The Changing Wills of the British Public

3 years ago Britons went to the polls in an election dominated by the idea of Brexit and the future of the UK in Europe, there were many other aspects of society that were at play among the parties. Now three years later

3 years ago, Britons went to the polls in an election dominated by the idea of Brexit and the future of the UK in Europe, there were many other aspects of society that were at play among the parties. Now three years later, Britons return to the polls with many of the same themes dominating the public discussion, and in the case of Brexit tempers have continued to run high with all parties wanting to “fix” Brexit in their own way. 

However, while the themes that dominate the discussion primarily remain the same the platforms and policies that are being discuses have changed in the slant, with all major parties promising significant increases to social services, especially the NHS, and to national infrastructure.  A stark difference to 3 years ago when even Labour only promised minor increases, and all other parties pushed for further austerity in the uncertainty.  

During the 2017 election the centre-right conservative party enjoying a surge in popularity in fringe voters on the wave of a receding UKIP, saw in their manifesto and policy a more heavily right leaning angle than seen in previous elections.  During the election they promised to increase police powers and funding and review state control and the reach of both mass media and social media platforms as well as to reduce the influence and power of social services, such as state pensions.  They also joined one of the major points found among right wing parties during the Brexit campaign of the idea that Britain was suffering from out of control immigration, and on this they promised caps and more restrictive legislation on immigration and for a period refused to comment on the future of EU nationals in the UK. 

Now in 2019 with Brexit remaining the headline issue all 3 of the major parties have taken a turn for the left on the backs of labours major gains in the 2017 election and the resurgence of the right wing anti-EU parties in the last EU general election in this summer that saw the Tories loose a significant number of their seats to the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party. 

Through there manifestos and campaign promises all of the major parties have announced tax raises major increases to social services, engaging almost in a bidding war on how much more funding and staffing would be added to the NHS.  Two of the major parties have also increased calls for greater nationalisation of utilities and transport something that was in many cases a pipe dream last election.  It has also seen the Lib Dems more confidently positioning themselves as a reasonable middle ground opened by the moves to the extremes on both sides of the aisle, as while the Tories pledge greater social services, they also continue with plans of restrictions on immigration and lack of commitments on dealing with common social issues, such as poverty and education.

While Brexit remains a major issue for all voters, and the shifts in party support and attempts to gather more voters will result partially in some of the shift the three years of protests and discontent over the policies or inaction that has been seen to address social issues by the government has forced all of the parties to pledge greater and more significant welfare state policies. 

Therefore while the Conservatives seem to demonstrate a comfortable lead in the polls the last election proves that such a lead is no guarantee and the effectiveness of the labour to run their campaign or the campaigns run by fringe parties who claim that the Tories have failed the will of the people on Brexit may have interesting effects on the final result.  It can be definitely said though that all of the major contenders for the Prime Ministers office have been forced to adopt the social questions that, barring exceptions such as Margret Thatcher, have become a comfortable part of British life and society. 

3 years ago Britons went to the polls in an election dominated by the idea of Brexit and the future of the UK in Europe, there were many other aspects of society that were at play among the parties. Now three years later

How the Vox Party Slowly Solidifies Its Presence in the Spanish Political Landscape

What do the last general elections in Spain tell us about the rise of the far-right party Vox? That question is on many people’s mind as another call for election divides the country one more time. Four elections in four years seem to represent the inability of the present government to secure the stability needed for the country to maintain a credible status among the European nations. The questions I am trying to answer is how Vox managed to rally the citizens . What are the possible catalysts that generated such a surge in the number of seats occupied in the government after the last election? Although there are far more possibilities, I came up with five points under which Vox possibly scored.


Like many far-right parties, Vox uses a specific rhetoric in his discourse. With words such as “restoration of national unity” and “patriotic alternative” Vox embraces the tenets of populist ideology. Drawing on immigration, Islamophobia as well as “gender ideology”, Vox uses  themes that for some observers and politicians remind of the former Francoist ideology , although the political and global context are different. For Pedro Sanchez to use such analogy in his exhortation to vote, is significant enough to be mentioned.

Political alliances

The weaken socialist party and its failed alliance with the liberal Ciudadanos did not manage to secure an absolute majority in the parliament. The PP (conservative popular party) refused to ally with the socialists giving the opportunity for Vox to claim more seats and to become the third most important party. Furthermore, the PP symbolically with Ciudadanos decided to support Vox in his demand for banning the separatists parties all together. I find shocking that the freedom of expression whether it is political or not would be prohibited in a liberal democracy and it certainly leans dangerously toward the authoritarianism practiced under the regime of Franco.

Economic power of Catalonia

 Catalonia has the status of autonomous community since 1979 but recent events starting around 2010, have triggered the more pressing push for independence. Catalonia represents roughly 20% of the GDP and resents the taxes imposed to support the rest of Spain. If separatist movements were to succeed, it would be a severe hit for the national economy. The violence that surrounded the protests for separatist movements is then an easy instrument to use in support of national unity.

History of claims for independence

The actual government has suffered from instability for some years. Spain , a constitutional monarchy since 1975, faces the misfortune to have been affected by the global economic crisis. As mentioned earlier, many elections and the threat from Catalonia to leave, fragilized even more an unstable socialist government. It is important to note that Catalonia is not the only province to ask for separation. The Basque Country, which is divided between France and Spain, also manifested the intention to become independent in the past but the violence has stopped since it received its autonomous status in 1979. It does not mean that if Catalonia succeed in becoming independent that the Basque Country will not follow in the same footsteps. That situation would most likely trigger a desire to separate as well, even though it would be more complicated due to its division with France.

Multicultural past

  Spain has a history of tolerance and multicultural acceptance. During the Middle Ages [especially under the occupation of the Umayyads in Al Andalus]  and until the Reconquista that started in 1492, co-existence of cultures and religions has been pretty peaceful and fruitful in many domains. Spain is now facing another migration crisis and this time the spectre of islamophobia is at the centre of the debate which plays in favour of right-wing parties.

Did all these points explain why Vox challenged the leading party at the last election? I believe so but other factors can weigh in and this is the case of external support such as other far-right movements in France, Italy and the Netherlands . It is doubtful that the Catalonia crisis will resolve anytime soon , which makes me wonder how Vox will play in the near future in a country that has to deal with chaotic internal politics and a migration crisis that is seen as a threat to the national unity .

#NousToutes and the limits of populism

In September 2019, protestors took to the streets of France using the hashtag #NousToutes (All of Us), to call attention to the domestic violence that women face in the country. Thousands have voiced concern about the rate of femicide – the killing of women by their partners, ex-partners or family. In France, the number of femicide deaths have reached 128 this year. Today the French government is expected to unveil new measures to combat domestic violence and protect the lives of women.

Prior to the unveiling of these new measures it is worth considering how a populist movement might seek out change from the state. Populism as Cas Mudde a scholar of the European far right has framed it, divides populations into “two homogeneous and antagonistic groups”. There is a criticism of the ‘elites’ who have used ‘corrupt’ means to deprive the ‘ordinary’ people meaningful recognition by the state. The popular belief that the allocation of resources serves the ‘elites’ and forgets the rest, evokes calls to deliver for “the people,” “the real people,” and “the silent majority” as political scientist Jan-Werner Müller has argued. It is also important to note that while populism is often associated with the alt-right, it exists on both the left and right side of the political spectrum.
Unlike a populist movement, the #NousToutes does not evoke the ‘common’ or ‘ordinary’ terminology used by populists to rally people to their cause. Instead, women are critical of the state while remaining outside the ‘common’ folk. Women challenging the structural norms that permit abusive partners to kill their spouses are undermining, in much needed ways, the day to day business of the French state.

#NousToutes unites a caucus of people that would otherwise not have come together under the pretense of shared domestic threats. #NousToutes calls out the state and those in positions of power for turning a blind eye to the horrific consequences of structural norms. In many ways, these are components of populism. Yet, #NousToutes is not a populist movement as those who band together remain outside the ‘common’ French people.
While #NousToutes much like the ‘common’ people call to renegotiate their position in France they remain Othered. The Other is a group that does not get to renegotiate their position within the state but must rely on pre-established rules of the ‘common’ people to do so. A reliance on the pre-established rules to achieve new ends is homonormativity for French women. Gender scholar Lisa Duggan termed homonormativity to refer to “a mainstreamed gay discourse that attempts to expand rather than dismantle heteronormativity by internalizing a conceptualization of LGBT identity that constructs legitimacy and rights along established lines”. In France, women of #NousToutes must advocate for change within the heteronormative structure established by the ‘common’ folks. Professor of Ethnic Studies Fatima El-Tayeb argued that this offers the Other “protection” within the heteronormative structure and acceptance as a part of the ‘common’, at the exclusion of diverse groups such as refugee women to France.

For the structural changes desired by women of the #NousToutes movement to be achieved within the current heteronormative system in France the ‘common’ must embrace their objective as well. Thus, social change driven by the Other goes only as far as the ‘common’ folk will allow. Following the study of Anti-gender campaigns by social scientists David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar, support by ‘common’ folk may be hard to obtain. In their review of common opposition in Europe to structural changes that would combat domestic abuse they noted that there were fears of the Other extending their reach beyond what the ‘common’ folk were willing to tolerate. Such as the institutionalization of sexual and reproductive rights, international recognition of abortion, additional attacks on traditional motherhood.

With populist movements leaving no room for the Other, those like the women of the #NousToutes movement and other minority groups are left unacknowledged by both ‘elites’ and the ‘common’ folk. To minority groups, the ‘common’ folks are elite, and the ‘elites’ are even further out of reach. In France, populism can no longer deliver for women at the margins and it is perhaps time to think about what new forms populism will take; a neo-populist agenda may reposition minorities in the heteronormative structure within and outside France.

Framing Populism

This week’s readings were unified by examining the spectrum of right-wing populist movements in Europe. Rather than trying to draw broad conclusions that link these movements together, they dissected specific issues that were dealt with by right-wing populist movements in order to distinguish differing positions or frames of these issues. Specifically, the articles by Gattinara, Pattermotte & Kuhar and Schmidt illustrated these differences well by examining specific issues or events to display varying reactions to them, with the goal of portraying a more comprehensive picture.

Gattinara utilized the reaction of Italians towards the Charlie Hebdo cartoon and the following attacks to display the broad spectrum of reactions within Italy. He analyzed the reactions of three specific groups: populist radical right actors, extreme right actors and ultra-religious actors. What he found was that ideology led to differences amongst these three groups, however there was a trend to include liberal democratic principles within a narrative of exclusion based on cultural differences. This highlighted the pragmaticism of far-right groups as they converge on a single issue from differing perspectives.

Pattermotte & Kuhar focused on the anti-gender campaigns frequently associated with the far-right, but sought to unpack these movements beyond the simple label of the global right. Instead, they divided the anti-gender movements between the historical Catholic narrative and rightwing populism. By differentiating the two campaigns, it became more apparent how they interact and mobilize their followers. This provided more context within concrete settings in which these campaigns are occurring and enabled a deeper understanding of the phenomenon.

Finally, Schmidt examined the PEGIDA movement that occurred in Germany, which opposed Islamization, and found two key attributes at its core. These attributes were autonomous nationalism and ethnopluralism. These two attributes fulfilled two differing needs for the PEGIDA movement. On one hand, autonomous nationalism fulfilled the practical side of the movement, including its mobilization, communication and cohesion of the movement. While on the other hand, ethnopluralism satisfied the ideological underpinnings of the movement, creating a theoretical framework and a unifying cause.

These case studies are interesting, as they illustrated the pragmatic nature of far-right populist movements across Europe, as well as display the diversity across them. While it appears as though they are unified in their cause for a homogenous society, a large variety of perspectives lead to quite unique framings of events and issues. Ultimately, these case studies provide a more comprehensive understanding of far-right populist movements beyond generalizations.

Social Media and Right Wing Populism

By: Julia Aguiar

It can be said that contemporary right wing populist movements benefit from increased access and presence of social media. Social media is often used by ring wing populists to disseminate ideas and bolster legitimacy. However, in making use of social media, these populist movements engage in some paradoxes. Indeed, to consider the different ways in which populist movements utilize social media in their campaigns is to unearth some of the most deeply entrenched paradoxes in populist movements. 

Social media is based on the liberal principles of transparency and freedom of speech, which speaks to the way that the populist radical right often asserts their exclusionary politics through liberal values despite the fact that they often place themselves in opposition to left wing politics. A concrete example of this can be seen in the Charlie Hebdo debates wherein liberal democratic values of freedom of speech were used to speak out against Islam and immigration as demonstrated by Pietro Castelli Gattinara in his article “Framing Exclusion in the Public Sphere: Far-Right Mobilisation and the Debate on Charlie Hebdo in Italy.” 

In, “Disentangling and Locating the “Global Right”: Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe,” David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar write about the way that social media campaigns have been employed by anti-gender activists and right wing populists. Social media is useful to these groups for the way that it allows their messages to reach a larger audience in addition to offering a different form of media than that of the mainstream. Mainstream media is viewed as elitist and against the interest of “the people” for whom right wing populists claim to be fighting for. 

Facebook plays an essential role in propelling the Pegida movement forward. Indeed, given that Pegida’s Facebook group was made only a day after the movement was founded, it causes speculation as to whether or not Pegida would be the same without the social media platform. As Ina Schmidt demonstrates in her article “PEGIDA: A Hybrid Form of a Populist Right Movement,” as much as populist movements like Pegida use social media to bolster their movements, the democratic nature of social media also means that the social media content published by right wing populist groups can be used to criticize and threaten the legitimacy of these populist groups. In many ways, social media offers a new type of rich data analyst for social scientists. 

To conclude, right wing populist groups utilize social media in order to disseminate their views and gain a wider following. In doing so they capitulate to liberal democratic values that social media is built upon including transparency and freedom of speech, which in many ways is paradoxical to their right wing agenda. However, as previously discussed, these paradoxes are not necessarily a bad think for right wing populists and are easily reconciled. It is important to keep in mind that as much as social media can be used as a tool by ring wing populists to spread vitriol, it can also be used as a tool of resistance.

Op Ed #2 Poland and the breeding grounds for Fascist Extremism (Dimitrios Monette)

The world is much like a wheel in its makeup. One moment a section of the wheel is free of the ground, touching open space and avoiding the weight of the vehicle upon it, yet but a moment later that very same section of wheel will find itself trodden upon by the full weight of what it carries, and it shall see the sky no more. This concept is applicable to empires, and more specifically, politics and power in our global human context. History has shown us as a people to follow a simple trend in our course of empire building and power supporting. Hard times breed hard people, hard people breed hard law and by extent in many cases, rise in power and good times by extension. In the aftermath of too much easy time, we create easy living people, who on their turn breed hard times yet again, allowing the cycle to continue. If you disbelieve this concept, look to our own human past, the Greeks were a hardened war fighting people would defeat the decadent Persians, the Romans, a once war hardened nation defeat the Greeks in turn, only to allow themselves to perceive delusions of invincibility, laying the groundwork for Germanic settlers to tear down their empire. This is the cycle, and we as an empire of the west have hit our peak.

We as a western empire lead by our heart nation of the United States of America have collectively begun to declare ourselves rather invisible and unassailable. We have taken to the idea that we are above any kind of downfall and must therefore look inward at every glance, yet this has led to conflict in the Middle East for over two decades, and political polarisation and lines of hate being developed between people of the same nations. This has in turn produced a new form of radical “hard people” and a hard movement, and they are largely a movement to be aware of and monitored as well as actively opposed. 

Right wing populism in Europe is something that has been on the rise in recent years in response to the overwhelming wave of leftist support that Europe has been engulfed within following the shadow of the Second World War, and rightfully so. Right wing extremism effectively shattered the continent, driving numerous nations into destitute states and destroying the landscape as it went, costing the lives of millions in brutal conflict, and murdering many more. Due to this, a climate of anti right wing thought has been the norm in Europe, manifesting in an anti national European union, and a wave of leftist governments across its nations post 1945. Despite this, recent years have seen the birth of a new generation of right wing advocates in Europe, especially in many nations with entrenched leftist leadership, and nations with proximity to the Russo threat which had begun seizing the Ukraine. 
Closest and perhaps most threatened by this upcoming threat from the east is Poland. Within Poland borders we have seen a resurgence of right wing populism amongst its ruling party and the people, featuring the establishment of armed militias. This is in stark contrast to the nation disbanding mandatory armed service by its populace in 2008. One might point to a rising threat in the east for such a resurgence of armed groups among the Polish people, and one might be correct as this is the reasoning given to us from the mouths of those involved in these groups, yet one might also pint historically to Wiemar Germany post world war one and see the potential for a dangerous shift. The Spartacist uprisings in Wiemar were brutally stomped out by the Friekorps, a private army designed to fight communism at its outset, yet numerous of the men who would serve amongst its numbers would go on to be leading members of the Nazi party including Ernst Röhm, head of the Sturmabteilung, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, and Rudolf Hos, Kommandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp. It is difficult to not see a breeding grounds for this future in nations like Poland and Ukraine, due to perceived threats of outward influence and invasion. But how can one reverse these mentalities? Our society has certainly not given itself the best tools to disable such thinking, but rather has driven numerous to it, as according to the guardian “Many citizens take the view that ordinary, virtuous people have been betrayed, neglected or exploited by a corrupt elite”. Outside threats play huge parts in this vein of thinking, and our political climates have done little to settle the matter with either parties spectrum though being very radical. Political discourse must find a medium, a calm wave length to discuss our mutual living else wise this slope may be continued down into a future reminiscent of a past we should never see again.

The Role of Holocaust Memory and the European Refugee Crisis

By Alex Wittmann

Nazi Germany’s discriminatory anti semitic laws resulted in a Jewish refugee issue in Europe in the 1930s. The Jewish refugee persecution of the 1930s can be used as a comparison in the unwillingness of Populist governments in Europe to accept Syrian Refugees of today.

To understand the comparison, we must delve into the 1930s. Nazi Germany had enacted the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935 which had set the tone for the place of Jews in Germany. It was the begining of ruthless discrimination which stripped German Jews of citizenry and set the stage for legal distiction between a German and a Jew. The reception of the rest of Europe to Jewish Refugees fleeing discriminatory Nazi laws was not a very sympathetic one. There were strong anti immigrant policies had by other European countries unsympathetic to the plight of the German Jews. Given the escalation of the refugee numbers, there were initiatives to find solutions. The Evian Conference of 1938 was convened to establish a commitment for countries to accept refugees. Unfortunately strong antisemetic and anti immigrant policies in the rest of Europe did not result in any change in attitude. As there is in Europe of the 2010s, there existed in Europe of the 1930s an anxiety towards Refugees consisted of stereotyping combined with outright racism, fueling anti immigrant policies. This is why the comparison of anti semitism and Jewish refugees of the 1930s can be linked to the Refugee crisis of today.

One may think that a modern, interconnected Europe has learned from the past. European countries who are members of the UN are bound to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. EU members are also bound to the EU’s immigration quotas which expect them to accept a certain amount of refugees. Unfortunately in the face of a massive influx of refugees that arrived in Europe from Syria, there has been a significant Far Right Populist backlash to the arrival of refugees. Much like Europe of the 1930s, we are seeing a similar scenario where there are European countries which have once again turned their back on those fleeing persecution. Much like the way the Jewish refugees of the 1930s were stripped of citizenship and denied entry into other European countries, we see the same attribution of being “citizenless” used by anti immigration Populist countries in Europe to excuse themselves from accepting refugees. A common far right sentiment in Europe today is to say that one only gets rights if they are a citizen or part of a nation. This alone is bogus, refugees are granted rights under the UNHCR. Much like the 1930s, we see the excuse of being citizenless as justifying anti immigration. In the 1930s, there existed the fear of refugees as threatening to society, it is prevalent today. For example, Italy’s far right Minister of the Interior had proposed a plan to increase deportations by criminalizing Europeans that help migrants to “safe stay facilities.” Far Right governments do these things out of the fear that illegal immigrants threaten the security and identity of Europe. That concept is not entirely dissimilar to the 1930s, where not just in Germany, but around Europe the threat of European security and identity was used as an excuse not to accept Jewish refugees. Some of this anti immigrant right wing nationalism is more prevalent in countries such as Poland and Italy because these countries have not been able to come to terms with their anti semitic history unlike Germany. Under decades of communism, Poland had ethnic nationalist sentiments that had been repressed. Today, they have burst open with a Right Wing Populist government which governs on an anti immigrant ethnic nationalist platform.

Based on memory of the Holocaust and the way that the Jewish refugees were treated by neighbouring European countries, it is clear why parallels can be drawn to the Jewish refugee experience with that of the Syrian refugee experience. Countries such as Germany have come a long way from their Nazi past and have taken a leadership role in accepting refugees and asylum seekers. It must be made clear however that the backlash to multiculturalism and immigration in Europe are signs that ethnic nationalism which existed during the years of Fascism in the 1930s remains a powerful force behind policy in Europe today.

Sources Cited

“Learning from the Holocaust to Address Today’s Refugee Situation.” European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, January 26, 2018.

Nuremberg Race Laws. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed November 24, 2019.

Stone, Dan. “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door: Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis.” Patterns of Prejudice 52, no. 2/3 (May 2018): 231–43.

Trilling, Daniel. “Five Myths about the Refugee Crisis.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, June 5, 2018.

Watchin’ the Tide Roll Away?

By Absalom Sink

It’s becoming a tiresome cliché, isn’t it? Almost as tiresome as the cliché from a few years ago: that of a ‘rising tide of far-right populism’ in Europe. And while that old number is still getting plenty of play, it seems like every month there’s a handful of new articles and op-eds pontificating on whether the ‘populist tide’ has peaked and begun to ebb.

To be fair, I can understand the urge behind writing pieces like those. The ‘populist right’ has been dealt a number of blows this year. There was the “stunning rebuke” against populism in Slovakia with the election of centre-left, liberal Zuzana Caputova. Just over a week ago in Bologna, Italy, a rally held by the populist Matteo Salvini and attended by a little under 6000 supporters was counter-protested by between 12000 and 15000 people. Similarly, far-right rallies held last week by Pegida in Dresden and the ultranationalist NPD in Hannover were dwarfed by counter-protesters. And it’s hard not to see 13500 people marching in Paris against Islamophobia as a raised middle finger aimed at the Rassemblement National (RN), the political embodiment of Islamophobia in France. Finally, let’s not forget the “collapse of the far-right” in the Austrian election this past September, when the FPO lost 10% of the overall vote as compared to the last election because of a corruption scandal.

The problem is when we try to use events like these to extrapolate out over the whole of Europe. In fact, just framing it as the populist right is problematic. Certainly, there are transnational connections between populist movements/parties, but there is no single, monolithic populism. These groups cooperate to the extent that it’s practical. But if, say, Germany’s AfD were to suddenly founder, it’s a fair bet that the Swiss Peoples’ Party and the RN and the Sweden Democrats—far-right populists, all—would let them sink before risking their own positions. By lumping all these groups together when declaring that the ‘populist tide is receding’, we massively oversimply a complex transnational political situation.

Aside from oversimplifying things, there’s also the worry that such statements might make voters complacent; believing the threat to be behind them, voters might have less impetus to vote. The problem is a number of far-right populist parties in Europe still have fairly robust polling numbers. Germany’s AfD has held steady at 13-14% in the national polls for two years, while in Thuringia’s state election last month it came second, with over 23% of the vote. In France, Marine Le Pen’s RN is actually leading the presidential poll, hovering around 28%. Even in Austria, where the ‘Ibiza affair’ saw the FPÖ drop by 10% in the last election, they picked up enough seats that they were able to maintain their coalition government with the winning ÖVP. How can we claim that far-right populism has peaked when a party like the ‘formerly’ fascist Sweden Democrats are poised to become the biggest party in their country, and could conceivably with the 2022 election?

My point in all of this is simply that journalists and political observers alike should be wary of making sweeping declarations on the state of far-right populism. Europe is bigger and more diverse than we sometimes recognize; when we’re talking about an entire continent, it’s worth remembering that high tide happens at different times in Helsinki, Finland and Cadiz, Spain. The same goes for the metaphorical tide. While populism might ebb in one region, it can still be in flood in another.

The Populist Tactic

Populism is a political tactic, not an ideology. Unlike liberalism or authoritarianism that rallies people under a set of beliefs, there is no moral or philosophical ideology that rests exclusively within the populist camp. As David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar have written, “populism has no side and cannot be easily mapped onto the left-right divide”.

Populism as Cas Mudde a scholar of the European far right has framed it, divides populations into “two homogeneous and antagonistic groups”. There is a criticism of the ‘elites’ who have used ‘corrupt’ means to deprive the ‘ordinary’ people meaningful recognition by the state. The popular belief that the allocation of resources serves the ‘elites’ and forgets the rest, evokes calls to deliver for “the people,” “the real people,” and “the silent majority” as political scientist Jan-Werner Müller has argued.

Unlike Müller, I do not suggest that populism is utilized to attack liberal order. Instead, it is a tactic to critically examine the structural shortcomings of the state. Following the introduction of legislation in Spain favouring same sex marriage, ‘ordinary’ people gathered in protest of ‘elites’ moving in a direction that disregards their structural realities. Paternotte and Kuhar suggested that without motherhood and fatherhood there is an undermining of “the anthropological basis of the family,” creating what I argue are points of fragmentation in the public trust of the state. Trust is fragmented when the structural foundations of homogenous groups of people are called into question.

 In France in 2012, the near two years of protests that ensued following attempts to broaden the definition of a ‘traditional family’ known as “Manif pour tous” is a clear result of ‘the people’ losing trust in the states ability to deliver for them. It is important to note that prior to the “Manif pour tous” ‘the people’ in France were a different political group however, following the start of the movement those that would not regularly align formulated the artificially homogenous group. In such a process Ina Schmidt has written that “whole groups of people … are scared of the future and have their fears channeled by strong leaders into a certain direction.”  The process of codifying ‘the people’ is the populist tactic with populists themselves rallying more and more to a caucus of persons ready to renegotiate their position within the state. The powerful tactic of populism creates a political stalking-horse o be picked up and taken in the direction of any cause occupying any theoretical space on either side of the  left – right divide.



Intellectual Populism – The Chameleon of Truth

TORONTO, ON – DECEMBER 6 – Profile of Dr. Jordan Peterson. The U of T prof at the centre of a media storm because of his public declaration that he will not use pronouns, such as “they,” to recognize non-binary genders. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

By: Nadiya Alexandra

The rise of political populism has been seen across Europe, the United States, and Canada (amongst others). While far-right populist movements have taken centre stage the term ‘populism’ is migrating to realms beyond politics. In an article by the New York Review of books, Jordan B. Peterson (a professor at the University of Toronto) was branded an ‘intellectual populist.’

Unable to find what the term ‘intellectual populism’ means, I try to frame a definition drawing on elements of political populism and Jordan B. Peterson’s teachings. The elements of populism that I will use to structure intellectual populism are a sense of crisis; identifying the ‘other’ that is the enemy; speaking on behalf of ordinary people and standing in opposition to the corrupt elite; offering clear solutions to complex societal problems; and the added benefit of charismatic leadership.

Sense of Crisis

Reaching into history to start our definition, Robert Paxton defined one of the “mobilizing passions” of fascism as the “sense of overwhelming crisis.” It appears that populism follows in the same vein. The rise of populism has been attributed to several crises, including the economic crisis, ‘refugee crisis’, and globalization. Peterson classifies the crisis of our society as “a loss of faith in old verities.” This includes (in the West), withdrawing from our traditions, religion, and nation-centered culture. Peterson seems to have identified a potent crisis, as he has gained a massive following.

The ‘Other’

Also voiced by Paxton was the element of believing that ‘one’s group is a victim.’ Again, while this was a key factor in defining fascism, it also applies in defining populism. In the populist response to the ‘refugee crisis’, the ‘other’ has been identified as Muslims. Peterson has identified ‘social justice warriors’ (which he also calls ‘postmodern neo-Marxists’) as the corrupt other that ‘we’ need to worry about. These social justice warriors, according to Peterson, are responsible for our crisis and loss of faith in old verities.

Speaking on Behalf of Ordinary People

Although academics have trouble defining populism, it appears there is consensus on two core ideas: populism speaks on behalf of ordinary people; and these people stand in opposition of the elite who block the achievement of popular political goals. Peterson claims to speak for the protection of his students and particularly men. Peterson speaks for these ‘ordinary people’ against the ‘corrupt elite’, which he defines as the faculties of women’s studies, sociology, anthropology, English literature, and the faulty of education. Peterson identifies (inherently corrupt) feminists as waging an assault on masculinity. In 2017, Peterson said public appearances and videos that “he wants to lower the enrollment in courses that have been “corrupted” or that lead students to become “social justice warriors.” Peterson was planning on building a website that would rank courses and professors that were likely to turn students into, heaven-forbid, ‘social justice warriors.’

Offering Clear Solutions to Complex Societal Problems

In her 2017 article on hybrid populist movements, Ina Schmidt highlights a key element of populism: it “often offers seemingly clear and easy solutions for political problems within a society.” In Peterson’s popular book 12 Rules of Life: an Antidote to Chaos, he offers constructive advice, but it comes “with some dubious traditionalist baggage.” Peterson wrote that “healthy women” want men who “outclass” them in intelligence, dominance and status. It seems the clear solution that Peterson is presenting is a return to more ‘traditional’ times when men were men and women were housewives.

Charismatic Leaders

Paxton also cites charismatic leaders as key elements of fascism, again, this applies to populist leaders also. Viktor Orbán, Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump are prime examples of right-wing populist charismatic leaders who have the power to mobilise the people. Undeniably, Peterson is an effective public speaker. No doubt his ‘charisma’ has added to his rise in popularity and to his following (despite the questionable ideals he preaches).

Peterson has amassed a huge following, besides being a professor of Psychology at UofT, he is a YouTube Star (2.38 million subscribers), his public talks sell out, and his 12 Rules of Life book sold millions of copies worldwide. While some of his teachings seem backward and disturbing, he appears to have tapped into a real frustration: even decades after the feminist revolution in the 1960s, “we have yet to figure out new rules for partnership between men and women.” Drawing on the parallels between political populism and Jordan Peterson, a case can be made for defining intellectual populism.

What is most worrying is that Peterson’s ‘truth’ has resonated with many people. Peterson has been a proud proponent of the freedom of speech, but the outcome of this democratic value has been questionable. Why have so many people bought into this truth? Why have so many people bought into the truth of right-wing political populists? One answer could be that the pragmatism and fluidity of populism allows it to adjust to its environment. In this case, Peterson’s truth and intellectual populism has become the hope for “young men perplexed by cultural upheaval.”