Some authors reject that populism is even a terribly meaningful concept, but leaving aside that general rejection, for those who admit that populism is "a thing" and likewise admit that the far-right is definable, are there examples they give of groups or parties that are far-right but not populist? And if so, under what definitions of these terms?

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    Well, there are certainly some conservative religious groups that meet some definitions of far-right, and are arguably not populist. Would an elitist or isolationist faith/cult meet your criteria?
    – Hulk
    Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 9:58
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    Yes, there are. Can't write an answer right now, but check Cas Mudde 2004, "The Populist Zeitgeist", Government and Opposition 39 (4), 541-563. Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 17:48
  • @henning--reinstateMonica I've looked at Mudde's paper again, but I can't quite see him giving such an example. The closest thing I saw (p.546) is that he argues that "(early) socialism", by which I'm guessing he means Marxism, is not populist because it is revolutionary and wants to change the people rather than merely speak for them. But he gives no comparable example on right-side of the political spectrum. Nonetheless, some revolutionary far-right idea that also wanted to "change the people" might qualify for Mudde's exception, but I don't know any examples... Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 18:16
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    @Hulk Of the top of my head, probably some Japanese movements that aimed to reinstate power to the emperor might qualify (although even in that ideology there's the "100 million hearts beating as one" and so the people are sort of identified with the emperor etc.), so I'd really like to see if some scholars argue such a perspective. Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 18:22

2 Answers 2


Any question like this depends on the implied definitions of "right-wing" and "populist". Populism is normally seen in contrast to "Elitism", and so we are looking for groups that espouse the xenophobic, ultranationalist views of the far right, but support, at least in principle, rule by an elite.

One way this can happen is if the "elite" is identified with a minority ethnic group. For example in South Africa there are groups such as the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, which espouse "white supremacy" over the majority in South Africa. For them, the white "race" is an elite that should rule over others. This group is undoubtably far-right, and probably not populist by most definitions.

Another example would be Theocratic groups that desire domination led by an elite of religous leaders. Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/DAESH) would seem to have many of the xenophobic aspects of the far-right, combined with the desire to establish a Caliphate with an elite ruling Caliph. This group is undoubtedly not populist, and probably far-right by most definitions.

There are other groups that, for example seek to establish absolute divine rule by a king, for example in Japan, there are groups that want to get rid of democracy and make the Emperor the sole ruler of Japan (even though the Emperor has not expressed any desire for such a role). Again you see here a combination of ultranationalism and elitism.

  • This reflects my own intuition on the matter, but one conceptual issue is that by some definitions populism is a self-elevation of a group/actor/party as the sole meaningful voice of "the people". However, a lot of far right groups exclude in their ideology some "others" (usually minorities, but in some cases even a majority of the inhabitants in an area) from even being part of "the people". I guess the question comes down to whether chauvinism is the same as elitism... Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 4:16
  • N.B. there's Vox video that briefly argues along these lines wrt to Japan, but it's not very developed argument. Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 5:39
  • By no means "xenophobic, ultranationalist views" define "far right". This may be a "practical coincidence" in the current climate, but even then only in the Western discourse. In most Asian countries (e.g. South Korea) both "left" and "right" parties are pretty much "xenophobic and ultranationalist" by European standards (and the left is arguably more so). If we want at least an air of objectivity, we should stick to the traditional definition of right as "authoritarian" (politically) and "free market" (economically) (which, of course, don't even correlate much).
    – Zeus
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 6:17
  • Actually I think xenophobia is the marker of the extreme right. Authoritarian is typical of both idenfiably right and left wing groups, and there are plenty of right-wing Libertarians. "Free market" is the characteristic of the centrist right, such as the CDU or the Tories.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 6:28

This is from a few decades ago, but in the U.S. some Republicans were serious about reducing government spending, including popular programs like social security and medicare. They were referred to as "root canal Republicans" by other (more populist) Republicans.

  • Oh no doubt there are groups on the right of the political spectrum who aren't populist by most definitions of the latter term. The question is whether such groups meet some def of far right. In your answer you don't really touch on that aspect. Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 4:08

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