Populism  

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Populism” is a word used by leftists to describe the emotions of ordinary people, when they do not tend to the left." --Roger Scruton[1]

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Populism is a mode of political communication that is based on contrasts between the "common man" or "the people" and a real or imagined group of "privileged elites", traditionally scapegoating or making a folk devil of the latter. Populists can fall anywhere on the traditional left–right political spectrum of politics, and can often be characterised as centrist where populists portray both bourgeois capitalists and socialist organizers as unfairly dominating the political sphere.

Political parties and politicians often use the terms populist and populism as pejoratives against their opponents. Such a view sees populism as demagogy, merely appearing to empathize with the public through rhetoric or unrealistic proposals in order to increase appeal across the political spectrum.

Populism is most common in democratic nations. Political scientist Cas Mudde wrote that "Many observers have noted that populism is inherent to representative democracy; after all, do populists not juxtapose 'the pure people' against 'the corrupt elite'?"

Contents

History

Europe

Classical populism

The word populism is derived from the Latin word populus, which means people in English (in the sense of "folk", "nation", as in: "The Roman People" (populus Romanus), not in the sense of "multiple individual persons" as in: "There are people visiting us today"). Therefore, populism espouses government by the people as a whole (that is to say, the masses). This is in contrast to aristocracy, synarchy or plutocracy, each of which is an ideology that espouses government by a small, privileged group above the masses.

Populism has been a common political phenomenon throughout history. The Populares were an unofficial faction in the Roman senate whose supporters were known for their populist agenda. They tried to rule by mobilizing masses of Romans. Some of the best known of these were Tiberius Gracchus, Gaius Marius, Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus, all of whom eventually used referenda to bypass the Roman Senate and appeal to the people directly.

Early modern period in Europe

Populism rose during the Reformation; Protestant groups like the Anabaptists formed ideas about ideal theocratic societies, in which peasants would be able to read the Bible themselves. Attempts to establish these societies were made during the German Peasants' War (1524–1525) and the Münster Rebellion (1534–1535). The peasant movement ultimately failed as cities and nobles made their own peace with the princely armies, which restored the old order under the nominal overlordship of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, represented in German affairs by his younger brother Ferdinand.

The same conditions contributed to the outbreak of the English Revolution of 1642–1651, also known as the English Civil War. Conditions led to a proliferation of ideologies and political movements among peasants, self-employed artisans, and working-class people in England. Many of these groups had a dogmatic Protestant religious bent. They included Puritans and the Levellers.

Germany

Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778–1852), a Lutheran Minister, a professor at the University of Berlin and the "father of gymnastics", introduced the concept of Volkstum, a racial notion which draws on the essence of a people that was lost during the Industrial Revolution. Adam Mueller went a step further by positing the belief that the state was a larger totality than the government institutions. This paternalistic vision of aristocracy concerned with social orders had a dark side in that the opposite force of modernity was represented by the Jews, who were said to be eating away at the state. Populism also played a role in mobilizing middle class support for the Nazi Party in Weimar Germany. In this case, distressed middle–class populists mobilized their anger against the government and big business during the pre-Nazi Weimar period. According to Fritzsche:

The Nazis expressed the populist yearnings of middle–class constituents and at the same time advocated a strong and resolutely anti-Marxist mobilization... Against "unnaturally" divisive parties and querulous organized interest groups, National Socialists cast themselves as representatives of the commonwealth, of an allegedly betrayed and neglected German public...[b]reaking social barriers of status and caste, and celebrating at least rhetorically the populist ideal of the people's community...

France

In the late 18th century, the French Revolution (1789–1799), though led by wealthy intellectuals, could also be described as a manifestation of populist sentiment against the elitist excesses and privileges of the Ancien Régime.

In France, the populist and nationalist picture was more mystical, metaphysical and literarian in nature.) fused nationalism and populism by positing the people as a mystical unity who are the driving force of history in which the divinity finds its purpose. Michelet viewed history as a representation of the struggle between spirit and matter; he claims France has a special place because the French became a people through equality, liberty, and fraternity. Because of this, he believed, the French people can never be wrong. Michelet's ideas are not socialism or rational politics, and his populism always minimizes, or even masks, social class differences.

In the 1880 there was a resurgence of French populism in the form of Boulangisme.

In the 1950s, Pierre Poujade was the leader of the right-wing populist movement Union de Defense Commercants et Artisans (UDCA). Jean Marie Le Pen (who was UDCA's youngest deputy in the 1950s) can be characterized as right-wing populist or extreme-right populist. The French National Front, currently led by Marine Le Pen, is one of the most successful populist parties in Europe.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Populism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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