In the last thirty years or so, the influence of the radical right has been constantly growing
throughout Europe. This political success has been accompanied by an increasingly intensive
scientific research on the phenomenon of the radical right, which has resulted in several
studies that address various aspects of the radical right phenomenon in Europe. Paradoxically,
despite such an abundance of research papers, their review suggests that there are relatively few
papers that have a systematic and in-depth approach to the political ideology of the radical
right. This doctoral dissertation fills this research gap and focuses on the political ideology of
the radical right, taking into account the thesis of the well-known researcher of political
ideologies Michael Freeden, that political ideologies are the center of political analysis
because the study of ideologies can provide relevant insights necessary for understanding
politics and political processes.
In the context of the debate on the wave of radicalism in Europe, Poland is a particularly interesting case. Firstly, it is the largest and most populous post-communist country that became a member of the EU and a country in which the radical right won three parliamentary and three presidential elections between 2005 and 2020. Secondly, in academic papers and
media Poland is often portrayed as an example of a country that has successfully gone
through the process of transformation to liberal democracy and as an example of the most
successful transition economy in Europe. The Polish case is also interesting because it is a
a country with more than 90% of declared Catholics and where, primarily due to historical
development, Catholicism plays a significant role in political, social, and cultural life; it has
become a key component of the Polish national identity. In contrast to Western European
countries, in Poland Political Catholicism, did not spark the development of strong Christian-
Democratic parties, it rather gave rise to radical right-wing parties instead. In addition to
cultural factors, historical heritage is often considered a fertile ground for the emergence of
this type of parties, especially its influence on political processes and on the processes of
building a national identity. Namely, the Polish historical heritage, specifically the one related
to the 20th century, was marked by a short period of democratic rule (1918-1925), and two
long periods of authoritarian rule, that of Jozef Pilsudski (1925 to 1939), and that of the
communist authoritarians (1945 to 1989).
Thus, the main goal of the dissertation is to analyze the ideology of the main representatives of the radical right in Poland by exploring its discursive manifestations, as well as the way in which the radical right ideology is produced. This doctoral dissertation is designed as a case study within the framework of a cultural approach in political sciences. The cultural approach is characterized by the insistence on the importance of context, which, on the other hand, makes it difficult to define clear independent, dependent, and intervening variables. Therefore, in the
cultural approach, a case is most often taken as the analytical unit taking into consideration all
the complexity of its historical and socio-political distinctiveness. Qualitative content analysis
was chosen as the research method, and conceptual analysis of Michael Freeden's ideology
was added to it, since this approach allows us to better understand the morphology of
ideologies and their operationalization in politics.
The first chapter is about the theoretical and methodological framework. Since the concept of the radical right is one of the deeply contested concepts which there is no consensus about in political science, and since the aim of this doctoral dissertation is to explain this concept, the first part of the chapter consists of a review and analysis of recent literature. The notion of the radical right was analyzed through comparison with related terms such as the extreme right,
right-wing populism, and the far right. As a starting point for analysis in the dissertation, a
somewhat modified definition of the radical right by the well-known political scientist Cas
Mudde is used. According to him, the constitutive features of the radical right are integral nationalism, authoritarianism, and populism. Like the concept of the radical right, the concept of ideology is also ambivalent and can be understood in different ways which result in multiple uses of the term ideology which are often contradictory. This doctoral dissertation is largely based on the morphological approach to the study of ideology developed by Michael Freeden.
The second chapter deals with the history of Poland before 1989. The first part of the chapter
explains the early context of the emergence of Polish nationalism, which has its roots in the
‘noble democracy’ of the 17th century, as well as in the national struggles for independence of the 19th century. However, the chapter focuses on two periods that significantly influenced the emergence and growth of Polish political nationalism in the early 2000s. The first is the
interwar period (1918-1939) in which two traditions of Polish political thought, Sanacja and
Endeca, crystallized, and from which two visions of the Polish nation, national identity, and the nation-state, emerged. The second period is after the Second World War, i.e., the period of the
People's Republic of Poland in which the legitimization and institutionalization of the nationalist discourse take place. Equally, in this period there emerged and formed social groups with different visions of the Polish state after the fall of communism.
The third chapter deals with the transformation of the People's Republic of Poland into the
The third Republic and with an account of political and social events in the first decade after the fall of communism. This chapter sheds light on the political and social context within which the dominant social divisions in Polish society emerged, which in large part resulted in the evolution of radical right-wing parties in the early 2000s. In particular, the very nature of the transformation process emerged as the main subject of dispute. Namely, the Polish right believes that due to the contractual transformation of the system, the ‘revolution’ is not over and that the left-liberal groups have made an agreement with the former communist establishment. They believe that the Third Republic is a product of this agreement and that it serves the left-liberal and former communist elites to maintain positions of power and rule the
The third Republic to the detriment of the oppressed people. This conspiratorial narrative
represents the foundation around which the politics and ideology of the radical right have
been built in Poland since 2000.
The fourth chapter deals with the emergence and profiling of two radical right-wing parties,
Law and Justice (Polish: Prawo I Sprawiedliwość – PiS) and the League of Polish Families
(Polish: Liga Polskich Rodzin – LPR) . The chapter is structured in such a way as to first present the history of the formation of these parties, with an emphasis on the main actors who participated as the originators and implementers of these projects. In both cases, these are largely the ‘family projects’ of the Kaczynski brothers (Law and Justice) and father and son Giertych (League of Polish Families). From the Kaczynskis’ biographies, it is obvious that
they come from an environment dominated by the legacy of Sanacja, while father and son
Giertych openly presents themselves as the heirs of the interwar Endecja. After presenting their political activities and the first successes in the elections, the ideology of these two parties is reconstructed, primarily from their programs and other party publications. The research showed that until 2005 both parties contained all the constitutive elements of the radical right according to Mudde’s conceptualization. While these constitutive elements have been present in the League of Polish Families since its founding, the party Law and Justice gradually became radicalized. This period, at least from the perspectives of PiS and LPR, is dominated by the conflict between the post-communist elites (former communists and left-liberal intellectuals) gathered around the left Democratic Left Alliance (Polish: Sojusz Lewicy
Demokratycznej, SLD) and the so-called “patriotic’ camp that emerged from Solidarity. This chapter also covers the period between 2005 and 2007 when these two parties, together with the Self-Defense party, formed a government that lasted less than two years. This first, shorter coming to power of the radical right in Poland is not important because of the public policies they pursued during that period, but because of the experience and lessons gained by PiS during its rule in the liberal democratic system. Namely, after 2007, the LPR disappeared
from the Polish political scene, leaving the PiS as the only relevant political actor of the
The fifth chapter covers the period between 2007 and 2015. It is the period of rule by the Civic Platform (Polish: Platforma Obywatelska, PO), a center-right party with strong pro-EU views and liberal economic and social policies. Due to the disappearance of the left from the Polish political scene, the main social and political conflict underwent a radical change. PiS formulated a new conflict – the struggle between solidarity and liberal or corporate Poland –
and built its ideology around this conflict. This period in Polish political and social life was
marked by the immigration crisis that hit Europe and the debate on the acceptance of the
Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women, the so-called Istanbul Convention. Both topics as well as the pro-European orientation of the PO
government led to the mobilization of radical right-wing social groups and media that skillfully occupied public space by successfully imposing their topics on the public agenda.
As this dissertation will show, PiS has adapted its discourse to that of radical right-wing
organizations and has successfully presented itself as their political representative. On the one hand, this ‘alliance’ helped the PiS succeed in the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections, while on the other it marked the further radicalization of the PiS, especially when it comes to issues of morals and values.
The sixth chapter deals with the period between 2015 and 2020. During that period, the PiS won both the presidential and the parliamentary elections twice. This chapter emphasizes how
PiS translates its ideology into public policies. Namely, during this period PiS focused its efforts on two projects: ‘repairing the state’ and rebuilding the community (nation). The first project was marked by the judicial reform and the crisis related to the Constitutional Court; it aimed to strengthen the executive branch to the detriment of other branches of government.
The PiS community reconstruction project was conceived as a change in the material and spiritual dimension of the community. The first is mostly related to social policies, the emphasis being on family policies. Changes in the spiritual dimension imply changes in cultural policy, within which there has been a reform of public media and the announcement
of the “recolonization” of private media. In changing the spiritual dimension, PiS placed
special emphasis on the defense of the traditional way of life on the one hand, and on the
politics of history on the other, in which the Institute of National Remembrance played an
The seventh chapter takes the form of a final discussion in which the basic theses of the radical right ideology in Poland are reconstructed. The aim of this discussion is to position the topic of this dissertation within the framework of a broader theoretical discussion between liberals and their critics. Finally, the conclusion summarizes the main research results in this
doctoral dissertation and points to the possible direction of future research, especially research
of countries with a strong radical right and with a similar historical and cultural heritage.
Equally, the conclusion points to the fact that this dissertation has not fully answered the research question related to finding out how ideology is constructed, and the actors involved in the process. Namely, the problem was the research design and selection of the analysis method. The conclusion is that a more complete answer to this research question would require some field research, preferably using the method of interview or survey. Finally, we
believe that some future research on ideology should move in that direction.