About Cas Mudde

Cas Mudde is associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia (USA). He is the author of Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (2007) and editor of Youth and the Extreme Right (2014), Political Extremism (2014), and Populism in Europe and Latin America: Corrective or Threat for Democracy? (2012). He is a member of the Scholars Strategy Network and can be followed on Twitter at @casmudde.


Articles by Cas Mudde

This week's editor

Jeremy Noble, editor

This week Jeremy Noble and the oDR team edit the front page.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

What freedom of speech? Of foxes, chickens, and #JeSuisCharlie

Most Europeans, at both elite and mass level, have a grossly inflated idea of the extent of freedom of speech in Europe, a direct consequence of the uncritical and self-congratulatory discourse on the topic.

After Syriza’s landslide: five predictions of a much similar future

In the end though, this will all probably lead mainly to more fragmentation, which will make fundamental change even more unlikely.

No, we are NOT all Charlie (and that’s a problem)

It is comforting and politically expedient to claim that “we” are attacked because “they” cannot deal with “our” freedoms, particularly freedom of speech.

Russia's Trojan Horse

Trojan Horse _1.jpgIs the European far right really acting as Russia's Trojan Horse in the European Union?


The EAF is dead! Long live the MENL!

The Front National has long been at the centre of pan-European party initiatives, which were always dominated by former FN leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen. The EAF was founded without FN-involvement, however.

Liberal democracy: the do’s and don’ts of banning political extremism

The most prominent case is the extreme right political party Golden Dawn in Greece. While all cases are different, they all address exactly the same fundamental question: what are the limits of political activism within a liberal democracy? 

Electoral winners and political losers in the right-wing Eurosceptic camp

Could the political success of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) in the aftermath of the 2014 European elections undermine Tory success in the 2015 British elections?

Is Gerry Adams an Irish Nelson Mandela?

Acknowledgments of culpability from leaders on both sides of the South African conflict to the vaunted Truth and Reconciliation Commission, were fundamental to helping the country move beyond its deeply divided past into a more peaceful future.

The divided house of anti-Europe

Right-wing Eurosceptic parties will have more MEPs than ever before in the next European Parliament. But this doesn't mean they will be able to form a united Eurosceptic front.

A new (order) Ukraine? Assessing the relevance of Ukraine’s far right in an EU perspective

Now that the EU is ready to embrace the new Ukrainian government, investing at least one billion euros in the ‘revolutionized’ country, it is time to reinvestigate the question of far right influence in Ukraine.

Nothing left? In search of (a new) social democracy

(Real) social democracy is not just unknown to several generations of voters, but it is contradictory to their individualist or ethnicized worldview. So far the analyses and prospects do not look promising. 

Is the revolution eating its children? The US Tea Party, between Astroturf and grassroots

The 2014 GOP primaries will show whether the Tea Party was indeed just an Astroturf invention, as many liberals have claimed, or a true grassroots movement, as most conservatives proclaim.

The myth of Weimar Europe

Since the start of the Great Recession, it has become received wisdom that the far right is on the rise across Europe. But not often is the 'economic-crisis-breeds-extremism' thesis confronted with actual facts.

The European elite's politics of fear

Fear mongering about 'anti-European populism' discredits the EU elite’s position on European democracy – it should stop.

America's election and the Tea Party

A series of voting setbacks in November 2012 means the conservative Tea Party movement is now facing a difficult and divisive period, says Cas Mudde.

Flemish nationalism: a new landscape

The results of Belgium's local elections has brought victory in the northern Flanders region to the conservative and nationalist but democratic New Flemish Alliance. This represents the transformation of Flemish nationalism, says Cas Mudde.

The Dutch elections and the Eurosceptic paradox

Despite alarming predictions, last week's Dutch election results turned out to be anticlimactic, as voters placed their confidence in the two mainstream, moderate parties. But Brussels shouldn't celebrate too soon, as the "European weather vane" shows signs of bigger challenges to come.

Dutch elections, European consequences

The combination of economic troubles and Eurosceptic pressures will increase the international impact of the Netherlands' latest election, says Cas Mudde.

America’s new revolutionaries

The belief that the United States stands at a historic crossroads is widespread across the political spectrum. But among parts of the right the view takes worrying directions, says Cas Mudde.

Norway’s democratic example

The process and result in the trial of Anders Breivik are a vindication of Norway’s liberal democracy and a lesson for the world, says Cas Mudde.

Wisconsin's Sikh massacre: the real danger

The perpetrator of the latest mass shooting in the United States has been compared to Timothy McVeigh and Anders Breivik. But a closer understanding of his motives and actions is needed before making this connection, says Cas Mudde.

Norway's atrocity: a story of non-impact

The immediate reactions to the terrorist attack in Oslo in July 2011 were both politicised and inaccurate. The opening of the perpetrator's trial nine months later finds leading ideological positions still full of evasion, says Cas Mudde.

Europe: from crisis to opportunity

The origin of the eurozone crisis lies in the overreach of the Maastricht treaty of 1992. A new process is needed to set the European Union on a new course - but this must have explicit popular consent at its heart, says Cas Mudde.

Europe's crisis and the radical right

The severe economic upheaval in Europe has not been matched by a political resurgence of the radical right. Cas Mudde asks why - and whether the dog could yet bark.

Occupy Wall Street: lessons and opportunities

The Occupy movement in the United States is both similar to and different from its Tea Party predecessor. The precise combination gives it political space to grow, says Cas Mudde.

9/11: more security, less secure

The world has been changed by the securitisation of everyday life and the Islamisation of security. The accompanying threat-complex has shifted American sensibilities, says Cas Mudde. 

Norway’s catastrophe: democracy beyond fear

The political response to atrocity often misjudges its character in ways that lead to further violations. This makes it all the more important that reaction to the bombing and massacre in Norway is based on careful assessment, says Cas Mudde.

Geert Wilders and Dutch democracy

A court in the Netherlands has found the influential politician Geert Wilders innocent of charges of fomenting hatred and discrimination against Muslims. The decision is a challenge both to the rule of law and to Dutch politicians, says Cas Mudde. 

European integration: after the fall

The financial crisis that has swept across European economies since 2008 is having profound political effects. It is time to face the new realities and discuss the options they present, says Cas Mudde.


In 2050, Europe has overcome the birth pains of multiculturalism and is accepting its diversity as a welcome given, rather than an imposed ideal or a frightening future. Open debate is finally embraced, and opponents are seen neither as criminals nor as enemies. Nothing is sacred, all is questioned, and former taboos like Islam or the royal family are discussed freely by both politicians and comedians.


The new new radical right: spectre and reality

The emergence of a fresh current on Europe's political right, typified by figures such as Geert Wilders, is being widely discussed. But historically informed scrutiny suggests a different view, says Cas Mudde.

The intolerance of the tolerant

The advance of populist anti-Islamic forces in the liberal bastions of northern Europe - Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden - appears to reflect a betrayal of these societies’ renowned social tolerance. But there is a more subtle logic at work, says Cas Mudde.  

The Geert Wilders enigma

The high-profile Dutch politician Geert Wilders is closer to mainstream centre-right politics in the Netherlands than his hardline rhetoric about Islam might suggest, says Cas Mudde.

Neo-conservatism: Irving Kristol’s living legacy

The death of Irving Kristol on 18 September 2009 at the age of 89 has stilled the most powerful and effective voice of the first generation of neo-conservatism. The term was used (with pejorative intent) by the leftwing writer-activist Michael Harrington in 1973, but came to be embraced by Irving Kristol and many of his followers. Kristol - the "godfather" of a movement that included such diverse figures as Nathan Glazer, Seymour Martin Lipset, and James Q Wilson - leaves a complex legacy of political influence and intellectual achievement, mixed with a degree of confusion about where exactly neo-conservatism now stands.

Cas Mudde is associate professor in political science at the University of Antwerp, and (from June 2009 - May 2010) a visiting fellow at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies of the University of Notre Dame.

His books include Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

The social and biographical roots and evolution of the first generation of neo-conservatives is well documented in such studies as Jacob Heilbrunn's authoritative book They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons (Anchor Books, 2009). Those who came to earn the sobriquet began as a group of (predominantly) Trotskyist graduate students at City College, New York in the fevered political atmosphere of the late 1930s. Their early leftism and anti-Stalinism gave their opposition to communism a particular twist when this became the defining political attitude of the American political establishment in the cold-war years.

Several of the founding group would never cease to identify themselves as Democrats. Their trajectory was however marked by an overall move to the right, characterised in Kristol's famous phrase as the experience of "liberals mugged by reality". The essence of the neo-conservatism that bound them - and won more and more adherents as the American political right sought a new intellectual foundation in the 1960s and 1970s - continues to be heatedly debated; it can be broadly characterised as an ideology that fused market economics, social traditionalism, and aggressive democratic interventionism against chosen authoritarian adversaries.

A figure of influence

The neo-conservative mindset may have been forged in the context of the global politics of the 1930s-1950s, but the first major journal co-founded by Kristol was mainly focused on domestic politics: The Public Interest, which began publication in 1965. Its foreign-policy counterpart, The National Interest, followed only in 1985.

The Public Interest, an enterprise in which Kristol was joined by the renowned sociologist Daniel Bell (who would never fully embrace neo-conservatism), was at the outset a politically broad-based publication featuring both conservative and liberal authors. It published accessible social-scientific analyses of the relevant policy-issues of the day, with a particular emphasis on welfare. The basic intellectual framework was a kind of conservative liberalism: the goals conservative, the means to achieve them quite liberal. This generation appeared to be seeking a blueprint for a "conservative welfare state" (as one of Kristol's prominent essays was titled); opponents on the right would label it "big-government conservatism".

The Public Interest in its early years encompassed a range of political positions, and tended to be quite cautious in its recommendations. It exhibited a high degree of trust in social science (in sharp contrast to traditional conservatism); at the same time authors were aware of the complexities of human relations and society, and avoided overly strong and simplistic conclusions. All this was much less the case with The National Interest, which from the start pursued a more rigorous anti-communist agenda and published a more ideologically cohesive set of authors.

Irving Kristol's prodigious work went far beyond founding and/or editing these influential magazines - and others, such as the London-based journal Encounter (which survived exposure of its funding by the CIA). He also revitalised and transformed existing organisations, such as the publisher Basic Books and the American Enterprise Institute think-tank, making them bastions of neo-conservatism.

Kristol's enormous influence on the American political landscape includes many elements: intellectual, financial, institutional, and personal. Indeed, the successor generation of neo-conservatives consists of many children of the first. Irving's own son (with Gertrude Himmelfarb, the influential historian of Victorian England) is William (Bill) Kristol, founder and editor of The Weekly Standard; the pattern is echoed in the editorship of Commentary by John Podhoretz, the son of the influential neo-conservatives Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter.

Across generations

There are obvious continuities between the two generations of neo-conservatism. But there are also four clear and substantial differences in their priorities and positions:

* the children, unlike their parents, have never been on the left

* this second generation might still feel (as a result of lingering cultural, ideological and religious tensions) somewhat at an angle to the broader conservative movement; but it has become entrenched in the American right in general, and the Republican Party in particular. Its publications - notably The Weekly Standard - tend to be uniformly rightwing and overwhelmingly partisan

* the successor generation is predominantly, if far from exclusively, focused on foreign affairs (in part perhaps as a result of its parents' success in the domestic arena, in part reflecting the greater problems for American power in the new era)

* the second generation lacks the caution of the first. Irving Kristol, for example, remained sceptical about seeking "regime change" as a United States foreign-policy goal, a crucial idea for contemporary "neocons" and one that came to inform the policies of the George W Bush administration.

Thus the modern neo-conservative movement has in a sense strayed from its originating outlook and priorities - though this was also true of Irving Kristol himself, who became increasingly partisan in later decades (to the extent of aligning with the religious right). In any event, Kristol and his contemporaries' achievement is considerable; it could be said with only a touch of exaggeration that while their foreign-policy agenda has been to a degree tainted by their offspring, their domestic agenda has become established at the heart of American politics and society.

Indeed, while many commentators have identified the Ronald Reagan era as the highpoint of neo-conservative power (notwithstanding contemporary criticism of the "feelgood president" from the ideological right), there is a case for arguing that Bill Clinton's administrations in the 1990s were a closer fit with the formative neo-conservative agenda of conservative liberalism. More generally, virtually all administrations since Reagan's have based their domestic agenda on the key values of initial neo-conservatism: including a strong belief in the market coupled with a conservative welfare state, as forces that together are expected to regulate socio-economic change and socio-cultural manners.

This bipartisan consensus appears today to be assailed by a pincer-attack from the moderately statist Barack Obama administration and the emerging anti-statist coalition represented by the "tea-party" movement. It is tempting to read into current events the demise of conservatism as such, let alone its more radical variants (as does Sam Tanenhaus's The Death of Conservatism [Random House, 2009]). But the pressures of economic crisis and unsettling social change are as likely to revivify as to bury it.

Indeed the neo-conservative infrastructure remains strong outside of the current structures of power, and its central propositions continue to have great purchase on the inside. Neo-conservatism's greatest exponent has passed away, but it is far too early for any obituaries of the movement and the ideas that Irving Kristol pioneered.

Also in openDemocracy on the ideas of the political right in the United States:

Godfrey Hodgson, "America's world: from frontiersman to neocon" (24 April 2003)

Danny Postel, "Noble lies and perpetual war: Leo Strauss, the neocons, and Iraq" (16 October 2003)

Godfrey Hodgson, "Ronald Reagan and America: the real legacy" (10 June 2004)

Stefan Halper & Jonathan Clarke, "Neo-conservatism and the American future" (7 July 2004)

Anatol Lieven, "America right or wrong" (8 September 2004)

Anatol Lieven, "Bush's choice: messianism or pragmatism?" (22 February 2005)

John J Mearsheimer, "Hans Morgenthau and the Iraq war: realism versus neo-conservatism" (19 May 2005)

Francis Fukuyama, "After the 'end of history'" (2 May 2006)

Sidney Blumenthal, "Neocon fantasy, Iraqi reality" (20 September 2006)

John C Hulsman, "Beyond the neocons: ethical realism and America's future" (21 September 2006)

Sidney Blumenthal, "Jeane Kirkpatrick, shadow of the present" (20 December 2006)

Jim Sleeper, US neo-cons jump the conservative ship (10 February 2009)

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