The Interest in Evil: Hierarchic Self-Interest and Right-Wing Extremism among East and West German Youth

John Hagan, Susanne Rippl, Klaus Boehnke, Hans Merkens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Right-wing extremist attitudes can seem rational when they are viewed from the near-term, group-linked interests of individuals in their own well-being, ascendency, or domination. We test an elaboration of a rational choice theory of right-wing extremism that focuses on hierarchic and self-interested imperatives in market-driven societies. Our elaboration of this theory identifies a theoretical and empirical unification of four social psychological dimensions - involving competitive processes of social comparison, individualism, materialist preoccupations with success, and the acceptance of social inequality. These dimensions coalesce into a higher order, latent subterranean construct we call hierarchic self-interest. This latent construct is strongly related to right-wing extremism among samples of East and West German youth. Male adolescents experiencing the rapid transition to a market economy in an economically and socially depressed East Germany may be especially susceptible to extremist appeals to hierarchic self-interests. Male and East German youth express stronger hierarchic self-interests than female and West German youth, and these differences mediate the greater tendencies of male and East German youth to express hostility toward immigrants and foreigners, who are often a step below and in competition with them on the socioeconomic ladder of success. Hierarchic self-interest is a persistent and dangerous source of support for right-wing extremism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)162-183
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science

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