All the readings this week offer some kind of definitions for “populism” and “fascism” as well as discussing the definitions of others. These definitions are used, among other purposes, to draw a line between populism and fascism, but the definitions and lines drawn differ such that I am still left wondering: which is the most correct? Mudde offers his own take on the dominant “ideational approach” for populism, where a group identified as “the people” must defeat a group identified as “the elite.” I personally agree with this definition, but it is incredibly broad (which is the intention) and could potentially describe movements which are not conventionally considered populist.
Finchelstein loosely applies the ideational approach to draw a line between populism and fascism, arguing that populism becomes fascism when “the people” becomes a race/ethnicity/nationality and tries to bend politics to the will of that group. It might also be added that fascism loses the democracy-focus of populism, and Finchelstein’s definition misses some aspects of Paxton’s description of fascism. In other words, the line between populism is thicker than we might think, but also very flexible.
Additionally, both Mudde and Finchelstein argue that populism is also an “illiberal-democratic response to undemocratic liberalism” (Mudde, 1) while also acknowledging that populism can vary in political orientation. But what is the possibility of liberal populism, especially in an illiberal political environment? In this case, I think their definition of populism could exclude some kinds of populism.
Perhaps “which definition is most correct?” is the wrong question for such nebulous concepts – concepts which might be better described by qualifiers than a definition.