The Populist Tactic

Populism is a political tactic, not an ideology. Unlike liberalism or authoritarianism that rallies people under a set of beliefs, there is no moral or philosophical ideology that rests exclusively within the populist camp. As David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar have written, “populism has no side and cannot be easily mapped onto the left-right divide”.

Populism as Cas Mudde a scholar of the European far right has framed it, divides populations into “two homogeneous and antagonistic groups”. There is a criticism of the ‘elites’ who have used ‘corrupt’ means to deprive the ‘ordinary’ people meaningful recognition by the state. The popular belief that the allocation of resources serves the ‘elites’ and forgets the rest, evokes calls to deliver for “the people,” “the real people,” and “the silent majority” as political scientist Jan-Werner Müller has argued.

Unlike Müller, I do not suggest that populism is utilized to attack liberal order. Instead, it is a tactic to critically examine the structural shortcomings of the state. Following the introduction of legislation in Spain favouring same sex marriage, ‘ordinary’ people gathered in protest of ‘elites’ moving in a direction that disregards their structural realities. Paternotte and Kuhar suggested that without motherhood and fatherhood there is an undermining of “the anthropological basis of the family,” creating what I argue are points of fragmentation in the public trust of the state. Trust is fragmented when the structural foundations of homogenous groups of people are called into question.

 In France in 2012, the near two years of protests that ensued following attempts to broaden the definition of a ‘traditional family’ known as “Manif pour tous” is a clear result of ‘the people’ losing trust in the states ability to deliver for them. It is important to note that prior to the “Manif pour tous” ‘the people’ in France were a different political group however, following the start of the movement those that would not regularly align formulated the artificially homogenous group. In such a process Ina Schmidt has written that “whole groups of people … are scared of the future and have their fears channeled by strong leaders into a certain direction.”  The process of codifying ‘the people’ is the populist tactic with populists themselves rallying more and more to a caucus of persons ready to renegotiate their position within the state. The powerful tactic of populism creates a political stalking-horse o be picked up and taken in the direction of any cause occupying any theoretical space on either side of the  left – right divide.



3 Replies to “The Populist Tactic”

  1. I understand your reasoning why populism seems more like a political tactic today, but I nevertheless believe it is still an ideology.

    You use Mudde to frame the core elements of populism (pure people vs. corrupt elite), but Mudde himself considers populism “as an ideological feature rather than merely a political style’ (Pietro Castelli 2017, 349). While your argument may have clout and I’m sure some scholars agree that populism has transformed into a veil of convenience for intolerant groups today, we must consider whether this is populism’s true form, or whether it has been corrupted by some leaders in modern day society.

  2. Yeah, while your argument is well-presented, I’m with Christine. Populism can be used by the left and the right (and arguably the centre) of the political spectrum, but that doesn’t disqualify it from being an ideology… it’s just isn’t as rigidly constructed as, say, “liberalism” or “fascism”. There’s still an inherent mindset–a worldview–in play in pitting “the people” against “the elite”, as both of those groups depend on particular intellectual constructions. Populism is simply an ideology that requires an additional superstructure on which to graft itself.

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