Discussing the similarities and differences of how populism plays out in different contexts is a little tricky. By this week, we seem to have come to a consensus about the pragmatic and fluid nature of populism. Therefore, despite some key similarities, any given populist movement will adapt to the environment it has been planted in. The fluidity of populist movements is highlighted in the interview with Jan Werner Mueller, and the articles by Zack Beauchamp and Ina Schmidt.
In the “Dangers of Populism” interview, Mueller uses the term “real democracy” that leads to the question being raised, do realists believe in “real democracy”? Mueller explains that populists believe that they do support “real democracy.” This idea can be interpreted as both a similarity and a difference of how populism plays out. The similarity would be that populist movements believe they are supporting true democracy, the difference is that the definition and reactions can differ between regions, movements, and time periods.
The Beauchamp article summarizes last week’s discussion nicely: “everyone and everything that’s non-native – that is, alien – is threatening.” While Europe’s anti-migrant sentiments focus mainly on Muslims, there was also resistance against migrants from East Europe (in West Europe). While East Europeans are sometimes included into the “European group,” when they came in large numbers to the Western Europe, they received similar hostility to what non-Europeans would experience. This ties into our discussions of the “other” as a whole. The “other” can change and has changed through history.
Quick side note on globalization: while it has become a reality and has promoted easier movement of people across the world, it has clearly been met with fierce opposition (that is not unique to Europe). The reality of globalization seems to have failed in making humans accepting of diverse others. Instead, it seems to have pitted the “us” and “them” ever more against each other.
Going back to the differences and similarities of how populism plays out, the Schmidt article uses a different definition of populism. The definition presented seems more like a description of similarities of how populist movements play out rather than a definition of populism. Going back to earlier discussions, the basic definition of populism is that it speaks on behalf of ordinary people, and these people stand in opposition of the elite who block the achievement of popular political goals. Of course, the “people” is a fluid term that can take on whatever form is most convenient. However, this term allows for populism to be used for good (ex. Environmental populism). Schmidt however, defined populism as “a policy that appears to act in close connection with the people and uses their emotions, fears, and prejudices for its own purposes.” While not wrong, I think it narrows the definition too much. Either way, the other elements of populism discussed in the Schmidt article appear to make sense. Furthermore, most of these elements are also fluid and can be applied differently in different environments.
On a final note, Schmidt describes that populist movements can result from crises, when “whole groups of a society lose their orientation and values, are scared of the future and have their fears channeled by strong leaders into a certain direction.” This links nicely to the definition of fascism that Paxton outlined.