View Full Version : What is "populism" and why is it bad?

Mr. Tea
13-01-2017, 10:03 AM
Serious question. It's a word that gets thrown around an awful lot these days, but it's hard to get any real feel for what it actually means, beyond the fact that it's usually used pejoratively. At its most basic it just means appealing to large numbers of people, doesn't it? In which case, a government in any democracy that isn't to some extent 'populist' isn't going to be a government for much longer, and an opposition party with no populist tendencies is never going to form a government at all.

In the context of Putin, Berlusconi, Le Pen, Farage and Brexit and of course now Trump, it's become common for people to talk about populism as an inherently right-wing thing, but there's also such a thing as left-wing populism, or at least there can be - it certainly looks as if Corbyn could use a bit of this right now, what with Labour's approval rating dragging along at levels not seen since 1983.

Can't remember who it was, but I recall a quote that went something like: "When our side is winning, it's democracy and the will of the people. When your side is winning, it's crass populism".

13-01-2017, 10:14 AM
Like with many political "concepts" the lack of a clear definition and your own point of view makes debating "populism" a bit complicated. I don't know how familiar people are with the histroy of the USA but in the late 1980s there was already a populist party in the USA with some success (for intsance in the presidential race 1892) - one of their slogans: „Equal Rights to all; special Privilegs to none.“ (ah that privilege talk again)

As to "left wing populism" - this point you seem to hear only when someone demands tax increase on the wealthy (or just a return to the tax rates of the 1960s and 1970s) which is usually quickly derided as "left wing populism"

13-01-2017, 11:09 AM
The commentariat refer to both Corbyn and Sanders as populist, so I wouldn't say it is strictly used to describe the right (though right wing populism seems to be much more effective than it's left-wing counterpart).

I think the term 'populist' is often used instead of 'demagogue' relating to those who promote the ideas that many people believe which also happen to be contrary to the available evidence or outright false.

22-01-2017, 10:22 PM
To be popular a politician must appeal to the Average Joe - and who would want to be associated with him?