Explaining right-wing terrorism and violence in Western Europe: Grievances, opportunities and polarisation

By Jacob Aasland Ravndal

What explains cross-national variation of right-wing terrorism and violence (RTV)? This question remains largely unanswered in existing research on the extreme right because (1) events data suitable for cross-national comparisons have been lacking, and (2) existing analyses fail to capture RTV's causal complexity, which involve multiple causal paths (equifinality) comprising causal conditions that become sufficient for the outcome only in combination (conjunctural causation).

To help fill these gaps, this article uses new events data in a qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) research design, aiming to explain variation in the extent of RTV in 18 West European countries between 1990 and 2015. In doing so, the article identifies two ‘causal recipes’ that consistently distinguish countries with extensive RTV experience from those with low or moderate RTV experience.

The first (North European) recipe involves the combination of high immigration, low electoral support for anti-immigration (radical right) parties, and extensive public repression of radical right actors and opinions.

The second (South European) recipe involves the combination of socioeconomic hardship, authoritarian legacies, and extensive left-wing terrorism and militancy. Notably, both recipes contain elements of ‘grievances’ and ‘opportunities’, suggesting that these two theories, which are conventionally seen as contrasting, may be more fruitfully seen as complementary.

Furthermore, a highly polarised conflict between far right activists and their enemies represents a third necessary condition for extensive RTV to occur. The article concludes by highlighting the paradox that countermeasures intended to constrain radical right politics appear to fuel extreme right violence, while countermeasures that may constrain extreme right violence would imply an advancement of radical right politics.

The Article is published in European Journal of Political Research.

Published Nov. 22, 2017 10:27 AM - Last modified Nov. 22, 2017 10:27 AM