How do we Capture Populism? – Jacob Braun

Ever since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the term “populism” has seen a resurgence in academic literature and popular media. Although the idea of populism has been studied and monitored since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, most still have a very faint idea of what the concept actually means.

In his podcast with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Rogers Brubaker lays out a general definition of populism as a repertoire of worldviews— characterised by a distrust in governmental institutions, cultural protectionism and crass behaviour. Despite populism further being argued as neither left nor right by Cas Mudde, right-wing populists have been able to wield this repertoire effectively as to champion their political objectives ostensibly in the name of the people. But if populism represents a fight against the elite caste of society which can be manipulated for both the left and right wings of the political spectrum, how does fascism connect to it? 

According to Federico Finchelstein, populism in theory rejects the raw forms of political violence presented by fascism. But, the intolerant nature of right-wing populism as well as its many similarities to fascism provides a readily available jumping-off point for its followers to radicalise into fascists. For instance, Robert Paxton presents the invention of fascism as a kind of “national socialism;” a stark similarity to the populist rhetoric of patriotism and national identity with a necessity to protect the lower class of society who have fallen prey to parasitic elites. Sound familiar?

Through this week’s readings, we can attribute a loose definition to the ephemeral concept of populism and connect it to its most dangerous extreme form, fascism.

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