The word populism has become fairly common in the world that we live in. It seems like politicians around the world can’t stop talking about it. There are a lot of people who believe they know what the word populism means, but it’s not really as straightforward as your local congressman would have you believe. The academic community has been working hard on trying to conceptualize the word populism. Although there’s no agreed upon definition, there’s a fairly good level of consensus on its features and what the concept itself entails.
For many politicians and even journalists, populism is used as a dismissive word to define a dangerous and highly backward political ideology. Populists, or the people who believe in this ideology, are seen as intrusionists who are only interested in destroying the current political order. Many in the academic sphere believe that populism is temporary, arguing that populists’ ideas are hollow yet seductive enough to grab the interest of the masses. But with time, this interest starts to fade away and eventually the voters return to their senses.
The reason why there’s a lot of confusion about what populism means is based on the fact that historically there has never been any permanent state of populism anywhere in the world. Waves of populism tend to die fast. The idea appears at one time and then disappears at another. There has also been some relationship between populism and nationalism. Some have even argued that nationalism is often the cause of populism.
For example, when Tony Blair was the Prime Minister of Britain, he argued that globalization had become a force of change in the world and it was up to countries to find ways to live and take advantage of it. From this, we started to see a more connected world. The formation of the EU, in particular, that opened borders and integrated countries in the region was seen as the most apparent evidence of the pace of globalization. But over time, people started to get fed up. There was a feeling that globalization was causing a loss of identity and countries wanted to just stand on their own. Some politicians in Britain started to talk about separating themselves from the EU and returning back to a more nationalist system.
Eventually, there was the Brexit deal and many would argue that it was more of a populist decision than a nationalist one. But even with that, it was still inspired by a nationalist agenda. There are some in academia too who have argued that populism is a means to an end and not an end in itself. It’s merely a style of politics that’s used to bamboozle voters in pursuit of power and not a political ideology. This is perhaps the reason why populist beliefs tend to die out after regime changes. Whatever the word means, it’s clear that populism is on the rise, especially in the US and Europe. How far it will go remains to be seen.