The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, May 20, 2002  

Is it a List or a Party?

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is carrying on its web site an excellent essay, dated May 17, about the fall-out from the success at the polls of List Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch political organization created by Pim Fortuyn, the reportedly charismatic politican who was assassinated, allegedly by an extreme "animal rights" activist, on May 6.

Not without reason, author Ernst Levy expresses some skepticism about the viability of the List in his essay, entitled, "Soldiers of Fortuyn."

Although Levy makes no reference to the reaction of American political commentators to the success of the List and Fortuyn's assassination, his comments warrant notice, if only because those in the U.S. who have been most vocal (and fawning in their praise) about the Fortuyn phenomenon, including The Wall Street Journal,, and Andrew Sullivan (by way of something called "The Daily Dish" at, so painfully and embarrassingly display scant knowledge of Dutch culture and politics. We would add, however, that such ignorance in the past has not stopped this same right-wing trioika -- under the leadership of Robert Bartley, Jonah Golberg (son of the notorious Lucianne Goldberg, this time with help from newly Catholic obsessive Rod Dreher), and Sullivan, respectively -- from wielding verbal bats and bricks against a wide variety of political opponents.

"Fortuyn's talent for rhetoric, his bearing and his charisma made him attractive to many voters and to the media," writes Levy, without mentioning the fawning treatment he received here in the U.S. "The issues he addressed, and the language he used, gave many people the impression that someone was finally listening to their primary concerns. And what Fortuyn offered as a quick fix to these problems did not seem fully implausible," asserts Levy, stopping short of calling Fortuyn a manipulative demagogue.

In a not uncommon phenomenon, Fortuyn has grown since his untimely and tragic demise: "After his death, Fortuyn became a cult figure in the Netherlands, a political saint and a powerful symbol of freedom of speech," writes Levy.

One can only wonder what the election's outcome would signify had Fortuyn not been assassinated. Without the eponymous leader, the List appears to be adrift, to say the least.

"Even his followers and supporters were surprised at the strength of the final vote tally. The party that promised to continue its founder's strategies and work for change now faces enormous challenges -- as does the Dutch political establishment for that matter. Now that List Pim Fortuyn is the second strongest party in parliament, the actual winners of the election -- the Christian Democratic Appeal with its leader Jan Peter Balkenende -- will hardly be able to avoid taking the new political constellation into account when putting together a government coalition. The success of List Pim Fortuyn was above all a signal to the political establishment. Excluding List Pim Fortuyn from government would mean ignoring voters' desire for change, which contributed to the success of the Christian Democrats."

We believe the List faces enormous challenges in transforming itself from a movement into a viable and enduring political party in the absence of Fortuyn. In fact, we are willing to wager that the organization will fade into the background within a year at best.

"List Pim Fortuyn, for its part, needs to clarify what is meant when its members say they are committed to Fortuyn's ideas or agenda. To participate in a governing coalition, the party must establish genuine political goals and prove itself capable of assuming political responsibility." says Levy.

That's an enormous task, one the List couldn't pull off while Fortuyn was among the quick. We're not optimistic the List will find its way without Pim.

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