The Short March into Radical Right-Wing Populism. Structural Conditions as Reason for the Political Shift of the AfD

Seminararbeit, 2018
18 Seiten, Note: 1,0
Maximilian Hohenstedt (Autor)


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Main section
2.1 Analysis grid: anti-establishment, populism, right wing and radicalism
2.2 Organic radicalization: The structural change by direct networks

3 Conclusion

4 References

5 List of abbreviations and signs:

1 Introduction

The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is the most successful new-founded party on federal level in Germany since the 1950s (Niedermayer 2015: 175). Being a single-issue-eurosceptical party in 2013, as widely accepted in political science because of the focus to the european financial policy and the german role in it (Schärdel 2017: 77f; Schmitt-Beck 2014: 97; Grimm 2015: 272), the AfD changed in the next years to a radical right-wing populist party (RRPP), as it will get expounded. Presented as centrist populist party (CPP) (Učeň 2007: 54) the AfD came with the success in a state of radicalization onto right, turning the “Professoren-Partei” into the “Wutbürger-Partei” (Seils 2015). At the beginning, the party was active in an economist-liberal manner to deny the “there is no alternative (TINA)”-policy in terms of the european financial safety net (EFSN), framing the european financial crisis as “euro-crisis” and the EFSN as “barrel without ground”. Later, the party picked up early the migration-issue and turned itself step by step into a RRPP by framing successful the migration-issue as “loss of control” instead of “task and chance” (Vowe 2017: 16). The question of this work is: Why shifted the AfD itself onto the radical right-wing populism between 2013 and 2017? It will be shown, that AfD changed itself through the change of issues which is reasoned in the close responsivity to their followers reasoned in the structural construction of a new populist party. It will be the aim to illustrate, that the use of the new social media (NSM) beside the media strategy formed this trend onto RRP. So, the shift to the RRP was mainly a result of structural conditions, not only of consequent efforts of political entrepreneurs. The close direct responsivity to possible followers via NSM became the reason of the choice of the migration-issue and together with AfDs strategy of political communication, this brought the party step by step onto the radical right.

The societal relevance is given by the fact, that the number of centrist populist parties (CPP) (Učeň 2007: 54) in Europe are growing and this relatively new trend is a danger for democracy insofar, if an CPP turns into a RRPP with the credibility of moderate reformists. What, if Macrons en marche would march onto the radical right? The structural problems of new AEP, the needed close responsivity and the pool of dissapointed national-conservatives and frustrated right-wing-neoliberals is a combination, which could came together in many european countries. In political science, this issue is relevant, because of the open discussion of the reasons for the shift of many populist movements and parties to the right. While left-wing populism is in decline, right-wing populism is growing (Priester 2017: 50). This work will contribute its part to answer the question of why this is happening and if CPP are more likely to shift onto right. Furthermore in political science there is no clear consensus about the points, at which one could situate the AfD as which kind of party (AEP,AERP, CPP, RPP and RRPP or even right extreme) (Decker/ Neu 2018: 166-167). This work will contribute proposals for this.

To answer the question, at first it is important, to introduce an analysis grid of the used terms. In this chapter, there will be also shown, that AfD at beginning was a CPP and at which points it turned into what kind of party. After a brief overview to the problems and tasks of new parties, the role of political communication and the NSM within it will get examined. After this, the process of radicalization of the AfD will be explained based on its vigorously use of NSM (radicalization by responsivity) and its media strategy (radicalization by scandalizing and radicalization by auto-victimizing). Finally, the results will get summed up. By this, the structural conditioned chain shall get unraveled, which is causing the radicalization process beyond personal power struggles, which are result, but not reason of this shift onto the right. Strong responsivity via NSM caused issue decisions, benefiting the national-conservative wing and media strategic decisions, promoting more radical streams. The therefore constructed party affiliation outside the mainstream as “pariah-party” additionally boosted the radical forces.

2 Main section

2.1 Analysis grid: anti-establishment, populism, right wing and radicalism

It will be aim in the next subchapters to show a typology of the given terms, putting AEP and populist parties (PP) as two entities on the top, AERP as subtype of AEP without Populism and CPP as hybrid-subtype between AEP and PP side by side on the next level. In this level are also as subtypes of PP left-wing populist parties and RPP. One further level below would be RRPP as continuation of RPP and so on.

Anti-establishment parties (AEP):

AEP are not synonymous to populist parties, as stated by diverse political scientists (Jagers/ Walgrave 2007: 324; Hanley/ Sikk 2016: 523; Pytlas 2017: 4). The conceptual difference of AEP and populist parties is defined here by the definition of Abedi (“anti-political establishment parties”) in terms of the lacking of AEP to refer in terms of the “pure people” versus a “corrupt elite”, but AEP challenge as new parties the established ones and the major political system issues, viewing all established parties, whether in government or opposition as “the same” establishment, which is divided from the people (Abedi 2004: 12).

Implication: Therefore, the AfD will be seen as AEP from its beginning, since it was challenging all the others parties, treating them more or less as “one and the same” and it was challenging at least one major policy, the german “there is no alternative (TINA)”-policy to stabilize the Euro and the european financial system (Lewandowsky 2015: 119; Gäbler 2017: 6; Nestler/ Rohgalf: 390).

Anti-establishment reform parties (AERP) and centrist populist parties (CPP):

AERP will be seen in this work as as subtypes of AEP, which could also be a populist party (Abedi 2004: 12). AERP instead are defined as “mainstream reformism” parties, therefore lacking populist attitudes like “moralistic anti-political appeals” (Hanley/ Sikk 2016: 523). AERP has to be differentiated from CPP (Učeň 2007: 54), which are in some degree a hybrid between AEP and Populism. AERP are defined by organizational new “mainstream reformism”, which is going conform with liberal democracy and market economy, so that its anti-establishment appeal has to be seen in this moderate context (Hanley/ Sikk 2016: 523). CPP are not only AEP, but also populist in the “purest” form, only “lightly attached to more complex ideologies” and therefore moderate populists (Učeň 2007: 54), similar to the concept of “soft populism” (Ágh 2016: 24-25). So, CPP affirm the dichotomy between “people” and “elite”, but are neither left-wing nor right-wing oriented, inspired only by the opposition to the establishment.

Implication: In this differentiation, the AfD at the beginning has to be seen more as CPP than AERP, because it had populist attitudes exceeding its anti-party attitudes from beginning, following the analysis of AfD press releases by Franzmann (Franzmann 2018: 380, especially Abbildung 5).


Populism has a clear narrative in its manichean juxtaposition of the (true) people and a (corrupt) elite, the construction of an “us” versus a “them” in a vertical composition (Greven 2016: 1, Mudde 2004: 543). Therefore, populists claim to give this “cheated people” a voice and demand for example instruments of direct democracy (Greven 2016: 1). So, while AEP not necessarily has to address their message to “the people”, this point is essential for the thin concept of populism or in other words: All populist parties will use anti-establishment narratives but not all AEP will use populist narratives (Pytlas 2017: 4).

Right-wing populism (RP):

RP is adding to this “us” versus “them”-vertical a second antagonism of an “in-group” versus an “out-group” by considering the (true) people as cultural homogenous with a certain common sense in opposition to the cultural “others” (e.g. migrants, ethnic minorities) with another common sense, which are favored by the (“corrupt”) elites (ibid.).

Implication: In political science, scholars discussed very early, whether the AfD is just another eurosceptical AEP or a RPP. Franzmann wrote, that the AfD was from beginning similar to RPP, but not accordant (Franzmann 2014: 122). With the reminiscence to the first Council of Nicaea, 325 AD, this discussion could get closed by a compromise to call the AfD of 2013 whether as RPP nor not RPP, but similar in being with RP. In greek, only an Iota is differencing this words: ὁμοούσιος homooúsios (one in being, wesensgleich[1]) and ὁμο ι ούσιος homo i oúsios (similar in being, wesensähnlich), which means (very brief) in terms of the council of Nicea, that in the first case, Jesus and god are of the same essence and in the latter only similar, but not the same. So, one can conclude, that the AfD in 2013 is homoioúsios (wesensähnlich) with RPP, but not homooúsios (wesensgleich) with it. Though the shift onto the right-wing was fluent and there always has been a (radical) right-wing movement within the AfD, to find a caesura, the September 2015 after the rupture of the party in july 2015 will be taken as point of the clear approach of the AfD at the right-wing with the controversial Thesenpapier Asyl, released by the AfD, by which this second antagonism came clearly through (Rosenfelder 2017: 124, 140).

Radical right-wing populism (RRP):

RPP is rejecting additionally the established socio-cutural and socio-political system (Betz 1994: 4). So, RRP is rejecting individual and social equality, social integration of marginalized groups and shows xenophobian tendencies (ibid.). RRPP are showing a combination out of nativism and authoritarianism (Mudde 2013: 13). RRP needs to define an enemy stereotype, often taking immigrants and ethnic minorities, which are antagonists to the native population, so that RRP is vertical (people - elites) and horizontal (natives - stranger) exclusive (Grabow/ Hartleb 2013: 15-16). In parts of central and eastern europe, such parties are yet threatening the liberal fundaments and core principles of democracies e. g. protection of minorities, individual rights, freedom of speech (Smilov/ Krastev 2008: 9).

Implication: After the rupture of the AfD in july 2015 and the release of the Thesenpapier Asyl september 2015, the AfD came into a “hot phase” of radicalization, also fueled by the perpetuated election campaigns in the Landtage 2016 and 2017 and especially the election of the Bundestag 2017. One can see, that with the extension of the anti-migration-issue by the more polarizing anti-muslim-issue an enemy stereotype is given, together with nativistic welfare chauvinism (Marx/ Naumann 2018: 6-7) and authoritarian referring to autocratic leaders and statesmen like Vladimir Putin or Victor Orban (Pankratz 2016; AfD Kompakt 2017). As caesura (or final step) therefore will seen in this work the Bundesparteitag in Stuttgart 30.04.-01.05.2016, when the AfD passes their Grundsatzprogramm with explicit anti-muslim positions (e.g. “Der Islam gehört nicht nach Deutschland” (Alternative für Deutschland 2016: 49)).


[1] In german, there is also the term Fleisch vom Fleische, which is very similar to this terminology of homooúsios. But it was used more to describe the connection between AfD and CDU.

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The Short March into Radical Right-Wing Populism. Structural Conditions as Reason for the Political Shift of the AfD
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München  (Geschwister-Scholl-Institut)
Populist Parties and Anti-Establishment Politics across Europe
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
546 KB
Diese Arbeit entstand als Modul-Abschlussarbeit im Masterstudium in dem Seminar Populist Parties and Anti-Establishment Politics across Europe.
AfD, Deutschland, Germany, Populismus, Populism, Rechtspopulismus, right-wing populism, radical right-wing populism, structuralism, Strukturalismus, political shift, Rechtsschwenk, Anti-Establishment, Professoren-Partei, Wutbürger
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Maximilian Hohenstedt (Autor), 2018, The Short March into Radical Right-Wing Populism. Structural Conditions as Reason for the Political Shift of the AfD, München, GRIN Verlag,


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