Chapter 1: Defining Terms

By: Hannah Long

In general we as humans love to categorize and give things labels, it is an ability that allows us to recognize patterns and features that are collectively shared. In a political sense it allows us to come to an agreement on what characteristics a specific ideology should have and how those who adhere to it are expected to behave. This becomes all the more crucial when analyzing stronger political views that influence governance more deeply.

While, the importance of differentiating between terms such as authoritarian, populist, and fascist should be clear cut, that is farther from the actual truth. In this week’s readings, I realized how simply defining any given political sphere is a complex mix between our own personal opinions as well as textbook definitions. As the word populist was thrown around so much in 2019, Brubaker explained how it’s not just a lazy journalistic cliché (Brubaker, 2019), but rather as a result of the growing link between media and politics. As many governments have become more direct in their responses, making the word more common in ideological discourse.

I found Brubaker’s points provide a very clear discussion of populism as both a term and ongoing phenomena that has and is still a hot topic due what he describes as the perfect storm of political and social issues happening all at the same time. Likewise, Paxton discussed the rise of fascism in the twentieth century as a label to differentiate itself from the pack (Paxton, 3). The term itself is almost so analyzed and discussed that the set of characteristics that make up the word fascist can never really be shaken from it, or mistaken for another political ideology unlike populism has been and maybe will be for a time to come.

With populist having become the new controversial label many seek to avoid, I wonder if in the coming years we will see a trend of using different words and ideological spheres to define such a broad approach.

Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast (51 minutes).

Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York, 2004), pp 3-23.

Nupi. “Podcast: Why Populism? Why Here? Why Now?” NUPI. Norsk Utenrikspolitisk Institutt. https://www.nupi.no/en/news/podcast-why-populism-why-here-why-now.

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