Explaining the Difficultly with Discussing Populism on the Left

By Kaileigh La Belle

In examining populism across the left-right political spectrum and ultimately comparing populism on both the left and the right, this week’s readings fleshed out the question of populism on the Left. For me, it particularly re-ignited the question: why is it so difficult for us to acknowledge populism on the Left? As authors such as March have highlighted, populism is typically associated with the right; and, especially as Mudde and Kaltwasser add, in a very dichotomous manner. Previously, I had chalked it up to difficulty confronting the reality in our own political biases, preferring instead to associate Populism with historically extreme (usually right-wing) political ideologies, which become more distant to us in the Neo-liberal democratic world. But these readings demonstrated the multifacetedness of this issue. For example, as Firschi indicates, xenophobia is traditionally treated as a defining feature of populism and due to the Right’s usually overt xenophobia and racism, it becomes easier to attribute populism solely to the Right. However, Firschi demonstrates that there are numerous styles of xenophobia, which can be attributed to both the Left and Right respectively. Consequently, by understanding the relationship between xenophobia it becomes evident that part of the difficulty in acknowledging populism on the left could be our narrow definition of xenophobia. Meanwhile, in his analysis of the British populist Zeitgeist, Luke March argues that populism of misused and consequently over-used. For March, the anti-elitist rhetoric on both the left and right could easily be examples of demoticism. Therefore, looking at the examples of demoticism in left parties, he disagrees with Mudde and Kaltwasser arguing that the Left is less populist than the Right. As such, the difficulty of accurately labelling populist movements can also be attributed to the erasure of demoticism in favour of populism in popular vocabulary. Overall, this week’s readings expand explications on why it becomes difficult to label the Left populist; however, many simultaneously demonstrate the importance of nuanced understandings and labelling of both left and right populism.

One Reply to “Explaining the Difficultly with Discussing Populism on the Left”

  1. Hi Kaileigh,

    I think that part of why it’s difficult for us to acknowledge populism on the left is because, if we’re being real, everybody in this class is probably at least moderately left wing. Left wing populism is more approachable for us, but the term “populism” is seen as a pejorative so we don’t want it anywhere near our own beliefs. At the same time, there are major differences between right and left populism.

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