Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz
Indybay Regions North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area California United States International Americas Haiti Iraq Palestine Afghanistan
From the Open-Publishing Calendar
From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Indybay Feature
Right-wing Populism: A Wave of Nostalgia
by Cornelia Koppetsch
Thursday Nov 1st, 2018 3:58 AM
For decades, western societies were marked by pluralization, individualization, and liberalization. Why are attitudes and pressures of society against these trends becoming dominant? Why are escalating inequalities leading to the rise of right-wing parties and not primarily to renewed capitalism criticism? Right-wing populism is anti-liberal.

The Academic Middle Class and the Illiberal Society

By Cornelia Koppetsch

[This article published on 8/23/2018 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet,]

For decades, western societies were marked by processes of pluralization, individualization and liberalization. Why are attitudes and pictures of society against these trends becoming dominant? Why have escalating inequalities led to the rise of right-wing protest movements and not primarily to strengthened capitalism criticism? This is different than the left predicted at the turn of the century.

The search for the causes of the rise of right-wing populism has advanced from a niche theme of political science to a main theme of contemporary social diagnoses. The most accepted explanation sees the ascent of right-wing populism as a return of the social question, a return of the “main contradiction.”

This view has recently been widely circulated. Growing inequalities and worsened economic exploitation neglected by academics in the course of equal opportunities for women and minorities penetrated social consciousness and the party system again with the election of right-wing populist protest parties. [1] Combined with transformations of the party system, the social structural shifts led to a new chasm between globalization winners and globalization losers. [2] This argument is usually supplemented with the assertion that right-wing parties were supported not out of real conviction but for lack of sound political solutions from leftist parties and represent a kind of self-defense against the left’s neglect of the social question. [3]

This interpretation is too simplistic for different reasons. The assumption is that a well-integrated prospering middle class protects from political extremism. It could be presumed that right-wing populist and extremist parties experienced a rapid surge in those countries especially impacted by the financial- and euro-crises since 2008, unemployment and austerity. With the 2014 elections to the European Parliament, right-wing parties realized their greatest gains in countries comparatively less affected by the immediate consequences of the crisis: Austria, Denmark, Germany, France, Netherlands and Sweden. The only exception is Hungary that was hit hard economically and where the right-wing extremist Jobbik realized the fourth best result. On this background, the success of right-wing parties in Sweden and Denmark was completely surprising. In a European comparison, they are among the most egalitarian societies with the most secure welfare systems worldwide and the highest education level.

The core postulates of the globalization loser thesis referring to inequality are also not confirmed. A glance at the social structure of the voters shows the economically disadvantaged with poor education was by no means the primary group voting for right-wing populist parties in some countries. Rather, voters are found across all socio-economic camps including academics and high-skilled workers. This is particularly true for Germany and the United States. [4] With AfD (the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany), around a third of sympathizers are part of the richest fifth of the population. Donald Trump’s voters were also marked by an above-average income and an above-average state of college graduation. [5] For Germany, election analyses by the Bertelsmann foundation demonstrate that AfD was supported by all camps in the September 2017 Bundestag election. [6]

Finally and this may be the most important objection, a social-political interpretation cannot explain the recent attractiveness of right-wing views of society and “alternative truths,” perspectives that do not fit in worldviews long supported by academic truths. Where does the sudden longing for national symbolism and anti-modern mythologizing come from after long years of “post-national founding narratives? (Munkler) How can it be explained that identity-politics like Islam- and migration criticism, nationalism and many variants of “we against them” and not primarily social redistribution is the focus of the new protest parties where fighting socio-economic inequalities must be primary according to the opinion of social scientists?

Like the left, the right-wing addresses social divisions in the form of collective identity- and border markings, not by emphasizing the economic. Different lines of social conflict – as between East- and West Germans, old-established and immigrants, cosmopolitans on one side and defenders of home, region and traditional values on the other side, Europe-friendly and Europe-critical citizens – are bundled under the political right-wing. In these conflicts, what is central is not only more identity- or cultural questions or even primarily resisting “Islamification of the West.” Rather, defending privileges and prerogatives of the established is at stake. Social ranks and spheres of influence are contested.

A protest movement can hardly be mobilized through these conflicts if they are not flanked by a more general social criticism and diverse social crises. At least three factors must come together to strengthen protest movements: firstly, a structural uncoupling of substantial parts of the population, secondly, an exhaustion of legitimating resources that call to opposition and resistance against the dominant culture (here, progressive neoliberalism) forced by growing injustices and potential estrangements and thirdly, structurally-threatening crisis events as represented by the financial crisis, the threat through terror wars or – for some groups of the population in the recent past – mass migration from the global South. The political protest of the socially degraded or marginalized groups is only legitimated through the collaboration of these different developmental factors. The struggle for one’s own becomes the struggle for the general public.

But how can mentalities be grasped that have been self-evident parts of our daily routine and the background of our staunch convictions? Ultimately, the interpretation pattern s and concepts with which AfD’s rise is analyzed are not part of identity-politics in the social sciences that make sharp confrontations between the camps and are focused on standing on the right side. They are not neutral fact-finding instruments.

This model appears with authors who brag of completely renouncing on ideological opinions. When Andreas Reckwitz describes the support groups of right-wing populism as culturalization losers, he uses a dichotomous model of world explanation. [7] …

Fundamental changes in the social morality and social praxis of modern societies are causes for the rise of the new right-wing parties, not individual disappointment experiences, character deformations or material deprivation of their voters. The dubious changes could include long-term shifts in the “structure of society,” namely changes in the general attitudes towards life, in the dominant interpretations of the past, present and future definitions of the most important social dangers and anxieties and in the most necessary social and individual controls and interpretations of identity and community – everything described with the term “spirit of the times.” [8]

Some aspects of this change in thinking can be understood as consequences of the reversal of the developmental trend marked by “1968.” If 1968 marks the apex of social opening movements, a trend beginning after the Second World War that brings and politicizes more and more persons in social ascent and joining in public discourse, marked by pluralization processes, the reflexive liquefaction of social institutions, discovery of society as a political term and utopian acceptance of the openness of society, 20 2013, the founding year of AfD, was the apex of the opposite development, a trend starting with the fall of the wall, marked by social contraction movements, descent dynamics and by the new hardening of structures. Elites and dominant groups screen themselves and adjustment-, standardization- and conformity pressures replace pluralization tendencies. [10]

The tone of institutions is marked by this adjustment. Universities are managed learning institutes that mediate marketable competence or authority, not capacity for “long-term reflection.” They are not cultural melting-pots anymore. The condensation of policy rules began with subtle controls and evaluations to bureaucratic control- and governance structures. Unconditional adaptation to practical constraints and the requirements of markets is manifest in all institutions.

The political is also in retreat. The idea of the social brought into society by the youth culture of alternative movements in the 1980s was first eliminated from everyday life and state nannyism ultimately expelled from political institutions through the expertocratic policy of no alternatives and the dismantling of democratic procedures of decision-making. The basic theme is that the social order is not negotiable and demands unconditional subordination.

Lastly, the social focus has changed. The past seems the more promising place and no longer the future. A trace of nostalgia blows through society. Historicized architecture celebrates the new time. Several films in the last years surpassed each other in the aesthetic transfiguration of the sixties… with a polished façade of timelessness against the growing uncertainties of life. Hosts of politicians try to tackle the problems of today with “solutions from yesterday.” The working class in western industrial countries has long disappeared from the screen. [11]

The sociologist Zygmunt Baumann argues the present suffers in a “global nostalgia epidemic,” [11] a desperate longing for continuity and stability in a fragmented world. [12] This nostalgia acts as a defense mechanism to accelerated life rhythms and historical upheavals and promises to restore that ideal home from the past. Retrotopia, the title of his book, is a general characteristic of an alarmed present marked by uncertainties.

Instead of investing in an uncertain future, one invests all hopes in the restoration of a half-forgotten yesterday with its commendable supposed stability and trustworthiness. Dangers, Baumann said, originate from the restorative variety of nostalgia as it encounters us everywhere in the world in national and nationalist revivals that carry out a reactionary mythologizing of history with recourse to national symbols and myths. The future, once a “natural habitat of hope and legitimate expectations, now becomes a warranted :horror scenario of a threatening nightmare” of the loss of job and allied social position, seizure of home acquired on credit, the powerlessness of estrangement and loss of control given the social descent and the declining value of laboriously learned skills. On this background, the way back to yesterday looks like an expedient way forward.

Protest movements bring about changes in mentalities and in the zeitgeist. These changes do not bring about protest movements. Protest movements share in the tectonic shifts in the deep structures and bring the social contradictions emerging from the change processes to a political stage. As 1968 was an expression and apex of social liberalization processes and not the cause, right-wing populism is the apex of developments emerging from authoritarian capitalism, escalating inequalities, descent spirals and contraction movements and resulted in the regression of political attitudes and social mentalities. The cultural-liberal middle class is also involved in this development...

Authoritarian neoliberalism was often enforced by political and economic elites from above against the cultural left and the liberal fractions of the middle class. This is often heard but is hardly plausible. In reality, the up- and-coming post-industrial middle class represents the key figure of the neoliberal social order, on one hand because it represented the top of knowledge- and innovation-driven capitalism through the expropriation of a cosmopolitan lifestyle and on the other hand because it ensures the accumulation regime of neoliberalism by forming project- and term-based management- and work structures.

An increased pressure of adaptation and conformity, an intensified pressure of self-disciplining, is the price paid by this cultural elite for their dominant position. However, this effort was sometimes accompanied by a triumphant class self-consciousness that boasts of being better than the others – being better than the conformist “petty-bourgeoisie,” the “simple” employees and also the corrupt “capitalists” from the financial nobility and to always want to be even better through cultural self-realization, lifelong learning, health food and self-optimization.

These efforts were intensified with the scarcity of life chances and possibilities of ascent since the 1990s…The liberal middle class became the central agent of a social contraction or closure forced by exclusive lifestyles and expensive urban accommodations.

A model of self-refinement grounded on rationalization and self-discipline has been the central characteristic of a middle class consciousness since the 19th century and is not new historically. The post-industrial middle class justifies and simultaneously covers up its rule with the overarching value of freedom. So the domination of socially inferior groups is no longer passed off as a limitation of subjective freedom. They should appear as free in the self-perception of individuals. They become obvious to individuals through commands of “personal responsibility” or through programs of self-optimization. This is one reason why rule and control today mostly appear in the form of their opposite. When co-workers must seek a new job every couple of years, this is explained to them as the opportunity to develop their creative potential and become self-entrepreneurs. Never were individuals in their freedom so helplessly handed over to the social powers.

1. Vgl. Mark Lilla, Das Scheitern der Identitätspolitik. Trumps Amerika: Lehren für die Linke . In: Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik , Nr. 1/2017; Bernd Stegemann, Der liberale Populismus und seine Feinde . In: Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik , Nr. 4/2017. ↑
2. Herbert Kitschelt, The Radical Right in Western Europe. A Comparative Analysis. University of Michigan Press 1995; Daniel Oesch, Explaining Workers’ Support for Right-Wing Populist Parties in Western Europe. Evidence from Austria, Belgium, France, Norway, and Switzerland . In: International Political Science Review , Nr. 3, 2008; Dirk Jörke /Veith Selk, Der hilflose Antipopulismus. In : Leviathan , Nr. 4, 2015; Christine Wimbauer u.a., Prekäre Selbstverständlichkeiten. Neun prekarisierungstheoretische Thesen zu Diskursen gegen Gleichstellungspolitik und Geschlechterforschung. In: Sabine Hark /Paula-Irene Villa, Anti-Genderismus. Sexualität und Geschlecht als Schauplätze aktueller politischer Auseinandersetzung. Bielefeld: transcript 2015; Nancy Fraser, Für eine neue Linke oder: Das Ende des progressiven Neoliberalismus. In : Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik , Nr. 2, Februar 2017. ↑
3. Eine vielbeachtete Protagonistin der Notwehr-These stellt Nancy Fraser dar. Sie betont, dass die Mehrheit der Wähler »weder Rassisten noch in der Wolle gefärbte Rechte« sind, sondern Opfer des ›manipulierten Systems‹. Es sei die Verführung durch die herrschenden Eliten gewesen, die der kulturellen Spaltung in eine liberale Linke und eine nunmehr durch den Rechtspopulismus verführte Arbeiterklasse Vorschub geleistet hätte. ↑
4. Darüber hinaus finden sich die Anhänger /innen rechtspopulistischer Parteien in West- und Nordeuropa nicht verstärkt im Prekariat, also bei Langzeitarbeitslosen, Sozialhilfeempfänger /innen oder den working poor , sondern überproportional, wenn auch keineswegs ausschließlich, in der Arbeiterklasse, der unteren Mittelschicht und beim Kleinbürgertum. Vgl. Ronald F. Inglehart /Pippa Norris, Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism. Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash. In: Harvard Kennedy School , Faculty Research Working Paper RWP16-026, August 2016 ( Für Deutschland betonen Holger Lengfeld auf Basis von Individualdaten und Schwander /Manow auf Basis von Kreisdaten eine Entkopplung von rechtspopulistischer Unterstützung und Sozialstruktur. Holger Lengfeld, Die »Alternative für Deutschland«: eine Partei für Modernisierungsverlierer? In: Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, Nr. 2, Juni 2017; Philip Manow /Hanna Schwander, It’s not the economy, stupid! Explaining the electoral success of the German right-wing populist AfD . University Zürich: CIS Working Paper, Nr. 94, 2017. ↑
5. Vgl. Hans Vorländer u.a., Entfremdung, Empörung, Ethnozentrismus. Was PEGIDA über den sich formierenden Rechtspopulismus verrät . In: Dirk Jörke /Oliver Nachtwey (Hrsg.), Das Volk gegen die (liberale) Demokratie. In: Leviathan , Sonderband 34, 2017. ↑
6. Zwar zeigt sich, dass der Anteil der AfD-Wähler /innen im »prekären Milieu« mit 28 Prozent am höchsten liegt, doch finden sich AfD-Wähler /innen auch in den Milieus der Mitte (14 %), vor allem im Milieu der »bürgerlichen Mitte« (20 %) und selbst bei den sozial gehobenen Milieus. Vgl. Robert Vehrkamp /Klaudia Wegschaider, Populäre Wahlen. Mobilisierung und Gegenmobilisierung der sozialen Milieus bei der Bundestagswahl 2017. Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Stiftung 2017. Fasst man die Sinus-Milieus in soziale Schichten zusammen, so liegt die Unterstützung für die AfD in der Unterschicht bei 16, in der Mittelschicht bei 14 und in der Oberschicht bei 8 Prozent. ↑
7. Andreas Reckwitz , Die Gesellschaft der Singularitäten. Zum Strukturwandel der Moderne. Berlin: Suhrkamp 2017. ↑
8. Cas Wouters, Informalisierung. Norbert Elias’ Zivilisationstheorie und Zivilisationsprozesse im 20. Jahrhundert. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag 1999. ↑
9. Vgl. Armin Nassehi, Gab es 1968? Eine Spurensuche. Hamburg: kursbuch.edition 2018. ↑
10. Vgl. Cornelia Koppetsch, Die Wiederkehr der Konformität. Streifzüge durch die verunsicherte Mitte. Frankfurt: Campus 2013; Greta Wagner, Selbstoptimierung. Praxis und Kritik von Neuroenhancement . Frankfurt: Campus 2017. ↑
11. Vgl. Thomas Steinfeld, Der Held der Arbeiterklasse. Wechselfälle seiner Geschichte . In: Merkur , Nr. 825, Februar 2018. ↑
12. Zygmunt Bauman, Retrotopia. Berlin: Suhrkamp 2017. ↑


The Left became conservative and the gesture of revolt is staged by the right-wing

By Cornelia Koppetsch

[This 2016 article is translated from the German on the Internet,
Cornelia Koppetsch is a professor of sociology at the University of Darmstadt. The footnotes can be found in the original German article.]

For two decades, we have witnessed an intensified tendency to conformity, an increased readiness to adjust to social norms. Astonishingly, this conformity leads to exhaustion and overstrain and accompanies massive injustices where – as in the current regime of neoliberalism – fulfilling social norms harms a multitude of subjects. The tendency to unquestioned acceptance of neoliberal rules is all the more problematic. Many middle class citizens are active today as critics of the market society. Still, this does not hinder them from adjusting unreservedly now and then to the given conditions in concrete everyday affairs. Hardly anyone asks what interests they serve. The ways of criticism are blocked to whoever cannot keep up since everyone has to ascribe failures to him- or herself. While there are provocative subcultures [1], the “mainstream” is a key term in the self-image of young persons and is not a swearword for most youths [2]. Many youths want to be “like everyone.”

What can explain the “return to conformity”? [3] Why is so little resistance stirring? Why aren’t people working on easing the pressure in the interest of everyone? Why not simply be nonconformist again like the 68ers? This is not so simple. Effective forms of nonconformity and nonconformism only thrive under certain social conditions and are not in the control of individuals. Conformity is the other side of membership or affiliation since it is the “price” paid for social recognition. Conformity strivings intensify with the shortage of life chances and possibilities of ascent since the demands are always raised under heightened competition. Only groups that profile themselves or are outwardly delimited can effectively hinder outsiders from moving up in the centers of power. In sociology, we speak of “social closure or contraction.” Whoever is part of that is subject to sharp observation. Under certain presuppositions, nonconformism can be an effective resistance against those contraction tendencies. This need not inevitably be an enlightened protest from the left; it can also occur from the right – as an authoritarian revolt. Let us consider this more closely.

Social closure is the attempt of social groups to defend or expand privileged access to desired goods or life chances toward other groups. [4] Social affiliations establish a specific form of esteem that Max Weber described as “social honor” [5] and that corresponds with the cultural lifestyle. Identity claims can be generated from group membership, not only social advantages and life chances. Memberships are constituted through border markings, through which one’s we group is favored inwardly and delimited outwardly. The most frequent model is the established/ outsider figuration [6] in which the old established protect themselves against the aspirations of the newcomers. Selective prerogatives and competitive advantages for the established result from this.

Societies in the mode of descent and ascent

The greater the competition between groups and the scarcer the desired goods, the greater is the need to make oneself sure of the protecting membership and the more luminous is the group charisma of the owners and privileged. People want to belong to the elites today and not to be separated from elites. In phases of economic downswing, large parts of the population are threatened by descent or have already fallen [7], resources and memberships necessary for maintaining status or ascent are in short supply. Most European societies find themselves in this phase. Despite Germany’s economic growth, growing parts of the population are threatened by descent and exclusion. Under these conditions, the pressure on individuals to “actively be on the team or play along” increases since people under intensified competition can be “punished” very quickly with exclusion or social degradation. Conformism still has a bad reputation in our society. Nevertheless, conformist attitudes have increased in the last decades, particularly with people under success pressure.

Societies marked by collective ascents and economic upswings usually show a greater spectrum of deviance and unconventionality since life chances and ascent possibilities are more abundant here. Societies in collective upswing are usually more liberal and more innovative since variations, new ideas and behavioral models arise from deviations. The individual is not dependent on membership in certain groups when ascent possibilities and rethinking possibilities exist for realizing identity claims and social advantages. The power exercised by groups, old-established or aspirants declines. The advantages of members fades when there are other attractive options of affiliation.

The conflicts around education are an impressive example for the teamwork between social competition, contraction and group conformity. Established middle class persons strive to transfer their status to the next generation under intensified competitive pressure as to life chances…

Adjustment and no alternatives

Contraction tendencies are found in working life as in demarcations of regular employees over against subcontracted workers. So the permanently employed have the position of the established while the growing segment of “atypical” employees are forced to an outsider position. Businesses and enterprises today have a greater threat potential because of the shortage of ascent possibilities. An employer or a CEO can demand higher work output because of increased competition for regular employment with subtle threats (not continuing labor contracts, skidding into temporary work, dismissals etc) to co-workers. Employees must accept increased demands and signal readiness to adapt to not skid into subcontracted work or lose a contract extension.

Readiness for adjustment strikes its limits when permanently frustrated since ways of advancement are blocked. The success chances are rated as trifling or fall by the wayside for many colleagues. Then the probability of withdrawal and also nonconforming deviating conduct decline. Different forms of nonconforming behavior can be distinguished. Divergence and deviation can occur inconspicuously in a purely outward observance of norms in the sense of “work-to-rule.” Then, it is mostly tolerated as a silent or secret deviance. Deviant conduct is directed offensively against group norms and staged as a targeted challenge. That is nonconformism.

As a collective protest gesture, nonconformism can become the symbolic language of an oppositional movement. However, another presupposition must still be fulfilled so collective resistance forms against social norms. The cultural superstructure must be weakened, the “morality” justifying the dominant order. An imaginary dimension is needed – élan, passion and visions of an awakening, a project pointing beyond the day – through which emotional identification possibilities are created and social involvement appears fascinating and satisfying. More is needed than a functioning social system and a constitutional democracy.

Elan has largely expired under the regime of neoliberalism. In the political realm, this is manifest for example in the “lack of alternatives” with which certain political goals are set and in the de-ideologizing of the national parties. The EU is a technocratically-guided elite project. The “flexible person” (Sennett 2000) [9] is oriented in short-term opportunities and profit-possibilities and not in overarching ideals or moral principles.

Humanist and enlightenment educational ideals were thrown overboard with the latest reforms of the university system. Technocratic promises of exhausting “human capital” remain. Emancipatory ideas of education are impossible when education is considered an economic resource. On the plane of personal lifestyle, economic exploitation imperatives are reflected in the call to “self-optimization” and “self-management.”

The “spirit of capitalism” offering normative incentives for those with hardly any chances of ascent and profit is thoroughly lost. The re-strengthening of social criticism results [10]. The system pressure alone is always not enough as an involvement motive. That spirit must be internalized and justified. The necessary level of readiness cannot be forced. For engagement to be rewarding, a minimum of justice is needed and exciting attractive life perspectives for individuals.

Therefore, institutions are forced to adjust their justice structures to the “system criticism” and accept ideals and norms in their normative orders formulated through criticism. Social transformation processes are introduced that change the rules… A neutralization and paralysis of criticism occurs. The social criticism runs dry; a new “spirit” is probably formed in the medium term.

There is a prominent historical example for this cycle. The youth revolt of the 68ers was fed from the criticism of authoritarian structures and fortified hierarchies of the postwar epoch. The related counter-movements of the early 1970s and the 1980s lived from utopias and nonconformity. The sweeping success was explained in that membership in the middle class milieu and its life forms simply lost attractiveness. They not only lost authority and credibility through the German catastrophe and the collapse of Nazi rule. Middle class life forms of the postwar epoch with their strict sexual morality, patriarchal family structures and hierarchical manners were socially dysfunctional as “outdated” patterns and rapidly lost prestige and powers of persuasion.

Thus, the youth revolt introduced an overdue cultural modernization that was necessary on account of political and economic liberalization processes. And it was conclusively successful. Alternative values ended up in the mainstream. Life forms were pluralized and capitalism was “creative.”

Right-wing counter-movements

Today, we stand at the peak of a new cycle. Once, counter-cultural ideals became hegemonial and now are preferred targets. Right-wing populist movements and parties are forming; oppositional movements are popular all over Europe. The right-wing opposition attacks the left-liberal consensus and aims at the heart of cosmopolitan worldviews. The ideals of tolerance, equal opportunities, authenticity and creativity – originally directed by counter-cultural movements against the established structures – have now been assimilated to the mainstream and have become main targets of right-wing populist propaganda as the morality of the established.

The mockery of the “starry-eyed idealism or political correctness” has a very high rank in Germany because the political, ecclesiastical and pedagogical institutions – and also the protagonists of media reporters – appear as a largely uniform worldview group that confesses to the principles of tolerance and world openness. [11] As in hardly any other country, right-wing populists attack political correctness and the establishment ”treating the population as children.” When the left appear today as guardians of morality, it is because they defend and want to conserve the existing order.

Thus, the parallels to the counter-cultural movements are striking. Today as then, the hegemony of the “ruling class,” the state-supporting elites, parties and (new) middle class is attacked. Populism is a protest movement like the counter-cultural movements of the early 1970s and the 1980s. the opposition currently comes from the right and not primarily from the left. The followers of right-wing populism come from the lower classes and the series of outsiders unlike the counter-cultural protest movements of the last century that had their mobilization base primarily in middle class youth.

Right-wing populism is anti-liberal and tries to invoke again authoritarian life forms and strong communities. Unlike the counter-cultural movements, right-wing populism is not directed against structures and hierarchies and against patriarchal traditions and authoritarian pictures of society. Right-wing populist pictures of society are based on three pillars: return to an authoritarian state and emphasis on themes of security and order, fear of “foreign control” by Islam and the demand of limiting immigration and lastly the threat to the “intact” family world by sexual and “gender mania.” With that, representatives of right-wing populism protest against the dominant picture of society and the future of the boundless, globalizing and flexible world [12]. Populism is globalized like a chameleon because it adapts to the currents of the zeitgeist [13]. This is an attack on the power of the ruling groups whose legitimacy is massively put in question by suggesting they misused the state for their own interests.

Important differences exist between left and right movements. Unlike the counter-movements of the 1970s and 1980s, right-wing populist protest movements are regressive, not progressive. They act more out of weariness over the cartelization tendencies of the established than out of an alternative, a weariness that penetrates deep in middle class circles. This regressive tendency is owed to the fact that the social counter-movements of the 1970s and 1980s formed in a phase of collective ascent while the current right-wing populist protest movement occurs in a phase of collective descent, “post-growth” in which the resources and life chances are in short supply for many social groups.

Populism is a promise to outsiders (“the people”) to gain power. Social divisions are reduced to a simple dualism. For populists, social injustices and inequalities run between “the people” and the state-supporting elite [14]. Where populism is successful, an amalgamation of two very different groups usually succeeds. One group seeks access to the elite and to the fleshpots of power and privileges; the other fears social descent and the loss of status or has already been degraded or uncoupled [15]. One part is supported by gamblers and new social climbers who do not belong to the old established groups. The other part includes groups that feel cheated by the dominant system and have experienced blocked chances of advancement or descent. The reconfiguration of experiences of uncoupling or inferiority into a political protest movement is common to both groups. Therefore, socially mobile milieu, persons who were either degraded or persons who want to advance into the power centers and whose ascent was constantly blocked feel particularly attracted by populism and not so much the excluded [16]…

The mode of “dual contraction” results that can now be observed in right-wing populism [18]. In the struggle for scarce resources, its representatives react on one side with the mode of exclusion toward actors from below (for example, toward migrants, women and workers’ children) and on the other side with the mode of usurpation toward succeeding groups (the establishment, the state). Both modi can be understood as re-sovereignization strategies. Excluding contraction runs from top to bottom; usurpatory contraction, conversely, runs from bottom to top. Excluding contraction is practiced toward immigrants who originally were seen only as “guests” and potential returnees and now should be integrated. In this way, parts of the population feel deceived over the exclusion praxis previously supported or tolerated by the state and now seek direct confrontation with the state.

In populism, the strategy of usurpation appears in the striving for political power and in the formation of an anti-party directed against the whole establishment. Usurpatory contraction means a social group exercises power “from bottom to top” and so tries to reduce the advantages of a higher or superior group. Usurpation appears more with the educated supporters of right-wing groups in Germany in the policy of breaking taboos and in the hate speech of right-wing social networks and discussion groups. By means of blogs, Twitter and Facebook, they polemicize against the Islamification of the West and against the allegedly spreading “political correctness” against sexual diversity, abortion and gay marriage. With these invectives, protest discourses aim at the heart of the established’s left-liberal pictures of society. Discrediting gender studies as “excess,” “ideology” or “pseudo science” is a provocation to this established left and assails the interpretative power of constructivist ways of looking at things in the social sciences. “Gender mania” and “gender nonsense,” of “profiling addiction “ of “gender women” whose illegitimate “usurpation of professorships and chairs” is decried. Gender studies hardly notice objective “facts” proven by natural sciences or “common sense” [19].


Intensified tendencies to social contraction and conformity pressure increase in social phases of collective descent or post-growth… When more and more persons catch up, the protest potential grows. Conformity and nonconformists stand n a dialectical relation. The established hope to secure their privileges through exclusive behavioral norms; newcomers try to catch up to the established through provocative divergence or deviation from these norms by reproaching the established that their worldview served maintenance of their power. So right-wing populist spokespersons act in a very nonconformist way by touching the taboo of cosmopolitans and brazenly propagating an authoritarian picture of society.

Consequently, oppositional nonconformism contests the legitimacy and the privileges of the dominant groups by attacks on their worldviews and self-images. Nonconformism is more than only divergent or differing behavior. It is an attitude of ostentatious unconventionality. While deviant conduct is often swept under the rug, nonconformity contains a targeted attack on group norms that as a rule is answered with a public sanctioning of the rebellious individual while the group still assures itself of the authority of the constitutional norms.

As a political gesture of protest, nonconformist behavior is only effective under the assumption that it is supported collectively. Individual nonconformist is only possible when one does not fear exclusion from the group that follows the ostentatious violation of norms. This happens for example when one can get over the exclusion because one has alternatives. The circumstance of having nothing more to lose (or gain) can be a motive for nonconformity – because the desired access chances to the exclusive groups remain blocked despite the great efforts.

Nonconformism and protest are closely related. Nonconformism is by no means always “left” (that is, good) and conformism right (that is, problematic). Left is not always “protest” and right is not always conservative. Today, the roles between established and outsiders are reversed. The left has become conservative. The gesture of revolt against the dominant order is staged by the right.

Cornelia Koppetsch

Prof. Dr. Cornelia Koppetsch, geb. 1967, ist Professorin für Soziologie an der TU Darmstadt mit den Schwerpunktbereichen Bildung, Geschlechterverhältnisse und Lebensführung. Derzeit forscht sie zum Kulturwandel des modernen Kapitalismus, zu berufsbiografischen Abstiegen und zu Geschlechterverhältnissen in Paarbeziehungen. Ihre wichtigsten Publikationen: »Die Wiederkehr der Konformität. Streifzüge durch die gefährdete Mitte« (Campus 2013); »Wenn der Mann kein Ernährer mehr ist. Geschlechterverhältnisse in Krisenzeiten« (Suhrkamp 2015, gemeinsam mit Sarah Speck).
Joseph Stiglitz, The American Economy is Rigged, October 28, 2018, Scientific American,

We are 100% volunteer and depend on your participation to sustain our efforts!


donate now

$ 292.00 donated
in the past month

Get Involved

If you'd like to help with maintaining or developing the website, contact us.


Publish your stories and upcoming events on Indybay.

IMC Network