Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The -ism Series (23): Populism

"Populism is the claim to raise 'the people' against 'the others' - against rulers, the political class; and/or against those who are not seen as part of the people, against those seen as 'foreign', as 'alien'."
Pelinka, 2008

Populism, the claim to represent and fight for the true wishes and interests of "the people", does not refer to a specific programme but to a specific technique, i.e., mobilising people against "those above" such as the government or the parliament, political parties, elites that can be defined in most different ways.

Contemporary populism which is currently rather widespread in Europe is characterised by "its cry for more democracy". This so-called cry for more democracy has potentially harmful aspects since it can be instrumentalised by plebiscites. "By stressing the plebisciterian against the representative component of democracy, populism is majority-oriented and tends to define democracy as majority rule. This leads to the populist tendency to play down or ignore the basic rights of individuals and minorities - be they ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities. As liberal democracy is based on the principle of majority rule as well as on the principle of minorty protection, this aspect of populism, creates at least tensions between liberal democracy as it is understood today and any kind of populist agenda: Liberal democracy is not just government by the majority - it guarantees at the same time protection of minorities and individuals." (Pelinka, 2008)

- Pelinka, A. (2008) The Rise of Populism, 39-48, in: Swoboda, H. & Wiersma, J. M. (eds.) Democracy, Populism and Minority Rights. Renner Institut
- photographs by the great Vivian Maier (1926-2009) via and via and via and via and via


  1. Fascinating how many phenomena populism explains. A wonderful good morning and many thanks for your feedback, Derek and Karen!