A Dandy in Politics
Het gedachtegoed van een politieke dandy
Pim Fortuyn and the challenge of right-wing populism
On 6 may 2002, an environmentalist fired six bullets at the popular politician Pim Fortuyn, bringing an abrupt end to the sensational career of a political adventurer. Within a period of only a few months, Fortuyn had completely overturned the political landscape of the Netherlands. His party, the Pim Fortuyn List, was on the verge of becoming the biggest party, and he himself was preparing to become Minister-President.
At first sight, Fortuyn belongs to the range of populists that have created furore in Europe over the past few years: Jörg Haider in Austria, Filip Dewinter in Belgium, Jean-Marie Le Pen in France. But the Fortuyn phenomenon extended farther than the simple popular nationalism of these extreme rightwing politicians. Fortuyn was an agitator with an outspoken vision on the failure of present-day democracy.
In the first large-scale study on this phenomenon, the sociologist Dick Pels illustrates just how difficult it is to assign Fortuyn a position on the left-right political spectrum. In A Dandy in Politics, Pels recalls Fortuyn’s career from his early years as a Marxist sociologist until his peak as a political dandy. He arrives at the conclusion that a completely new spectrum ought to be applied to Fortuyn: a spectrum that ranges from stylised populism, of which Fortuyn was the ultimate personification, to the political inbreeding of an autistic regency caste.
A Dandy in Politics is above all the intellectual biography of a politician who has been erroneously deemed a scatterbrain by his opponents. In addition, it is a fascinating story of a man who assumed, with a certain charisma, the role of outsider, thus treading in the footsteps of political bohemians such as Oscar Wilde, Hendrik de Man, and Benito Mussolini. Finally, the book demonstrates the breakthrough of a new phenomenon in democracy: the decisive role of style and personality.
It is particularly this last element in Pels’ study that allocates the Fortuyn phenomenon a significance that reaches considerably further than this brief, traumatic episode in the Netherlands’ political history. Pels demonstrates that Fortuyn’s death marks the beginning of a political future in which parties are becoming increasingly less important whereas the reverse is the case for individuals. With exemplary style and powerful arguments, Pels convinces the reader that politics without political parties need not, by definition, represent a loss.