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Populist Parties and the Failure of the Political Elites

The Rise of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ)


Göran Adamson

The author analyses the reasons behind the electoral success of European right-wing populist parties. Using the Austrian Freedom Party under Jörg Haider as a case study and with a richness of primary material, he argues that their success is only partly caused by «racism». It is also, and more prominently, the result of populism – i.e. a critique of the «elite». These parties and their voters should not, then, be labelled as arrogant insiders attacking downtrodden outsiders like immigrants, workers, and minorities. Instead, the right-wingers are more justly portrayed as outsiders and underdogs, raising their anger and frustration against the insiders: the «media elite» and the «leftists and the artists».
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Chapter 5 Austrian Corporatism – An Overview


The post-war shared rule between the Social Democratic Party of Austria and the conservative Austrian People’s Party has above been referred to as the ‘elite’. This kind of dual elite rule, practised in Austria, Sweden and other countries appears in many guises. ‘Consociationalism’ – emphasising the dual arrangements between the parties – is a well-established concept in the academic literature. Among more imaginative descriptions, ‘sleaze democracy’ – Filzdemokratie – highlights the Kafkaesque experience of the operation of secret rules in Austrian society, while ‘sham democracy’ and ‘authoritarian’18 are but two epithets of democratic critics.

However, following the terminology used by Peter Gerlich and Anton Pelinka (and also noted in the introduction), the system will here be referred to using the more value-neutral term ‘Austrian corporatism’.

Etymologically, ‘corporatism’ is derived from corpus, the Latin word for body. In the early stages, the concept did not have any specific political correspondence. Instead, it reflected ‘holistic’ medieval European ideas of an entire social community in which each of the various components fulfilled a function, in a manner similar to the role of the constituent elements in a living organism. A clear-cut notion of corporatism cannot, however, be constructed from this ‘bottom line’ of corporatism. Like populism, corporatism is an essentially fractured social concept, ‘a handy label that will stick to almost any surface’ (Williamson 1985, p. 3). As noted by some critics, ‘the first thing that strikes one as one reads through the recent literature on modern corporatism is the profound...

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