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date: 13 December 2019

The Inclusion-Moderation Thesis: An Overview

Summary and Keywords

The inclusion-moderation thesis hinges on the idea that competitive electoral processes tame radical ideas thereby leading to the transformation of extremist parties into more moderate ones. The theory offers a causal process: as parties are included in their electoral systems, the competitive processes and negotiations move them from the tail end of their ideological spectrums to positions that are more acceptable to broader constituencies. While the theory offers an affirmative view of the incorporation of all parties to electoral competition, it poses many questions ranging from whether such transformations are inevitable or strategic to if and how inclusion leads to the capture of the entire political system by radical ideas. A review of the existing research shows that it pays more attention to parties' overall policy commitments and privileges the position of party leadership. Focusing on the overall impact of moderation much research disregards the impact of internal party dynamics, emphasizes the utility of centralization of power or hierarchical structures and their tendency to promote moderation. One of the paradoxical findings of such studies is the assumption that moderation does not require democracy yet still promotes democratic results. More important, the theory makes several assumptions about inclusion without carefully identifying how democratic the electoral context is, the ways in which voters stand in their respective political spectrums or how they reward and punish parties that subscribe to extremist or moderate positions. The evidence suggests that inclusion-moderation cannot be reduced to a mechanical process; the ideologies of extreme parties, the overall context of competition and electorates’ decision making processes need to be taken into account to understand if and how electoral inclusion can alter parties’ commitments and policies. Inclusion may lead not only to procedural adjustments, while keeping extremist ideologies in tact but also to ideational transformation that makes extremist parties more prone to recognize and negotiate with other groups. When the context is not democratic moderation might mean domestication of parties with what may appear to be “extremist” or “radical” in context thereby thwarting the overall democratization of the system. Some analyses also show exclusion may lead to the moderation of extremist parties. Given the contradictory evidence, the insights of the inclusion moderation model cannot serve as a one-size-fits all model but help to understand how the inclusion process works by presenting an ideal type for both party and electoral behavior while both conformity and divergence from the model offer important insight to democratic processes and democratization.

Keywords: moderation, extreme, radical parties, democratization, democratic reversals, politics and religion

Can parties with extremist, antiestablishment, or antidemocratic ideologies be a part of democratic regimes? What happens once parties that are not moderate are included in democratic competitions? Can parties with a commitment to nonnegotiable positions use democracy to gain power and use their political power to undermine it by imposing their ideas? Or, put differently, can parties that subscribe to unquestionable dicta (especially religious ones) participate in democratic processes where all positions and political assertions are eventually expected to be open to question and compromise? Do religious parties become more radical or more moderate once they participate in the electoral process? The rise of parties that are described as religious or extremist, especially after the end of the Cold War, made such questions crucial to understanding democratic processes and democratization in a wide range of countries from France and Hungary to Indonesia, where religious and/or radical parties continue gaining electoral fortunes. Of concern to many students of democracy is whether and how parties with extremist views, once they participate in the political process and seize power through competitive elections, can undermine their respective democracies. In other words, at the background of such questions is a specific democratic paradox—can democracies include parties and actors with antidemocratic stances yet still maintain their democratic structure? Do democracies need parties and movements committed to democratic ideals, or can democratic processes tame antidemocratic actors, even the democracies’ adamant opponents or critics?

One of the compelling answers to this “democratic paradox” is offered by what came to be described as the “inclusion and moderation” thesis or hypothesis. Tracing the transformation of revolutionary socialist parties as early as the 1910s, some scholars concluded that parties were inherently oligarchic organizations where elites gradually dominated their decisions, yet their interest in political survival led to taming their radical ideas (e.g., Michels, 1915). Similar observations offered through democratization debates contended that democratic processes demanded negotiation and adjustment to gain electoral power thereby leading contestants to change their positions by adopting ideas acceptable to broader groups. In the words of Huntington (1991b),

Implicitly or explicitly in the negotiating process leading to democratization, the scope of participation was broadened and more political figures and groups gained the opportunity to compete for power and to win power on the implicit or explicit understanding that they would be moderate in their tactics and policies. (p. 169)

In its more crystalized forms, the inclusion-moderation thesis argues that democratic inclusion of radical or proreligious parties triggers various processes (e.g., competition, negotiation, or taking stances on contested issues) that result in moderation of parties. In essence, democracies do not need democrats but the democratic competitive processes tame even antidemocratic participants. A corollary to the inclusion thesis is that exclusion of religious and extremist groups results in their further radicalization. Perhaps due to its rigorous descriptive and theological nature as well as the increasing electoral gain of “radical” proreligious or ultra-left or right parties, the inclusion and moderation thesis generated a significant amount of literature and scholarly and policy-centered debates, especially on religious parties. The various signifiers (e.g., models, theorems, hypotheses) are used to qualify the moderation-inclusion’s different analytical capacities. For some the inclusion-moderation theory should be approached as a model that represents and simplifies some political processes (e.g., Schwedler, 2011). For others it is a theorem or theory that offers a set of well-connected ideas that help us to capture the engagement of parties that were once excluded (e.g., Driessen, 2012). Yet for another group, inclusion-moderation was only a plausible postulation or hypothesis, not an inductive observation or well-established empirical pattern; thus it required substantial evidence and well-detailed processes to enter the political science lexicon to explain the transformation of some parties and movements (e.g., Kirdis, 2018; Shelef & Shelef, 2013). Given the plurality of views it is not surprising that discussions focused on theory testing and various elaborations challenging both the premises and the conclusions of the thesis.

Despite broad discussions on the application of the inclusion-moderation theory, the existing literature indicates that many studies fail to pay attention to the behavioralist assumption that spawned the inclusion-moderation model. In fact, the inclusion-moderation thesis is rooted in the idea that, once they are included in democratic competitive processes, religious or extreme parties feel the pressure of attracting more voters and negotiate with other parties, thus changing their policy positions or electoral actions (e.g., Brocker & Künkler, 2013; Buehler, 2013). At first glance, the rationale and inclusion-moderation thesis seems to have placed its trust in the transformative power of competitive processes and negotiation among different parties and groups. Yet a closer look indicates that the process includes many rather specific antecedent conditions. Although the thesis is often applied in comparative politics and used in discussions detached from American political literature, it echoes the logic of the median voter theorem (Cox, 1990; Downs, 1957). Mirroring the same ideas, the inclusion-moderation model postulates that “extreme,” “radical,” or “uncompromising” factions or parties that stand on the tail end of their respective spectra or adhere to unquestionable positions fail to garner support and thus any electoral or political influence because of the overall distribution of the voting public’s views. Once included in the political system, such parties are forced to move toward the center of the political spectrum to broaden their appeal; they can do so by readjusting their inflexible views. Thus the process hinges on the overall positions of the electorate, the opportunity structure, and electoral incentives in the system that reward moving away from strictly held positions. It is not participation in competitive processes per se but the desire to widen their support that compels parties to revisit some of their commitments, eventually leading to their moderation.

Unpacking the Model

The inclusion-moderation thesis’s accuracy and political implications have been subject to many debates; such assessments require the recognition of several assumptions behind the thesis. At the analytical level, the inclusion- moderation thesis focuses on political actors, mainly groups and parties. More specifically the argument applies to those radical, extreme, religious groups or parties with a range of ideas that are treated as nonnegotiable. However, neither “radical/extreme” nor religious parties are easy to distinguish. Such identifications can be done either by using the overall ideological spectrum of a given country, thereby treating all of the parties on the tail end as “extreme,” or focusing on each party’s ideologies and assessing their ideological commitment regardless of their position on their respective countries’ spectrum. Although many parties are seen as religious or pro-Islamic, the definition of a religious party is not well developed. Although they fail to offer a clear definition, many studies treat religious political parties as parties that differ from others due to their ultimate desire to impose a preferred version of a religion’s moral order and legal practices on society. Yet such claims do not necessarily mean that religious parties will be extremist in terms of advocating the use of force, supporting violence (including terrorism) in pursuit of their goals, or promoting aggressive foreign security policies (Elman & Warner, 2008). Others contend that religious parties differ from the rest as they implicitly or explicitly refer to religious principles and texts to define their policies on a broad range of issues (Rosenblum, 2003; Tepe, 2005). Whether or not a party should be seen as extreme or religious is beyond the scope of many applications of inclusion-moderation thesis. In addition to the lack of precision in identification of religious or extreme parties, the theorem unequivocally presumes that such parties inevitably seek to maximize their electoral gain, to promote their policy positions, and to attain influence in their respective systems. Implicit in the model is also the postulation that a party can act as a unified unit, often controlled by its leadership, while their decisions that moderate certain positions are rewarded by voters who also cluster around moderate positions.

Consequently, the inclusion and moderation argument hinges on the idea that parties and groups respond to the institutional constraints and opportunities of democratic competitive processes that penalize uncompromising positions, compelling parties to moderate their stance. While being parsimonious, the thesis offers both positivistic and deterministic answers to those who question whether the inclusion of radical parties can lead to the overhaul of democratic processes. In this regard, the Inclusion thesis is optimistic in its conviction that democratic processes are transformative and can turn even antidemocratic parties to democratic actors regardless of their lack of democratic commitment. The implication of the thesis has generated significant discussion in studies of political science, religious parties, and democratization by exposing several shortcomings and raising novel questions.

The Lack of Empirical Evidence

The moderation-inclusion thesis has been successfully applied to several select parties (e.g., the transformation of revolutionary socialist parties or the historical analyses of some Catholic parties), yet its application to new cases shows that both the rationale and insights of the theorem require many amendments. Even successful historical applications of inclusion-moderation raise questions regarding the theorem’s overall findings. As exemplified by Kalyvas’ (2000) analysis, applications of inclusion-moderation suggest that it is the hierarchical structure of the parties and their ability to make and fulfill commitments and well defined negotiations that led to their democratization. Thus the result is not the expansion of democratic commitment, but rather an antidemocratic intraparty structure triggered moderation with some democratic results. In contrast to Kalyvas’ findings, some scholars argue that it was the hierarchical party structure that did not allow moderation of the Islamist parties in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Turkey (e.g., Kirdis, 2018). Such contradictory conclusions suggest that the party structure can be a necessary but not sufficient explanation for moderation; it is the dominant ideology or the strategic decision of leaders that defines if and how parties moderate.

Although successful cases remain rare or seem to have reversals in many cases, inclusion-moderation serves as an ideal process and it is used to explain why transformation of parties does not take place but occurs only partially. For instance, several accounts show that despite their successful inclusion, Hindu nationalist movements and parties resisted an alteration of their agenda and in some cases revised it, adopting more antagonistic and populist discourses (Bashirov & Lancaster, 2018; Pahwa, 2017). Such studies draw attention to the importance of explaining seemingly deviant patterns whereby inclusion does not lead to effective moderation or in which an episode of moderation can be reversed. They also raise the question of if and how we can unpack the moderation argument carefully to better understand whether and how the moderation process takes place as an internalization of democratic ideas, mechanisms, and liberal rights and/or there is a clear rejection of exclusive politics and the use of violence takes place. If the moderation process fails, a new set of questions surface, such as why and how parties resist electoral incentives. The extant analyses attribute the lack of moderation to the resiliency of some ideologies, especially religious and nationalist ones, and their tendency to maintain a strong connection with their founding ideas and social movements (e.g., Maeda, 2016). Although religious and ideological commitments can ultimately prevent parties and leaders from achieving full-fledged moderation, what is not explained is why such ideologies become less strict, at times launching a pendulum swing between different party models or short-term moderation and radicalization. While such questions might dissuade some from using it, the inclusion-moderation thesis remains one of the most important frameworks that links new radical and religious parties in general and pro- Islamic parties specifically to the literature on democracy and democratization. As illustrated next, the existing literature highlights and responds to several shortcomings, raising the question of if and how moderation occurs, if it is sustainable, and what its democratic implications are, yet none of these critical questions is responded to by readily available answers.

Under Specification of the Term “Moderation”

While the term “moderation” stands at the heart of many discussions, it is far from having a clear meaning. Some studies do not define it, and others take a minimalist stance and define it as “movement from a relatively closed and rigid worldview to one more open and tolerant of alternative perspectives” (Schwedler, 2006, p. 3). As parties partake in democratic processes, their inclusion compels extremist parties to abandon radical agendas because of “the strategic pursuit of their interests under certain institutional conditions” (Kalyvas, 1998, p. 296). Thus any change to the worldview or ideology of the party that makes it less radical would be considered as moderation. Adopting a more maximalist view, some contend that moderation of a party involves the recognition of the contestant groups as legitimate opponents whose views might have an impact on the public order regardless of the party’s specific ideological views. Neglected in these studies, however, is the question of which parties would be considered extremist or radical in the first place (Wickham, 2004). Although the term “radical” can take on different meanings, its minimalist version defines radical parties as those who strive to introduce substantive systemic change and strongly oppose the power configurations of the status quo.

Further complicating the applications of the inclusion-moderation thesis is that the term “moderation” is often defined as a multilayered process while many studies focus on only one dimension. A large group of analyses brings to the fore strategic moderation (e.g., recognition of and negotiation with other groups to promote the party’s interest) even though such moderation would remain a façade, making no real attempt at transforming the party’s ideas and thus yielding limited results. Another group of studies emphasizes the importance of ideational changes and treat merely behavioral and strategic appropriation of moderate positions as a challenge to the democratic process. While the existing studies are eager to label the form of moderation bereft of a careful analysis, such outcome-oriented answers appear tenuous. Thus there has been an effort to understand and tease out the conditions and inner workings of the inclusion-moderation process to better capture its multiple models and outcomes (e.g., Clark, 2006; Schwedler, 2006; Tepe, 2012).

Parties as Vote Maximizers

One of the assumptions informing the inclusion and moderation argument is that parties are inherently interested in expanding their electoral appeal and gaining political power. “Running to lose” does not seem rational in an electoral competition. Nevertheless, a review of existing parties indicates that some parties might do just that and run to lose in order to draw attention to different issues (e.g., niche or issue parties). Defying presumed electoral logic, other parties appeal to a well-defined group and do not attempt to expand their electoral base. Thus the assumption that parties are ultimately vote maximizers requires careful revision, highlighting a critical flaw in the inclusion and moderation argument. As noted by scholars who study such parties, parties can and often do differ in their ultimate goals. While some parties seek to control an office (i.e., office-seeking parties), others seek to secure a certain level of support (i.e., vote-seeking parties) and yet others seek to influence policies (i.e., policy-seeking parties; Strøm, 1990). Each party differs in its organizational appearance and electoral strategies. For instance, policy-seeking parties, according to Strøm, tend to have a higher degree of internal democracy, while vote- and office-seeking parties promote more hierarchical organizational structures and decisions. Although it is possible for a party to pursue all of these goals at once, such parties for many are not a norm but a particular type and are exceptions. According to Kirchheimer (1966), such parties are catch-all (Allerweltspartei) parties, and they tend to revise their policies in order to reach a broader set of voters, as exemplified in the case of socialist and Christian democratic parties in Western democratic systems.

Identification of a limited number of parties as a “catch-all” demonstrates not only that voter maximization serves as the main goal of a group of parties but also that such parties’ ideologies can be seen as highly malleable. As exemplified by existing party typologies and the analyses of many cases, parties and voters can be primarily committed to maintaining ideological principles regardless of whether or not commitments are translated to electoral power, while many parties are also rewarded for their ideological clarity and commitment and not for their flexibility (Sánchez-Cuenza, 2004). Introducing an interesting paradox, where the majority of the population endorses ethnic religious ideas, Pardesi and Oetken (2008) contend that some religious political parties, such as India’s Bhata Janata Party’s resilient illiberal agenda, may not moderate if the leaders are fearful that doing so will cost them a core base of supporters to a rival party, especially given the country’s electoral system and the necessity to gain regional party support. Thus the electoral outcomes of moderation are not always positive; parties may approach moderation differently based on the overall tendencies of their constituencies. While the inclusion-moderation theory applies to “catch-all party voters” and “parties,” both seem to be specific groups and not norms.

Lack of Identification of Processes

Although inclusion is expected to moderate positions of radicals or extremist parties, left unexplained in many studies is the question of how exactly such processes take place, what role, if any, leaders, voters, party organization, and external factors play, and moderation’s variant manifestations. In other words, although the inclusion-moderation thesis is ultimately about the process of moderation, it does not elaborate on the mechanisms through which inclusion results in a moderating transformation. In many cases process is inferred from outcomes; adopting a game-theoretical approach, “negotiations” among elites are seen as the main markers of the often invisible moderation process. In other accounts, it is state repression and elites’ decisions that result in adaptation of some uncompromising positions. As noted earlier, lack of specifications of moderating processes also raises questions as to whether the transformations were temporary adjustments or long-term shifts. While moderation often focuses on a given party’s transformation, for many a thorough identification of moderation needs to include the impact of and interaction with the overall system. A party’s moderation can occur or fail to take place due to the party’s responsiveness as well as to its ability to circumvent institutional constraints in various realms. Understanding the process is not an academic exercise but changes the short- and long-term outcomes of the moderation process. For instance, outcome-focused studies need to pay attention to the uses of the terms of political discussion, especially by antisystemic parties to promote their positions or the ability of antisystemic religious or nonreligious parties to shift the center of their broader systemic ideological spectra to farther right or left or more religious. Such interaction between an individual party and the party system’s moderation or lack of moderation indicates that without tracing the details of the moderation process, it is difficult to know if a party’s moderation or limited moderation means the overall system’s shift to a more radical realm or further democratization (e.g., Ruparelia, 2006).

The Context of Moderation

Although inclusion-moderation is introduced as a party-focused and somewhat universal pattern, a group of studies has asked if the overall context of moderation and regime types mattered (Buehler, 2013). Although moderation is seen as a positive process toward promoting electoral gains of parties and their respective democracies, studies have shown that moderation is neither always electorally advantageous to all parties nor does it always advance democracy. A thorough understanding of moderation requires a careful review of the political context. For instance, the political positioning on the extreme ends of a political spectrum can be politically expedient to parties in new democracies since the distinctiveness of policy positions increases voter certainty about the parties’ identity and intentions and thus increases support. In contrast, not adopting radical and vague policies but pursuing moderation is more advantageous and increases popular support in consolidating or established democracies (Ezrow, 2014). Other research shows that in undemocratic regimes moderation can be a double-edged sword. When a regime lacks democratic characteristics, “radicals” or religious groups might have a more democratic agenda. Thus under an undemocratic system moderation of radicals may result in their domestication and embrace of both systemic and antidemocratic traits (Tezcür, 2010b). Not only the overall structure of competition and democratic level but also the general characteristics of the state, social, and economic conditions offer different incentives to parties. For instance, in Jordan, where party competition legitimizes the monarchy, moderation can be more desirable to the regime and the parties. Yet, in a society where labor unions or religious views are strictly restricted, moderation can mean leaving these groups unrepresented.

A review of external institutions (i.e., external to parties) draws attention to a range of factors from societal changes (e.g., declining number of workers or middle class) to shifting economic structures (a shift from a nonprotectionist to a protectionist economy) or relations between religious institutions (e.g., the Catholic Church) and parties. Such critical external factors and their impact on parties can be decisive in releasing the restrictions on moderation and making it more politically expedient (Lees, 2005). For some scholars (e.g., Buehler, 2013), the fact that parties’ national and local branches moderate their positions at different degrees in environments where incentives are either present or lacking indicates that the impact of context might require a focus on both national and local conditions and cannot be taken as uniform. More important, attending to external conditions cannot replace a thorough understanding of the internal dynamics of the parties and how they choose to react to these conditions (Buehler, 2013).

Party Versus System/State Binary

One of the assumptions of the inclusion and moderation thesis is that the transformation of parties is and can be an autonomous process; they are limited or do not impact political systems overall. As noted, several studies challenge this separation, reflecting not only on what happens if the parties domesticate or moderate in an antidemocratic system but, more important, what happens when the transformation of parties or moderation of radical parties occurs through cotransformation or coevolution of their respective political systems and states. Such accounts draw attention to whether or how party moderation can lead to a simultaneous radicalization of the respective political systems and states. Central to such arguments is that while liberalization, democratization, and inclusion are more likely where states reward moderation, punish antisystem behavior, and include extremists or antisystem parties in meaningful electoral competition, the states are also susceptible to radical or dogmatic antidemocratic ideologies and can be transformed. The states or ruling parties can also control various aspects of electoral competition such as the scheduling of elections, therefore creating different incentives for radical parties (Pokladnikova & Yildiz, 2009).

The accounts that do not treat parties in isolation but focus on their relation with their respective states show that if party and state relations and their commitment to liberal and democratic values are neglected, it is not possible to assess whether moderation of parties strengthens antidemocratic systems or results in overall systemic radicalization. Analyses of countries like Indonesia, Poland, or Turkey suggest that the inclusion of religiously oriented parties results in the transformation of the states. Inclusion of pro-Islamic parties in Indonesia and the ensuing democratic bargaining meant that the negotiating partners of Islamists, most often secular nationalists and the secular institutions of the postcolonial state, must cede ground on important policy issues. Islamic society and the secular state coevolved. Likewise, in the case of Turkey, an initial moment of moderation of the country’s pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party resulted in its increasing electoral power and the expansion of the role of religion in the state’s policies, in some cases excluding minorities or excluding opponents. Although moderation is seen as a party-specific and inherently democratic process, through the simultaneous moderation of radical parties and radicalization of the overall system, the democratic and pluralistic aspects of the system can be eroded (Menchik, 2018). Likewise, as the Moroccan case suggests, the increasing capacity of an Islamic party and organizational autonomy might limit the state’s decision to further liberate its political domain, yet the party’s relative autonomy and mutually beneficial status quo not only render the inclusion and moderation rationale irrelevant but also do not result in further democratization (Wegner & Pellicer, 2009).

Moderation and the Role of the Masses

While most applications of moderation-inclusion focus on the tactics of the elite and the role of the state and elite negotiations, such approaches suggest that the role of the masses is not consequential. Thus it is not surprising that while an overwhelming majority of inclusion-moderation centered studies seek to analyze elite decisions and the actions of parties, the nature of mass beliefs and mass mobilization is left in the background. When the role of the masses is recognized, different conclusions emerge. According to some analyses, democratic regimes have seldom, if ever, been instituted by popular action (Huntington, 1991a); thus moderation does not need the affirmative views of the public. Others contend that for a successful transition to democracy, pressures from below must be tamed (Kaufman, 1967). Too much popular mobilization and pressure from below spoil the chances of moderation or democratization. A range of studies presumes that when masses are mobilized and are active participants of political transformation, the moderation of radical parties can be limited or thwarted. In one of the rare studies that analyzes the role of masses, Bermeo (1997) questions the role of mass mobilization and shows that masses and radical popular organizations can play a range of roles. When masses are for democracy, popular mobilization contributes to moderation as the extremist parties are either voted out or marginalized due to their radical views. Likewise, the lack of political alternatives for masses can account for the lack of moderation of ruling extremist or religious parties (Batory, 2016; Lázár, 2015). Studies that focus on the role of masses also indicate that moderately oriented masses might turn to extremist parties for different reasons (e.g., to express overlooked issue positions); thus moderation of masses does not necessarily lead to electoral support (Ahler & Broockman, 2014). Although the moderation and inclusion thesis pays more attention to parties and their leaders, any account of moderation needs to take into account the pivotal yet changing positions of the masses.

Types and Domains of Moderation

One of the important debates in the studies of moderation has arisen with regard to identifying different dimensions or domains of moderation by paying special attention to (a) ideological, (b) behavioral, and (c) strategic changes (Mecham & Hwang, 2014).

Ideological moderation involves the gradual transformation of a movement’s core values and beliefs from rigid and fixed to flexible and tolerant (Schwedler, 2006, p. 3). Yet ideological moderation can be not only a question of degrees but also issues. Parties might adopt more accommodating stances on specific issues as opposed to an overhaul of its ideology. For comprehensive ideological moderation to take place, parties need to alter their core commitments and ideas by bringing them closer to the political center, if such a center exists, but they also need to incorporate more democratic or inclusive ideas. While why parties moderate their ideologies remains underexplored, the cases of successful ideological moderation show that it is not ideological rigidity but other factors such as the overall spectrum of ideologies and a party’s distance from centrist ideologies or the hierarchical structure of the institution that define the likelihood of its ideological moderation (Sánchez-Cuenca, 2004). In some cases it is the reform in a party’s internal organization or leadership changes that result in the moderation of its ideology.

The second domain of moderation, behavioral moderation (e.g., forming electoral coalitions, accepting compromises on some policies), can occur for different reasons, yet it does not necessarily lead to ideological moderation (Browers, 2009; Schwedler 2011; Tepe, 2012). One of the difficult aspects of moderation is found in those that are considered strategic (Tomsa, 2019). Religious parties can alter their policy commitment and positions to promote their short-term interest without embracing the ideas behind such changes (e.g., temporarily recognizing ethnic or religious minority demands; Gurses, 2014). Strategic transformation, for many, indicates that while the two main domains of moderation, ideological and behavioral, are interrelated, party transformation in these domains can follow different trajectories or parties can opt for some changes without long-term and sincere commitment. Sinn Fein’s behavioral moderation (e.g., election bargaining, policy appropriation) did not change its broader ideological commitment (Whiting, 2018). Therefore, moderation of a party might take completely different forms in different domains.

The Impact of Theology and Religious Organizational Structure

While the term “religious party moderation” focuses on a party’s ability to moderate despite its doctrinal commitments, studies show that the basic tenets of religious doctrine, its different interpretations, and the overall structure of religious institutions need to be taken into account. Comparing the Catholic party in late-19th-century Belgium and the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria in the early 1990s, Kalyvas (1998) concluded that it is the internal organizational structure of a religion that could be the main determinant of moderation. While highly centralized Catholics of the 1880s could moderate, the Islamists in Algeria a century later (in the early 1990s) were unable to demonstrate their commitment in part due to the decentralized structure of Islam. Unlike the Catholic party, Islamic parties were less prone to moderate due to the lack of a central power to overcome their commitment problem, which led them to fail to credibly signal future compliance.

Kalyvas’ (2000) highly popular comparison perhaps inadvertently brought religious institutions to the forefront, emphasizing the importance of the overall religious organization and structures, reducing moderation to a negotiation process regardless of theological demands among different actors where centralized structures increased the credibility of actors. The emergence and the policies of parties like Fidevsz in Hungary or the Justice and Law Party in Poland indicate that the role of religion cannot be ignored in proreligious or religiously oriented right-wing or populist parties. Despite their classification as distinct party groups, the central role of the parties’ commitment to their respective theologies introduces almost the antithesis of the inclusion-moderation thesis, introducing a pattern of “inclusion-electoral dominance” that often leads to political authoritarianism. Paradoxically, the recognition of the importance of theologies does not clarify the process of moderation; instead it prompts another line of deductionist arguments and questions (e.g., whether Islam or Catholicism is compatible with democracy). The rise of a variety of Islamic parties since the mid-1980s and the shift of many parties in Europe to religious ideologies indicate that intrafaith variations are significant and religious parties from different faiths can share a large number of policies. As a result, any discussion of moderation that is derived from a given religion’s universal characteristics needs to be approached cautiously. Likewise, any discussion of moderation needs to incorporate how exactly a party interprets the dominant religion and to what extent the dominant religious doctrine informs its policies without attributing essentialist characteristics.

Intraparty Ideological and Theological Debates

Radical, extremist, or religious parties are different from others as their policy positions and constituency support requires rigorous ideological or theological justification and consistency. In her comparison of Islamic parties in Jordan and Yemen, Schwedler (2006) shows that it is the presence of such intraparty debates, regardless of their outcome, that has facilitated the ideological moderation of the Islamic Action Front in Jordan, while lack of such discussions has undermined the ability of Islam to moderate in Yemen. Yadav (2010), in the analyses of Islamists in Lebanon and Yemen, argues that Islamist leaders need to present religious justification for actions taken by the party and to recognize the importance of introducing such ideas publicly, not only internally but also publically to ensure widespread support for their political positions. Mexico’s National Action Party’s transformation shows that it was not changes in theological commitment but in the ways that changes in the political context affected the relative power of factions in the party; how they were mediated by existing party institutions shifted the party’s ideological goals and thereby defined the limits of the party’s moderation (Wuhs, 2013).

Similar to Mexico’s experience, the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) witnessed intense internal debates that resulted in a shift from treating politics as a sacred mission to a venue to accomplish certain goals by taking advantage of political openings; such decisions produced first behavioral effects and then some ideological effects. These changes were facilitated by a power shift in the “middle generation,” in brothers who came of age on campuses during the 1960s and 1970s—a cohort distinct from the hard-liner “prison generation” of party elders, who were exposed to different theologies. Likewise, analysis of the Prosperous Justice Party’s transformation in Indonesia shows that when multilevel government structures are taken into account between 1999 and 2009, the Islamist party gradually adopted more moderate behavior not only in national politics where the party had many state-offered incentives but also in local politics, where institutional incentives for moderation are weaker. Such analyses indicate that accounts of moderation that focus on the strong, if not deterministic, relation between theological commitment, religious organizations, institutional incentives, and the moderation of party behavior fall short in offering complete accounts; theological debates play critical roles yet do not determine the presence and degree of moderation. The presence of moderation where incentive structures are weak or the moderation of religious parties in Tunisia highlight the interaction of external incentives, ideational debates, and theological convictions.

Although many studies presume that parties respond to competitive processes as a unified entity, such assumptions tend to simplify complex processes; just as in other parties, radical or religious parties need to reconcile some contradictory views and demands within their ranks. Conventional approaches to moderation postulate that it is only when party elites decide to participate in an electoral contest that they are able to recognize their ideological radical views; this is one of the main reasons why a large segment of the electorate distance themselves from their parties and moderate their positions. An ideological- or theological-focused approach suggests moderation is likely to take place if there is an ideological and theological consensus, a coherent party organization (Wickham, 2004). Contrary to the view that intraparty democracy promotes moderation, many studies note that, when there are radical factions in a group, it is the ability of moderate groups to control the party that determines the trajectory of transformation. Although the desire to appeal to large numbers of masses and vote maximization might prompt adoption of “centrist” political platforms, such participation makes a party’s formerly invisible networks visible to state authorities when the ideology of the party is in opposition to the state. Although the moderation thesis presumes that party leaders and organizations have their own autonomous institutional concerns, ideological commitments often determine the parties’ organizational capacity and thus cannot be excluded from any analysis.

Exclusion Moderation

Notwithstanding the mounting critical reviews, the inclusion and moderation thesis remains one of the most influential explanations; however, some studies question its applicability and the overall conclusion that “exclusion leads” to immoderation. While inclusion is seen as an idealized political action, Freer (2018) argues, for instance, that it is the exclusion of Islamists that led to their moderation in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood has, in the face of increased government surveillance and restriction of political space, moderated its Islamist agenda to become part of the broader opposition agitating for structural political reforms, often at the expense of the traditional agenda of Islamizing society (Freer, 2018). Some parties, like Italy’s Partito Popolare Italiano and Democrazia Cristiana, completed their moderation prior to their inclusion in democratic competition (Warner, 2013). While it has been a poster case for moderation, it was the exclusion of Ennahda in Tunisia that led to its subsequent moderation and consent to the 2011 power-sharing agreement with two center-left parties. In other words, it was exclusion through repression and social marginalization that led the Islamist party Ennahda to move from its extreme antisystematic position of the 1970s to become the mainstream conservative party it is today (Cavatorta, 2013). What makes the exclusion thesis questionable is that in many cases it was not state repression but societal rejection that played a significant role in the party’s moderation; thus exclusion by the state to exert its own power per se might not be the reason for moderation.


The inclusion-moderation arguments serve as a valuable framework; their analytical value might lie in their ability to raise a set of questions regarding the nature of the electoral system and the internal structure, leadership, and constituency of radical, extreme religious parties. As indicated, in systems where democratic institutions are limited and intraparty discussions are confined, moderation can occur due not to negotiation and compromise but because of the individual incentives of leaders. Therefore, any application of inclusion-moderation theses requires a careful review of electoral context, intraparty dynamics, the specific ideas and theological commitment of a given party, and the overall tendencies of constituencies. Bereft of a systematic analysis of each, studies might confuse episodic temporary party transformation with long-term moderation without having the ability to assess their democratic implications. Presumed short-term moderations when parties lacked principled commitments to liberal and democratic rights can lead to the long-term erosion of democracies when such parties gain power. Given that the inclusion-moderation theory has both analytical and normative implications, any assessment that declare a party moderate or immoderate needs to do so carefully by explaining the meaning of moderation as any move away from a radical point might not be considered as moderation by assessing the process, content, scope, and implications of such moderation.


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