Culture Conflict and its Consequences for the Legitimation Crisis

  • Mark Elchardus orcid logo
  • Anton Derks


Our analysis indicates that it is correct to interpret non-participation and a vote for the Extreme Right as at least partly due to a legitimation crisis which seems to be the expression of a new alignment of values. This alignment describes a deep cultural cleavage that divides the higher from the less educated. People who hold pronounced positions on this alignment are more likely than others to turn away from the established, "traditional" parties. People with the values and attitudes typical of the "progressive" or "new left'' side of the cleavage, vote disproportionately for the Greens. People with the values and attitudes typical of the "conservative" or "new right" side of the cleavage, opt disproportionately for non-participation and for the Extreme Right.  In the recent political debate in Flanders, both non-participation and the Extreme Right have been regarded as symptoms of a legitimation crisis, and ofpolitical protest. The difference between the two expressions of cultural opposition or political protest can be understood as a choice for either an "exit" or a "voice" option. People select the "exit" option when they feel especially politically powerless. The "voice"-option is chosen by people for which the value conflict over the position of"migrants" is the most salient issue.
The long term causes of the symptoms of a legitimation crisis seem to be the growing economic and cultural gap between the higher and less educated, and the ensuing growth of a conflict in which cultural and social-economic differences are strongly linked.

How to Cite:

Elchardus, M. & Derks, A., (1996) “Culture Conflict and its Consequences for the Legitimation Crisis”, Res Publica 38(2), 237-253. doi:



Published on
29 Jun 1996
Peer Reviewed