Defining Terms – Populism, Fascism, and Authoritarianism

The readings for this week by Brubaker, Finchelstein, Mudde, and Paxton, all question why we label governments, or different classes/groups of people as populist, authoritarian, or fascist. Brubaker questions if the term “populism” is used as a tool for analysis, or if it is just a journalistic cliché that is thrown around as a label for groups and individuals. By extension I feel that this idea applies to the other terms as well. Do we use the terms authoritarian, or fascist to gauge ongoing political issues, or are they just catchy headline terms that garner clicks? In other words, how do we utilize these terms?

In tandem with their utilization, the readings all question and analyze their characterization. These terms generally carry a very negative denotation with them due to their history, (particularly due to the events that transpired throughout the 20th century in Europe) and generally speaking most people would likely not want to be directly associated with them. A major point of contention when discussing these terms is questioning how we identify them? Do we label them as worldviews, ideologies, or can we even put them on the same level as an ‘ism’ like conservatism, liberalism, and socialism? One thing is certain, and that’s that all three terms define a strong political viewpoint regarding governance and equality.


  • Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast (51 minutes) 
  • Federico Finchelstein, “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past” in Federico Finkelstein, From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017).
  • Cas Mudde, “Populism in Europe: An Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism” (The Government and Opposition/Leonard Schapiro Lecture 2019). Government and Opposition, (2021): 1-21.
  • Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York, 2004), pp 3-23.

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