Altitudes towards a cordon sanitaire vis-a-vis extremist parties: Instrumental pragmatism, affective reactions, and democratic principles

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How should political parties deal with extremist parties? In some countries an accommodating approach prevails, while in Flanders (Belgium) political actors pursue a much more repressive approach. While a democratic coalition against the Flemish populist party Vlaams Belang (VB) continues to be maintained, the effectiveness and legitimacy of its exclusionary politics have regularly been called into question. The political and normative debate tends to be at the forefront in this regard, while little attention is paid to public opinion. In the present article we try to determine what citizens think about the cordon sanitaire using in-depth interviews. The results show that attitudes towards exclusionary politics are based on pragmatism, strategy and principles. The pragmatic vision depends on people's definition of the party and their assessment of the risks associated with its participation in government, while principled arguments are dependent on the fundamental meaning assigned to democracy. Most VB voters do not consider VB to be an antagonistic enemy, but rather an agonistic adversary and the true defender of the people, while most non-VB voters still defend the legitimacy of the cordon sanitaire, focusing on the potentially perverse effects of government participation and advocating both procedural and substantive principles of democracy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-698
JournalEthical Perspectives: Journal of the European Ethics Network
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Cordon sanitaire
  • democracy
  • extremist parties

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