The New Populism (I)


The New Populism (I)


Written by Alfonso Elizondo



According to the Populism Research Group of Brigham Young University, 25% of Europeans voted in recent elections for a candidate from a populist movement, and such parties have tripled their vote in the last 20 years.

The geopolitical contexts vary according to geography, although the common themes are nationalism and anti-immigration, but they are not all on the political right. The fact that movements have emerged outside leftist parties, like Podemos in Spain or MORENA in Mexico, and outside traditional left parties, like the PSOE or the PRD, shows that populist discourse is common on both sides of the ideological spectrum, left and right.

In his book entitled Grain of Salt, German political scientist Jan-Werner Müller notes that Trump, Bernie Sanders, Marine Le Pen, Beppe Grillo, Víctor Orban, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Nicolás Maduro are proof of the rise of populism in the world, and he puts forward several hypotheses in this regard.

The first theory is that populism is not an authentic part of modern democratic politics or a pathology originating from irrational citizens. Populists are not opposed to the principle of political representation, but they insist that they are the legitimate representatives.

The second theory is that they think that in addition to being anti-elitist they are the only ones who represent the people.

The third theory states that populists say they represent the common good, as wanted by the people. And based on this argument, they usually pit the people against democratically elected officials.

The fourth theory is that there are popular consultations on proposals from the people, not to find out the will of the people but to endorse what they define as ‘the will of the people.’

The fifth theory points out that populists govern believing that only they represent the people. They use corrupt clientelist practices and suppress criticism from civil society. They also create political constitutions to stay in power and perpetuate themselves as the authentic popular will.

The sixth theory says that populists should not be criticized, which means that they are a real danger to democracy and to liberalism.

The seventh and final theory says that populism is not a corrective for liberal democracy but serves to clearly indicate which segments of society do not have representation. So populism must make the defenders of liberal democracy think about their failures and try to correct them.

Addendum: I will continue with the second part of this topic where I will look at populist parties in the US and in Europe.