and Taboos
does not account for the impact of neo-liberal policies since the 1970s and 1980s, the dis-
astrous effect of privatization of many domains of our societies and the deregulation of the
financial sector as well as the resulting austerity policies to combat the financial crisis since
2008. As Sayer convincingly argues in his comprehensive analysis of the impact of neo-lib-
eral austerity policies as response to the financial crisis,
[a]usterity policies fall most heavily on those at the bottom while the top 10%, and
particularly the top 1%, are protected … How ridiculous that the answer to our
economic problems is seen as wasting more of our most important asset – people.
(2015, 1)
The rise and success of right-wing populist parties can certainly also be explained as reac-
tion to such policies, as uniting the modernization losers, the people ‘who are left behind’
(Mileti and Plomb 2007, 25). Oesch (2008) elaborates in great detail, while comparing
five right-wing populist parties (the Austrian FPÖ, the Belgium VlB, the French FN, the
Norwegian FrP and the Swiss SVP [see glossary for more information on these parties]),
why many workers who traditionally voted for left-wing parties have recently tended to
switch to right-wing populist parties. His results (while investigating preferences of male
workers) illustrate well that fear-mongering has been successful in many instances, albeit
in different ways: in the FPÖ and SVP, negative attitudes towards immigrants and fear of
losing one’s jobs dominate. Also, fear of negative influence on ‘one’s culture’ is important.
In Belgium, however, dissatisfaction with the government and the state of the Belgian
democracy as well as cultural protectionism seem to be the primary motifs for voting for the
VlB. The same holds true in Norway. In France, however, all three factors – dissatisfaction,
fear of wage dumping, fear of the culture being undermined by immigration – prove salient
(2007, 366–8). As the socio-cultural fears are also influencing other segments of society, old
cleavages prove to be more and more obsolete and values are perceived as more important
than social class and traditional class struggles (Marsdal 2013).
The Concept of Populism
Right-wing Populism: A First Definition
Right-wing populism can be defined as a political ideology that rejects existing political
consensus and usually combines laissez-faire liberalism and anti-elitism. It is considered
populism because of its appeal to the ‘common man/woman’ as opposed to the elites; this
appeal to a quasi-homogenous demos is regarded as salient for such movements (see Betz
and Immerfall 1998, 4–5). As Betz rightly argues,
their [the ‘elites’] inability to restore the sense of security and prosperity, which steady
material and social advances in the post-war period had led their citizens to expect from
their leaders, has become a major cause of voter alienation and cynicism. […] It is
within this context of growing public pessimism, anxiety, and disaffection that the rise
and success of radical right-wing populism in Western Europe finds at least a partial
explanation.
(1994, 41)
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8
The Polics of Fear
Mudde and Kaltwasser elaborate this definition further and emphasize that populism
(both left-wing and right-wing) ‘considers society to be ultimately separated into two
homogenous and antagonistic groups, “the pure people” and “the corrupt elite”’ (2012, 8).
Moreover, they claim that populism always perceives ‘politics to be an expression of
the volonté générale of the people’ (ibid.). This makes antagonism and the Manichean
division into good and bad, friends and foes, we and ‘the other’ salient characteristics of
populism. Mudde and Kaltwasser conclude their conceptual analysis by arguing that three
core concepts necessarily belong to any serious definition of populism: the people, the
elite and the general will; and its two direct opposites – elitism and pluralism (ibid., 9).8
When tracing the history of the concept of ‘populism’, we quickly discover that the word
‘populism’ stems from the Latin word populus, which means ‘people’ in English (in the
sense of ‘folk’, ‘nation’, as in ‘The Roman People’ (populus Romanus) or the German ‘Volk’,
not in the sense of ‘multiple individual persons’, e.g. Musolff 2010):9 ‘populism’ espouses
‘government by the people as a whole’. This stands in contrast to elitism, aristocracy or plu-
tocracy, each of which define an ideology that implies government by a small, privileged,
specifically selected group above the masses (i.e. selected by birth, wealth, election, educa-
tion and so forth). Populism has been a prominent political phenomenon throughout history.
The Populares, for example, were an unofficial faction in the Roman senate whose sup-
porters were well known for their populist agenda. Some of these senators, such as Tiberius
Gracchus, Gaius Marius, Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus, were very prominent. They all
eventually employed referenda to bypass the Roman Senate and appeal directly to the people
(NB women, slaves and foreigners were not permitted to vote).
Populism in the 19th and 20th Centuries:
Historical Developments and Naonal Dierences
Populism as a modern phenomenon with a more direct impact on politics emerges in differ-
ent forms, beginning with the 19th century. Such movements – from the so-called ‘Agrarian
populism’ in the North American West to ‘Peronism’ in Argentina – all aimed for a better,
‘real’ democracy (e.g. Canovan 1981; Pelinka 2013). Although populism in the US and
Europe currently tends to be associated mostly (but not only) with right-wing parties, the
central meaning of populism – that democracy should reflect the ‘pure and undiluted’ will
of the people – implies that it can accommodate ideologies of both the traditional right and
left. However, while leaders of populist movements in recent decades have claimed to be
on either the left or the right of the political spectrum, there are also many populists who
reject such dichotomist categorizations and claim to be neither ‘left wing’, ‘centrist’ nor
‘right wing’ (e.g. Betz 1994; Canovan 1981). In this way, one can in theory claim that pop-
ulism supports popular sovereignty and majority rule; moreover, populists usually accept
representation by someone of ‘the people’, but not of ‘the elite’ (Mudde and Kaltwasser
2012, 17). Of course, it is the populists who define – quite arbitrarily and depending on their
interests – who should belong to which group.
Left-wing and right-wing populist parties differ in important aspects, namely in that the
latter are inwards looking, thus primarily nationalist/chauvinist, referring to a nativist body
politics, while left-wing populist parties are traditionally oriented towards internationalism
or post-nationalism. Pelinka (2013, 5) defines the beginning of populism as a form of protest
against the overwhelming power of specific privileged elites in the 19th century: economic
elites like the ‘trusts’ in the US; social elites like the dominant aristocracies; political elites
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9
Populism and Polics: Transgressing Norms and Taboos
like elected representatives who were perceived not to care enough for the interests of ‘the
people’. As Pelinka convincingly argues (ibid.), the intellectual and analytical weakness of
populist democracy always seems to be rooted in the inherent hegemonic assumption that
such a homogenous people exist. Who is included in and who is excluded from the demos is
thus not related to social and cultural developments but seen as a very simplistic dogma, a
quasi-discrete definition that ignores social differentiation, distinctions and fragmentations
(Laclau 2005). National as well as ethnic and racialized identities are discursively constructed
to create an imaginary of nativist (essentialized) and quasi-natural borders between ‘Us’ and
‘Them’. Differences (of any kind) within ‘the people’ are therefore denied. Populists create a
demos which exists above and beyond the divides and diversities of social class and religion,
gender and generation.
Populism was also exceedingly influential in South American nation states. For example,
in Argentina in the 1940s, a local brand of fascist populism termed ‘Peronism’ emerged, named
after its leader Juan Perón. Its roots lie in the intellectual fascist movement of the 1920s and
1930s that delegitimized democracy in Argentina (Blamires 2006, 26). More recently, South
American leaders such as former President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela endorsed a more left-
wing populism. Moreover, recent research on populist politics and policies in South America
(e.g. Peru and Venezuela) provides ample evidence that we are dealing with an ‘inclusive
populism’ in these contexts, whereas right-wing populism in Europe manifests itself as an
exclusionary force. Accordingly, Roberts justifiably claims that
Chavez’s self-proclaimed ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ was authentic, and it provided
a textbook illustration of the ways in which populism’s inclusionary dynamic can
expand opportunities for democratic participation at the same time that its majoritar-
ian logic restricts institutional spaces for effective democratic contestation.
(2012, 138)
There have also been several versions of populist parties in the US, some inspired by the
Populist Party of the 1890s, the party of the early US populist movement in which millions
of farmers and other working people successfully enacted their anti-trust agenda (Pelinka
2013, 3, 15). Other early populist political parties in the US included the Greenback Party,
the Progressive Party of 1912 led by Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party of 1924
led by Robert M. La Follette, Sr., and the Share Our Wealth movement of Huey Long in
1933–1935. Populism continues to be an important force in modern US politics, especially
in the 1992 and 1996 third-party presidential campaigns of billionaire Ross Perot and in the
so-called ‘Tea-Party’ since Barack Obama’s first term in 2008 (Schweitzer 2012).
Ralph Nader’s 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns also endorsed
a strong populist programme. Of course, any strict comparison between earlier popu-
list movements and those of today is impossible because of significant changes in the
so-called interests of the common people as well as socio-political changes and local
and global developments. In one of the most recent examples of populist movements in
2012 and 2013, participants of the left-wing populist Occupy movement chose the widely
popular slogan ‘We are the 99 per cent’. The Occupy leadership used the elliptic and
metonymic label ‘the 1 per cent’ to refer to the 1 per cent of Americans who are regarded
as the wealthiest citizens; the 1 per cent that is commonly said and statistically proved to
possess more than 50 per cent of the country’s wealth (Sayer 2015). The Occupy move-
ment emphasized that this 1 per cent was responsible for huge economic instability and
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10
The Polics of Fear
inequality. Lowndes and Warren (2011) thus maintained that Occupy was the ‘first major
populist movement on the US left since the 1930s’.10
Finally, it is important to mention Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the People of Freedom Party
and former Prime Minister of Italy for almost 10 years. When Berlusconi entered politics
with his party Forza Italia in 1994, he established a new kind of populism which focused on
the media’s total control via ownership and censorship (Ruzza and Balbo 2013) – I label this
form of populism Berlusconisation. Berlusconi and his allies have won three elections (1994,
2001 and 2008), the latter with his new right-wing party People of Freedom. In 2009 Beppe
Grillo, a former comedian, blogger and activist, founded the so-called Five Star Movement.
This party advocates direct democracy and free access to the Internet, and strongly condemns
corruption. The movement’s programme also contains elements of right-wing populism and
American-style libertarianism. The party is considered populist, ecologist and Eurosceptic.
Grillo is a highly successful performer and speaker, and comes across as authentic, close to the
people and anti-elitist (Molé 2013). In the 2013 Italian election the Five Star Movement – to
the surprise of all media and observers – gained 25.5 per cent of votes, winning 109 deputies
and 54 senators (Fella and Ruzza 2013; Fusi 2014). Explanations range from deep disappoint-
ment with all parties of the establishment, anger about austerity measures, anti-Berlusconi
vote, Euro-scepticism and protest to enthusiastic support for new creative forms of politics.
Populism and Fascism
Some researchers have argued that populist elements have always also appealed to and
appeared in far-right authoritarian or fascist movements.11 For example, conspiracy theo-
ries combined with scapegoating as employed by various populist movements can create
‘a seedbed for fascism’ (Rupert 1997, 96). Certainly, national socialist populism interacted
with and facilitated fascism in interwar Germany and Austria (Posch et al. 2013).
Along the same vein, Schmitt maintains that the Führer-state represented the ‘people’s
will’ more efficiently and more truthfully than the liberal parliamentarianism of Weimar or
Westminster (e.g. Pelinka 2013, 5). Thus, the national-socialist Führer or the fascist Duce
continuously emphasized and thus legitimized (via mythopoesis) that they acted on behalf of
the people, as saviours, sent as messenger by some mythical (frequently religious) persona.
In practice, this meant that the people should applaud the actions of the leader and, in so
doing, legitimize them (Schmitt 2007, 80–96). Legitimation qua authority also played a
decisive role in these ideologies – in German, this specific discursive strategy is labelled
the Sendebotentrick (see Maas 1985). Post-war, the terminology changed to Robin Hood,
the commoner who saves the ‘common man and woman on the street’. The topos of saviour
occurs widely in right-wing populist rhetoric and refers to a simple argumentation scheme
such as: ‘If danger is to be expected because of X and if A has saved us in the past, then A
will be able to save us again’ (Wodak and Forchtner 2014).
Thus, ever since the end of World War II, revisionist ideologies have circulated
and been adopted by neo-Nazi or right-wing extremist parties such as the FPÖ, the
French Front National (FN), the Sweden-Democrats and the British National Party
(BNP) (e.g. Beauzamy 2013a; Oje and Mral 2013; Richardson 2013a, 2013b; Wodak
and Richardson 2013). While resemblances to older, well-known ideologies can be
identified in many of the ‘new’ right-wing discourses (Mammone 2009), Betz (1996)
rightly points to the fact that right-wing populism differs from those other trends as it
does not convey a coherent narrative and ideology but rather proposes a mixed, often
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 10 25-Aug-15 4:58:02 PM
11
Populism and Polics: Transgressing Norms and Taboos
contradictory array of beliefs, stereotypes, attitudes and related programmes which aim
to address and mobilize a range of equally contradictory segments of the electorate.
Below, in Vignette 1, I illustrate some typical discursive and rhetorical strategies
employed by right-wing populist parties in their attempt to dominate the political agenda
and media reporting, and thus to determine the hegemonic discourse, by briefly analys-
ing a television interview with the current leader of the FPÖ, HC Strache. This vignette
will reappear at various points throughout this book: in Chapters 2 and 3, some of the
pertinent theoretical dimensions will be elaborated in more detail. In Chapters 5, 6 and 7,
I will point to salient elements of visual rhetoric and argumentation (i.e. multimodality)
which are prominent in the example discussed below. There, I will also analyse various
television interviews and debates between right-wing populist politicians and television
moderators. In the last chapter of this book, I discuss the implications of such hegemonic
politics of denial as propagated by right-wing populist parties and their protagonists.
Anything goes!’: Setting the Agenda via
Provocation and Scandalization
Right-wing Populism: Taking Advantage
of the Media
Currently, we are witnessing the development of a ‘media-democracy’ across Europe and
beyond, in which the individual, media-savvy performance of politics seems to become more
important than the political process (Grande 2000; Wodak 2010; Stögner and Wodak 2014).
Accordingly, politics is reduced to a few slogans thought comprehensible to the public at
large. This development can be recognized also in the fact that contemporary politics does
not only rely on the media as ‘the most important source of information and vehicle of com-
munication between the governors and the governed’ (Strömbäck 2008, 230). The media
have also contributed to the transformation of politics through more and continuous emphasis
on ‘frontstage performances’ (Goffman 1959; Wodak 2011a). As argued by Forchtner et al.
(2013), the manifold patterns of media communication and the clever and ubiquitous appro-
priation of media agenda and frames employed in the recent success of populist-right parties
cannot be dismissed or marginalized as a mere coincidence. Furthermore, the dispropor-
tionate success of some of these parties, Ellinas (2009) goes on to suggest, can probably be
explained by the excessive exposure that these parties receive in the media, despite their lack
of what used to be regarded as required organizational and political structures (ibid.). As Bos
et al. (2010, 3) illustrate, successful right-wing populist leaders have actually managed to
achieve a delicate balance between, on the one hand, appearing unusual and populist, or
anti-establishment, and on the other, authoritative and legitimate; thus they counter the elites
but do not oppose the liberal democratic system per se. Frequently, this is achieved by scan-
dalization (Wodak 2013a, 2013b) or by what Albertazzi labels ‘dramatization’, that is, ‘the
need to generate tension in order to build up support for the party […] by denouncing the
tragedies that would befall the community if it were to be deprived of its defences’ (2007,
335). Scandalization also implies manifold references to the allegedly charismatic leaders
of such parties, who construct themselves as knowledgeable, saviours, problem solvers and
crisis managers, which may lead voters to have more confidence in the effectiveness of the
politics of the populist right-wing (see Chapter 6).
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 11 25-Aug-15 4:58:02 PM
12
The Polics of Fear
Of course, politics, media and business have always, to some degree, been interdependent.12
The aforementioned changes have recently led to a further blurring of the boundaries between
entertainment and information as well as between private and public domains, between mar-
keting, advertising and campaigning, between politicians and celebrities and so forth (Higgins
2008; Street 2010); a blurring of boundaries, in other words, that used to be seen as vital and
essential to the structure of modern, democratic societies. Wodak (2011a, 157) has described
this process as the fictionalization of politics, that is, ‘the blurring of boundaries in politics
between the real and the fictional, the informative and the entertaining’ that creates a real-
ity for the viewer which appears ordered and manageable – and thus presents a deceptively
simple illusion in contrast to the very real complexity and pluralism of present-day societies.
Moreover, Hay (2007) contends that public discontent with contemporary politics (on which
the rise of populist parties partly rests) has led not to a decrease but to an increase in what is
expected of politicians; most parties have responded to these increased expectations by reduc-
ing an increasingly complex world to media-savvy personalities and their simplistic slogans.
Criticism directed at mainstream programmes and content is routinely responded to by admit-
ting that ‘things have not been communicated well’ or even ‘not sold well’ in the diction of the
parties themselves and by asserting that the only thing that needs to be improved is commu-
nication (by implication via the media) (Hansson 2015). Although Karvonen (2010) stresses
major differences in the amounts and modes of personalization and performativity across EU
member states, the case of the FPÖ is a telling example of this tendency.
Current analyses also stress the transformation of discourses and performances of political
action and their representation in contemporary Europe in terms of the celebrity culture in
the political field.13 For example, beginning in the early 1990s, the Austrian politician Jörg
Haider changed the character of the political game in significant ways (Krzyżanowski and
Wodak 2009). The former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (Mancini 2011; Semino and
Koller 2009) exemplified this new type of political leader in Italy. The way the tension between
extraordinariness and being ‘one of us’ (i.e. being ‘authentic’) was cleverly managed by Haider
on frontstage and further developed by his successor, HC Strache (as he is branded), in many
different publics and genres, from television interviews to snippets caught on video while danc-
ing in a disco, from pamphlets and manifestos to posters and comic booklets, all of which are
accessible on HC Strache’s homepage14 and disseminated via Facebook15 (see Chapter 6).
Media democracies and the hybridity of political and everyday practices imply an increase
in quasi-informality and ‘democratisation’, arguably also in ‘politics as usual’ (Wodak 2011a).
Indeed, following Alexander (2006), the symbolic dimension of ‘doing politics’ must be
understood as central to all efforts of a politician’s performance, in the media, at election ral-
lies, in parliament, at press conferences and so forth (Forchtner et al. 2013). While Alexander
is certainly not the first scholar to emphasize the symbolic dimension of politics, his approach
reaches further than both Edelman (1967) and Goffman (1959) in their focus on the sym-
bolic dimensions of frontstage performance.16 Alexander not only stresses the need to create
a collective representation which is attractive to, and resonates with, the audience in elec-
tion campaigns (and beyond), he also emphasizes that these performances must hook into the
background culture, symbols, narratives and myths of the respective society in order to be
successful. In other words, if such symbolic practices are supposed to resonate, they have to
draw on and mobilize a common cultural structure, via appeals to common knowledge of epis-
temic communities, to the endoxa by using presuppositions, insinuations and other pragmatic
devices as well as specific argumentation schemes. The details of the linguistic, rhetorical and
argumentative analysis of right-wing populist text and talk will be examined in Chapter 3.
Vignette 1 serves as an introduction to the analysis of the micro-politics of right-wing populist
politics of denial, as typically performed in media debates and interviews.
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 12 25-Aug-15 4:58:02 PM
13
Populism and Polics: Transgressing Norms and Taboos
VIGNETTE 1
THE POLITICS OF DENIAL:THERE IS
NO STAR OF DAVID’
On 18 August 2012, the leader of the FPÖ, HC Strache, posted a caricature on Facebook
(Image 1.1) which recontextualized an American caricature from 1962 (Image 1.2) into a cari-
cature which obviously alluded to antisemitic caricatures from the Nazi era that were published
daily in the 1930s in the infamous German newspaper Der Stürmer. After the – predictable –
scandal had erupted over explicit antisemitic features of the caricature, most newspapers in
Austria and Germany published editorials and news reports about this incident; Strache was
also interviewed on television on 20 August 2012;17 he first denied having altered the original
caricature; he then denied that the stars visible on the cufflinks of the banker were Stars of
David; and finally he categorically denied any resemblances to antisemitic caricatures.
(Connued)
Image 1.1 Caricature posted by HC Strache on Facebook, 18 August 2012
Image 1.2 American caricature, 1962
The explicit differences between Images 1.1 and 1.2 are easy to detect: the nose of the sweat-
ing and greedily eating banker had been changed to a crooked, so-called ‘Jewish nose’ and
the cufflinks had been decorated with the Star of David. These two changes both insinuate,
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 13 25-Aug-15 4:58:03 PM
14
The Polics of Fear
By making these changes and posting the altered caricature with an extended comment
(see Image 1.1), Strache utilized the theme of the financial crisis in at least three ways:
first, to accuse the government of wrong policies and of submitting to the EU; second,
to create a scapegoat that can be blamed for current woes by triggering traditional anti-
semitic stereotypes of world conspiracy and powerful Jewish bankers and capitalists; and
third, to provoke a scandal and thus attract media attention and set the news agenda.
The caricature is accompanied by a text panel on the right that explains the caricature
in some detail and accuses the government of selling out to EU policies and foreign
punters. This insinuates some other well-known anti-Jewish stereotypes: the world con-
spiracy and the Jewish capitalist. I will return to this text and its role in the scandal below.
The ‘Facebook incident’, as I like to refer to the lengthy scandal surrounding the posting
of the antisemitic caricature, will be employed to demonstrate several aims through-
out this book: it introduces readers to the typical rhetorical strategies of provocation,
calculated ambivalence and denial; it emphasizes the power of digital media in their
use of traditional genres and the rapid spiral of scandalization; moreover, this example
illustrates the importance of an in-depth and context-sensitive, multi-layered analysis
when trying to understand and explain the dynamics of right-wing populist propaganda
and manipulation.
The dialogue below is taken from the beginning of a television interview from 22
August 2012 (i.e. four days aer the caricature was posted) on ORF II (ZIB 2; Austrian
Broadcasng Company, daily news programme at 10 p.m.), and illustrates perfectly the
polics of denial propagated by HC Strache (AW is Armin Wolf, anchor-man on the main
Austrian news programme ZIB II; HCS is Strache).18
(Connued)
Image 1.3 Details of the ‘greedy banker’
and resonate with, images of the Nazi past, with the stereotypical image of ‘the ugly Jewish
banker’ who exploits the poor (metonymically embodied by the image of a poor worker from
the 1960s) and patronises the government that tries to ingratiate itself with the powerful and
rich Jew by serving him an opulent meal and pouring wine. Image 1.3 shows this in detail.
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 14 25-Aug-15 4:58:03 PM
15
Populism and Polics: Transgressing Norms and Taboos
(Connued)
[1] AW Now, last week you managed once again to make it into internaonal
[2] AW
headlines, and you did it by using this caricature, which you posted
HCS Hmhm
[3] AW on your Facebook page. The Zeit,
HCS Hmhm
[4] AW a respected German weekly newspaper, refers to this as ‘ansemic
[5] AW provocaon’, the Spiegel refers to is as ‘a picture, just as in mes of NS-
[6] AW propaganda’, and even the BBC reported on it. Are you
[7] AW proud of that?
HCS No. This is absolute nonsense! I got
[8] AW You did
HCS this, um, caricature, um, shared by a user
Text 1.1
After asking HC Strache whether he is now ‘proud’ of being discussed in so many serious
newspapers and radio stations across Europe (Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, the BBC), Strache utters
his first denial (lines 7–9), an act-denial:19 ‘No, this is absolute nonsense, I got this caricature
shared by a user. Anchor-man Armin Wolf immediately falsifies this claim and shows that
Strache actually posted this caricature himself by pointing to a print-out of the relevant Face-
book page (line 9). Strache then concedes that he first said something wrong and starts – by
way of justification – to explain the caricature as illustrating the unfair and unjust redistri-
bution of money taken away from the Austrian people. Here, Wolf interrupts in line 16 and
qualifies the bankers as Jews (‘who are Jews in your caricature’). At this point, the second
round of denials starts and Strache says (lines 16–19):
Text 1.2
[16] HCS No, no, they are not,
AW What then?
[17] HCS Mister Wolf. And, um, with all due respect, I have
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 15 25-Aug-15 4:58:03 PM
16
The Polics of Fear
Via a well-known disclaimer (‘I have many Israeli, Jewish friends’), Strache denies that the
caricature should or even could be read as antisemitic, a typical intention-denial: the fal-
lacious argument (post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy) is obvious: if his many Jewish friends
do not classify the caricature as antisemitic, it cannot be antisemitic. Such disclaimers are
widely used to prove that an utterance cannot be categorized as racist, sexist or antisemitic
because ‘Turkish, Arabic, female or Jewish friends’ share the speaker’s or writers’ opinions.
Moreover, the justification implies that if one has Jewish friends, then one is incapable of
saying something antisemitic (see Wodak et al. 1990 for the analysis of similar fallacious
argumentative moves).
Aer this unsuccessful denial, Wolf points to the Stars of David on the cuinks and
asks who might have put them there if not Strache himself. In his third aempt to deny
wrongdoing and ansemic stereotypes, Strache refuses to recognize the Star of David
on the cuinks (lines 23, 24) and starts a counter-aack with an ad-hominem argument:
he claims that Wolf obviously cannot see well, his glasses are probably not strong enough;
even if one would magnify the cuinks, Strache further claims, no Star of David would be
visible. Wolf then shows a Star of David he has brought with him to the studio and asks
Strache if he can spot any similarity (line 32); Strache denies again and states that the
picture on the cuinks is blurred and that there is no star but actually something like a
diamond. Aer this h (act) denial, he refers to his ‘Jewish friends’ again who, Stra che
claims, believe that somebody is intenonally conspiring against him. In this way, Stra-
che accuses the media and the public of conspiring against him by quong his ‘Jewish
friends’ – another typical juscaon strategy: claiming vicmhood via vicm–perpetrator
reversal. Wolf connues his line of quesoning and asks Strache why he apparently nds
it impossible to simply apologize for posng such a caricature and why he would rather
use a strategy of vicm–perpetrator reversal instead of an apology. Strache answers by
repeang his denials: there is no Star of David; the caricature is not ansemic (this
staccato-like queson–answer sequence connues for several minutes).
(Connued)
Text 1.3
[20] AW
Mister Strache …
HCS in this. If you see something else in this,
[21] HCS um, then, um, you have to ask yourself the queson, why do you want to see
[22] AW Because you have three Stars of David here. Because you put three
HCS something else in this, because there is no ansemism
[18] HCS many Israeli, but also Jewish friends, who
[19] HCS have, um, seen this caricature, and not one of them can recognise ansemism
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 16 25-Aug-15 4:58:03 PM
17
Populism and Polics: Transgressing Norms and Taboos
(Connued)
[23] AW Stars of David here, or someone put them there …
HCS That is incorrect, Mister Wolf.
[24] AW No? You do not see three Stars of David here.
HCS
Well … No, maybe you should have the
[25] AW Yes
HCS strength of your glasses checked, if you magnify this picture,
[26] AW Yes Really? Okay. We did
HCS you can see no Stars of David. Yeah.
[27] AW magnify the picture, Mister Strache. We did
HCS
I can show you, too, yes.
[28] AW
magnify the picture and you cannot see any Stars of David here?
HCS Exactly. Yes. Yes. No,
[29] AW
Mister Strache, you don’t see any Stars of David?
HCS there are no Stars of David to be seen, because …
[30] AW Mister Strache, I also brought you
HCS No! There are no Stars of David to be seen here.
[31] AW a Star of David for comparison. And
HCS Yes.… and this picture That is one! Yeah? No, that is
[32] AW there are not three Stars of David here?
HCS one. No, that’s a star with connuous
[33] AW Good.
HCS lines, there is no way you can see that with that blurry picture.
In line 74, Wolf shifts to the meta-level and frames the entire discussion as a provocation
strategy intentionally triggered by Strache to attract media attention. This interpretation is,
not surprisingly, again denied by Strache (a goal-denial). The interview continues with other
questions about Strache’s programme for the autumn 2012.
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 17 25-Aug-15 4:58:03 PM
18
The Polics of Fear
(Connued)
After the interview, many commentators accused Armin Wolf of having been too ‘strict’ on
Strache; some newspapers like the widely read tabloid Neue Kronenzeitung wrote that the
line of questioning had been unfair and not acceptable for this kind of interview genre; oth-
ers equated the interview style with a tribunal or an interrogation.20 These media comments
show that Strache had obviously been quite successful in constructing himself as victim on
the one hand and as a saviour of the Austrian people on the other hand, by telling the Aus-
trians the ‘truth’ about the economic crisis, by discovering the causes of the crisis (allegedly,
the ‘Jewish banker’) and by thus providing a scapegoat that everybody could blame for the
crisis. However, simultaneously, the state prosecutor started to investigate whether the Face-
book incident could be persecuted as hate incitement. In April 2013, the court decided that
Strache’s posting could not be regarded as a case of hate incitement – I will come back to
this verdict in the final chapter of the book as the outcome of this investigation cannot be
regarded as unique or exceptional. In fact, it is quite typical for the ways in which courts of
Text 1.4
[70] HCS regarding that nose, I have already seen worse caricatures of my own
[71] HCS there we, I can only think of Mister Sinowatz or as a
[72] HCS neighbour, as a polical neighbour, um, Mister Khol, or possibly
[73] HCS Mister Konrad as a comparison, but certainly not what you
[74] AW Well. Mister Strache, is it possible that you are
HCS are trying to create here.
[75] AW in reality quite pleased with the situaon? Well,
HCS
No, I am not pleased at all!
[76] AW well, you have once again created a lapse to provoke, the
HCS Quite the contrary. Yes, yes.
[77] AW
outrage is enormous, um, not only in Austria, but also internaonally,
[78] AW
and you can once again present yourself as the poor and the persecuted, now
[79] AW you are the vicm, suddenly, and can enjoy the headlines.
HCS Yes, yes.
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 18 25-Aug-15 4:58:03 PM
19
Populism and Polics: Transgressing Norms and Taboos
law deal with right-wing populist discriminatory and exclusionary rhetoric. In short, the lack
of legal consequences seems to confirm that ‘anything goes’.
By systemacally employing genres such as caricatures and comic books to convey
xenophobic and ansemic messages, right-wing populist pares cleverly play with the c-
onalizaon of polics and frequently argue that no discriminatory message was intended
as such genres play with humour and are inherently ironic or even sarcasc (Wodak and
Forchtner 2014). The blurring of boundaries between con and reality, caricature and
image, or between comic book plot and historical narrave is one of many ways of staging the
strategy of calculated ambivalence, thus simultaneously addressing mulple audiences with –
frequently contradictory – messages (Wodak 2013b; Engel and Wodak 2013; Wodak and
Reisigl 2002). Facebook potenally adds to this strategy at least in one way: denying having
posted the incriminatory content oneself and using the (seeming) anonymity of the Internet.
The Right-wing Populist Perpetuum Mobile
Of course, as already mentioned above, the rise of right-wing populist movements in recent years
would not have been possible without massive media support, inadvertent as it may have been in
many cases. This does not imply that all newspapers share the same positions, although naturally
some tabloids do. For example, the former leader of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), Jörg
Haider, frequently appeared on the cover of weekly magazines such as News or Profil, thereby
ensuring higher sales for these publications but at the same time adding to his visibility in the
public sphere. The Austrian tabloid Neue Kronenzeitung, similar to the Sun or the Daily Mail
but with a larger outreach in relation to the country’s population (approx. three million Sunday
readers in a country of eight million), campaigned for Haider both explicitly and implicitly:
headlines, editorials, images and letters to the editor were all streamlined to provide support.
Right-wing populist politicians, as illustrated by Vignette 1, intentionally provoke scan-
dals by violating publicly accepted norms (Köhler and Wodak 2011; Wodak 2013a, 2013b).
In this way, the media are forced into a ‘no-win’ situation: if they do not report a scandalous
racist remark or insinuation, such as Strache’s caricature, they might be perceived as endors-
ing it. If they do write about it, they explicitly reproduce the prejudicial utterance, thereby
further disseminating it. If they critically interview the politician, they give him/her more
face time and an opportunity for perpetrator–victim reversal. This triggers a predictable
dynamic which allows right-wing populist parties to set the agenda and distract the media
(and the public) from other important news.
This dynamic consists of several stages which I refer to as ‘The right-wing populist
perpetuum mobile’: this implies that such parties and politicians have developed discur-
sive and rhetorical strategies which combine incompatible phenomena, make false claims
sound innocent, allow denying the obvious, say the ‘unsayable’, and transcend the limits of
the permissible. Usually, they get away without being sanctioned and, even if they have to
apologize, they do so in a calculated and ambivalent way (see Chapter 3). Rarely do they
have to resign and, even if they do, some of them seem to ‘bounce back’ quite quickly.
The specific dynamic is easily deconstructed:
• First, scandal (e.g. the posting of the antisemitic caricature) is intentionally provoked
by the FPÖ.
• Once evidence for the inherently racist meaning is produced by the opposition, the
offensive meaning of the image is immediately denied (intention and goal denials);
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 19 25-Aug-15 4:58:03 PM
20
The Polics of Fear
• then the scandal is redefined and equated with entirely different phenomena (by rede-
fining and reformulating the meaning of concepts or by employing analogies and
metaphors, or by constructing contrasts or arguing via topoi of history). In Vignette 1,
the FPÖ employed the discursive strategy of calculated ambivalence and succeeded
in conveying a double-message – readers could either share the opinion that any sim-
ilarity with an antisemitic caricature was utterly coincidental, or they could share the
antisemitic meanings insinuated by the crooked nose and the particular cufflinks.
• This strategy allows, as a further step, the respective politician to claim victimhood as he
or she is accused of racism or antisemitism by the opposition and some media.
• The event is then dramatized and exaggerated, that is, the FPÖ/Strache claims to
have been wrongly accused of having posted a racist or antisemitic slogan.
• Furthermore, the politician could emphasize the right of freedom of speech for himself
as a justificatory strategy: ‘Why can one not utter critique?’, or ‘One must be permitted
to criticize Turks, Roma, Muslims, Jews …!’ or ‘We dare say what everybody thinks’
and so forth. Such utterances immediately shift the frame and trigger another debate
unrelated to the original scandal – about freedom of speech and political correctness,
and thus serve as a distraction and allow evasion of the primary scandalous issue.
• Moreover, the accusation is instrumentalized for the construction of a conspiracy:
somebody must be ‘pulling the strings’ against the original culprit of the scandal, and
scapegoats (foreigners, liberal intellectuals, the Jewish Community, the opposition,
etc.) are quickly discovered.
• Once the thus accused finally have a chance to present substantial counter-evidence,
a new scandal is launched.
• A ‘quasi-apology’ might follow in case ‘misunderstandings’ should have occurred,
an apology based on a condition that is presented as unlikely, even surreal: by apolo-
gizing for other people’s misunderstanding (rather than for one’s own ambiguity), the
apology is rendered a farce; and the entire process begins afresh with a new scandalous
utterance, again an instance of calculated ambivalence.
This pattern illustrates how right-wing populist parties cleverly manage to set the agenda
and frame media debates; other political parties and politicians as well as the media are, in
turn, forced to react and respond continuously to ever new provocations. Few opportunities
remain to present other frames, values and counterarguments, or any other relevant agenda.
As a consequence, mainstream politics moves more and more to the right and the public
becomes disillusioned, de-politicized and ‘tired’ of ever new scandals; hence, right-wing
populist rhetoric necessarily becomes ever more explicit and extreme and continuously
attracts further attention.
Constructing a ‘Politics of Fear
After having presented a typical example of the ‘politics of denial’, it is worth summarizing
the various characteristics of right-wing populist parties introduced in this chapter. I propose
nine features, which are, I claim, common to most if not all right-wing populist parties (see
also Wodak 2013a; Reisigl 2013) and which will be discussed in the following chapters in
greater detail.21
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Populism and Polics: Transgressing Norms and Taboos
• Right-wing populism is based on a generalized claim to represent ‘THE people in the
sense of a homogenised ideal based on nativist ideologies, thus on traditional body
politics. The construction of these groups is contingent on many historical, national
and socio-political factors. This dogma is accompanied by a revisionist view of history.
The rhetoric of exclusion has become part and parcel of a much more general discourse
about strangers within and outside the ‘body’, that is, the nation state. Such minorities
include the Roma and the Jews on the one hand and migrants on the other, following the
overall motto: ‘We’ (i.e. the Occident or Christian Europe) have to defend ‘Ourselves
against ‘Them’ (i.e. the ‘Orient’: Roma, Jews, Muslims). Right-wing populist movements
are based on a specific understanding of the ‘demos/people’, thus denying complexity
within society. These parties continuously construct themselves as the ‘saviours of the
Occident’ who defend the man/woman on the street against both ‘those up there’ and ‘the
Barbarians’ who might take away ‘Austrian (British, Dutch, Belgian, Italian) jobs from
Austrian (British, Dutch, Belgian, Italian) workers’ and who ‘do not want to integrate
and adapt to our culture’. Similar slogans employing parallel scenarios abound.
• Right-wing populism22 employs a political style that can relate to various ideologies,
not just to one. We encounter left-wing and right-wing populist parties; the difference
relates to the political imaginaries they put forward as well as to the parties’ struc-
tures and recruitment patterns.
• Right-wing populism cuts across the traditional left/right divide and constructs new
social divides, frequently related to many, sometimes legitimate and justified, fears
about globalization and the subsequent rise of nationalism and chauvinism, the fail-
ure of current mainstream parties to address acute social problems, like the financial
crisis and so forth.
• Right-wing populist parties’ success depends on performance strategies in modern
media democracies. This implies extensive use of the media (press and television,
new media such as comics, homepages, websites, Facebook, Twitter and so forth).
Moreover, right-wing populist politicians are usually well trained as media person-
alities, and have frequently transformed a ‘thug-like’ appearance into that of a ‘slick’
mainstream politician: they appear youthful, handsome, fit and well dressed. In short,
they assume the habitus of serious but young, involved and approachable statesmen
and stateswomen. This image transformation is not always successful. Mainstream
parties in particular often find it difficult to adopt similar strategies (as they do with
the use of new media).
• The personalization and commodification of current politics and politicians lead to a
focus on ‘charismatic’ leaders; right-wing populist parties usually have a hierarchical
structure with (male) leaders who exploit modern trends of the political profession to
perfection.23 Recently, female leaders have also come to the fore (in France, Denmark,
Norway and the US).
• Leading populist politicians employ frontstage performance techniques that are
linked to popular celebrity culture (well-known from tabloids and sensationalist
media reporting): They oscillate between self-presentations as a Robin Hood-like
figure (i.e. saviour of ‘the man and woman in the street’, ‘defender of the common
people’) and self-presentations as ‘rich, famous and/or attractive’ (i.e. an ‘idol’ to
aspire to), frequently leading to a ‘softer’ image, adapted to mainstream values,
but only on frontstage. Hence, such politicians carefully prepare their appearance
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 21 25-Aug-15 4:58:03 PM
22
The Polics of Fear
and performances for different audiences; their rhetoric and programmatic pro-
posals are heavily context-dependent. This implies a specific selection of meeting
places (beer tents, pubs, stages, market places, discos, and the so-called ‘tea-parties’
in the US), the clothes they wear (from suits to casual leather jackets, T-shirts or
folklore dress), their selection of spin-doctors and accompanying ‘performers’ on
stage, the music, posters and logos on display and so forth.
• Right-wing populism usually correlates with anti-intellectualism and, as a result,
with what I term arrogance of ignorance. Appeals to common-sense and traditional
(conservative) values linked to aggressive exclusionary rhetoric are, for example,
particularly apparent in some parts of the US Tea Party movement, performed and
instrumentalized almost ‘perfectly’ by politicians such as Sarah Palin or Michelle
Bachmann.
• Linked to anti-Muslim rhetoric and campaigns, right-wing populist parties currently
endorse pseudo-emancipatory gender policies which, on second view, are extremely
contradictory; in this vein, the US Republicans claim, for example, to support a
so-called ‘right-wing feminism’ (‘frontier-feminism’), which links feminist values
to traditional family values and campaigns against pro-choice movements. Thus,
on the one hand, traditional family values are emphasized (which position women
primarily as mothers, caring for children and their families); on the other hand,
although ‘freedom for women’ is propagated, this refers solely to Muslim women,
who are depicted as wearing headscarves or burqas not by choice but by oppression.
Gender becomes instrumentalized and linked to rhetoric of exclusion, for example,
the exclusion of Turkish migrants. The so-called ‘freedom’ of women is contrasted
with fundamentalist Islam, which presupposes that every woman wearing a head-
scarf is at the same time suppressed and potentially dangerous in terms of terrorism.
The theme of security is thus easily linked to the so-called ‘freedom of women’ by
what is perceived as their common ‘root of evil’.
• There is a distinct difference between populist styles and rhetoric in opposition
and in government. Few right-wing populist parties maintain their strength or
survive if elected into government because they lack the necessary experience,
programmes, strategies and skills. In the Netherlands, for example, the extreme
right lost immediately once they formed part of the second chamber in the Dutch
government (2002–2006) after the assassination of Pim Fortuyn on 6 May 2002.
Endnotes
1 These terms were primarily used in the 19th and 20th centuries to describe the ‘people’
from a racist and biological/biologistic perspective, i.e. nativist. Ultimately, these terms
were salient in national-socialist ideology and propaganda and directed primarily against
so-called ‘parasites’ who were allegedly threatening the ‘host-body’, i.e. Jews, Slavs,
homosexuals and Roma (see Musolff, 2010, for an extensive discussion and discourse-
historical analysis of these terms and related metaphors of body-politic).
2 See Feldman and Jackson (2013), Gingrich and Banks (2006), Harrison and Bruter
(2011), Mudde and Kaltwasser (2012), Sir Peter Ustinov Institut et al. (2013), Wilson and
Hainsworth (2012), Wodak et al. (2013).
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 22 25-Aug-15 4:58:03 PM
23
Populism and Polics: Transgressing Norms and Taboos
3 For example www.news.at/a/anschlaege-norwegen-fpoe-hetzt-302711, accessed 3 May 2013.
4 See e.g. Krzyżanowski and Wodak (2009), Matouschek et al. (1995), Pelinka and Wodak
(2002), Reisigl (2013), Wodak and Pelinka (2002) for more details. It is important to
emphasize at this point that right-wing populist parties have appeared and gained much
support in the former Eastern Bloc countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and
Romania (Dettke 2014). Unlike their counterparts in ‘the West’, they find it less difficult
to promote explicit xenophobic, antisemitic and antiziganist messages (see Chapters 2, 4
and 8). They also draw on traditional antisemitic beliefs shared widely across the
population, but these differ in their quality and explicitness from antisemitic resentments
in the UK or France, e.g. where opinions about hegemonic Israeli politics are always
integrated into debates about Jews (thus sometimes also insinuating world-conspiracy
themes) (see Kovács 2013; Mãdroane 2013).
5 Political imaginaries are defined as being in a ‘landscape of power as a space of political
action signified in visual and iconographic practices and objects as well as in the literary-
textual field that depicts the political scene, its structure, and its stakes’ (Bob Jessop,
personal communication, 10 February 2010).
6 See the Glossary for important facts related to all right-wing populist parties.
7 See www.statista.com/statistics/266228/youth-unemployment-rate-in-eu-countries/
8 Recent studies define and frequently analyse populism in terms of metaphors such as a
‘virus’, ‘syndrome’ or ‘modern problem’ (Taggart 2000; Taguieff 1984) or characterize
populism as ‘anti-democratic’, ‘anti-parliamentary’ or as a ‘dangerous excess’ (Mény and
Surel 2002). These accounts do not, however, directly contribute to a differentiated analysis
of this complex phenomenon.
9 See also Latin popularis, referring to the ‘people’ (Latin populus; in French populaire,
18th century, which led to the German populär – which differs in meaning from ‘populist’)
(Kluge 1999, 641).
10 See www.dissentmagazine.org/online.php?id=551.
11 See De Cleen (2012), Fieschi (2004), Wodak and Richardson (2013) as well as Richardson
and Wodak (2009a, 2009b).
12 See Bourdieu (1999, 2005), Chouliaraki and Morsing (2010).
13 See Corner and Pels (2003), Forchtner et al. (2013), Street (2004), Wodak (2010, 2011a)
as well as Wodak and Forchtner (2014) for more details on the fictionalization of
politics.
14 See www.hcstrache.at/, accessed 2 May 2013.
15 See Horaczek and Reiterer (2009), Köhler and Wodak (2011), Reisigl (2013), Scharsach
(2012), Wodak (2013a, 2013b), Wodak and Köhler (2010) and Wodak and Reisigl (2014)
for recent detailed studies and research on the FPÖ and HC Strache.
16 See Wodak (2011a, 14ff, 32ff, 190ff) for a summary and integrated model of frontstage and
backstage political communication where I draw primarily on identity theories, Bourdieu’s
theory of habitus and capitals, Goffman’s metaphor of theatre and performance, and Lave
and Wenger’s approach to communities of practice.
17 See http://derstandard.at/1345164507078/Streit-um-antisemitisches-Bild-auf-Strache-Seite,
accessed 12 March 2015.
18 The transcription here follows rudimentary transcription rules developed for conversations.
Such a transcription allows following the dynamic of the conversation and presents all
voices as they interact, overlap and interrupt each other. This is a simplified presentation of
the full transcript, which follows the HIAT rules for transcriptions.
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 23 25-Aug-15 4:58:03 PM
24
The Polics of Fear
19 See Chapter 3 for an extensive discussion of denials, justification strategies and disclaimers
(van Dijk 1992).
20 See http://derstandard.at/1345165340089/Strache-Interview-im-Weichspuelmodus.
The Kleine Zeitung commented on how Strache had succeeded in presenting himself
as victim: www.kleinezeitung.at/nachrichten/politik/2936602/opferumkehr-des-h-c-
strache.story; other politicians were angry about Strache’s attacks on his former mentor
Jörg Haider and so forth: www.heute.at/news/politik/art23660,763710. In any case, the
interview (and the provocation via the Facebook incident) proved to be agenda-setting
(all links accessed 5 May 2013).
21 Reisigl (2013, 145–6) lists five relevant dimensions that coincide with some of the nine
aspects listed above – but he does not yet consider the important and constitutive role
of ‘(gendered) body politics’ in enough detail (see Chapters 4 and 7 in this volume). He
proposes two dimensions as overriding all other aspects: the use of synecdoche and the use
of the topos of ‘people’, i.e. the argumentum ad populum. De Cleen (2013) emphasizes
four dimensions, where populism marks one of the four, the others being nationalism,
authoritarianism and conservatism. There are, of course, other taxonomies as well. I will
come to a more detailed discussion of a range of theoretical approaches in Chapter 2.
22 I prefer the term ‘right-wing populism’ to both ‘radical’ and ‘extreme right-wing
populism’, as these superlatives are a question of relative scale and perception.
23 Silvio Berlusconi is an obvious case in point, due to his ownership of almost all the
relevant Italian media.
01_Wodak_Ch 01.indd 24 25-Aug-15 4:58:03 PM
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Transgressing Norms and Taboos 3 For example www.news.at/a/anschlaege-norwegen-fpoe-hetzt-302711
  • Politics Populism
Populism and Politics: Transgressing Norms and Taboos 3 For example www.news.at/a/anschlaege-norwegen-fpoe-hetzt-302711, accessed 3 May 2013.
Recent studies define and frequently analyse populism in terms of metaphors such as a 'virus', 'syndrome' or 'modern problem Taguieff 1984) or characterize populism as 'anti-democratic', 'anti-parliamentary' or as a 'dangerous excess
  • See Www Statista
See www.statista.com/statistics/266228/youth-unemployment-rate-in-eu-countries/ 8 Recent studies define and frequently analyse populism in terms of metaphors such as a 'virus', 'syndrome' or 'modern problem' (Taggart 2000; Taguieff 1984) or characterize populism as 'anti-democratic', 'anti-parliamentary' or as a 'dangerous excess' (Mény and Surel 2002). These accounts do not, however, directly contribute to a differentiated analysis of this complex phenomenon.
14ff, 32ff, 190ff) for a summary and integrated model of frontstage and backstage political communication where I draw primarily on identity theories, Bourdieu's theory of habitus and capitals, Goffman's metaphor of theatre and performance, and Lave and Wenger's approach to communities of practice
  • See Wodak
See Wodak (2011a, 14ff, 32ff, 190ff) for a summary and integrated model of frontstage and backstage political communication where I draw primarily on identity theories, Bourdieu's theory of habitus and capitals, Goffman's metaphor of theatre and performance, and Lave and Wenger's approach to communities of practice.
  • See Corner
See Corner and Pels (2003), Forchtner et al. (2013), Street (2004), Wodak (2010, 2011a) as well as Wodak and Forchtner (2014) for more details on the fictionalization of politics.