Populism: United and Fragmented

Populism as a concept, as shown throughout this week’s readings, is fluid and shapeshifting. Before getting to the content of populist claims, even the act of defining what populism is can vary; populism has been called a policy (Schmidt), a political style (Paternotte &Kuhar), and an ideological feature (Gattinara referencing Mudde). When considering framing ,as put  forward by Paternotte & Kuhar, the importance of categorizing or classifying populism becomes very crucial for the analysis and diagnosis of populist content. Personally, I tend to agree with Mudde’s idea of populism as an ideological feature that is then joined with politics.

Despite the hardship of defining what populism is categorized or classified as, the content of populism is somewhat clearer. The importance of an in-group and out-group is key to populism. This group dynamic in populism centres around the creation of a ‘pure people’, which populist leaders are able to define the values and identity of the group. The content of what the in-group identity consists of is where populism shines, as this identity is vastly different in all implementations, allowing for populist groups and movements to really shape and target their audiences. For example, the Global Right in the Paternotte & Kuhar reading, focus on fighting ‘gender ideology’ to fight the progressive a causes that challenges their group values, mainly Christian beliefs. Another example, the Pediga focus on protecting national identity through antiimmigration and nationalist rhetoric. All of these claims are portrayed as being against a ‘corrupt’ other, typically this ‘other’ will be the elites of a state or social movement. However, as Jan Muller points out, the idea of rallying against the elites should not be universally attributed to populism. This is because in a democracy, people have the right to challenge those in charge.

Nonetheless, far right populism poses a risk to Europe due to the centrality of nativism, and authoritarianism. Nativism plays into the populist ‘people’ idea by arguing that states should be inhabited exclusively by natives. Authoritarianism for populist groups entails rule through ‘law and order’. Muller warns that the danger of populism is that the anti-pluralist style of populism produces the effect of deeming all those not aligned with the ‘people’, as illegitimate.

Populism as a concept is hard to summarize neatly, which is not surprising as the concept is meant to be flexible and adaptive. It can hardly be expected that in most cases populist actions play out in a similar fashion. While there can be overlap in group identities and values, I believe Paternotte & Kuhar are correct in their argument that a more nuanced understanding is needed when looking at similar groups. As they have shown, similar groups may have similar rhetoric, but do not typically share the same path to the same conclusions and do not share similar core values that drive their rhetoric. For example, the Christian groups and populist groups differ in their shared opposition to ‘gender ideology’. Christian groups base their driving forces on historic grounds and oppose gender and sexual equality (according to Paternotte & Kuhar). Whereas, right wing populist groups, while opposed to ‘gender ideology’, do not necessarily oppose gender and sexual equality.

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