Populism, Racism and Society in Eastern Europe

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This is a feature often found in authoritarian, not open societies Freeden : 6. In simple terms, although in theory, populism draws on substantive democratic principles, in practice, it undermines pluralist democracy. However, one can take this characterisation too far. On this definition, nationalism is also a thin ideology: it can adapt to liberalism, socialism, multiculturalism, religion and racism. Moreover, other ideologies can be combined, as with Christian socialism, so the thin—thick prefix is a matter of degree rather than a categorical distinction.

Once again, there is no hard line between populism and normal democratic politics. Indeed, it can be argued that many useful ideas, including freedom of speech, universal manhood suffrage and the labour movement, emerged on the back of populist political movements. They may also be socially connected to the upper echelons of the bureaucracy and judiciary. Thus, established forms of pluralism may prevent other interests from being expressed.

Racism and White Supremacy in Europe

So while populism can endanger liberal democracy, it may also renew and invigorate it, enhancing pluralism. Populism can be both a sincere belief and a style deployed by a politician who is in fact committed to retaining the status quo. Thus, populism becomes a style designed to manipulate an emotive electorate to benefit those who wish to enter the elite. Populism is an essentially contested concept. It is therefore not strange that there are many different definitions out there. Nonetheless, many scholars nowadays agree that populism is an ideational phenomenon a discourse, thin ideology or style that concerns the antagonistic relationship between the good people and the evil elite Hawkins ; Moffitt ; Mudde Ideational definitions of populism imply that populism should be distinguished from phenomena such as political opportunism, far right politics or charismatic leadership.

Defining populism as an ideational feature has two important implications. First, it means that populism could — or maybe even should — be conceived of as a matter of degree. In other words, a party that strongly endorses the populist set of ideas is strongly populist, whereas a party that does not employ much populism in its discourse is only weakly populist. The core characteristic of the democratic pillar is popular sovereignty: the idea that political power should reside within the people.

Populism is very well compatible with the democratic pillar. After all, populists believe that the general will should be expressed as directly and unmediated as possible Canovan Populism is therefore essentially democratic but, at the same time, hostile toward liberal democracy. Although it might therefore be argued that populism poses a threat to liberal democracy, it is important to add that populists can also act as a force for good, because they often function as a democratic corrective see Rovira Kaltwasser : they channel political discontent and put issues that are neglected by mainstream parties on the political agenda.

The definition of the people and the elites changes depending on whether a party is on the right or the left of the political spectrum.

The rise of European populism and the collapse of the center-left

There is also a mainstream, or centrist, variety: those who speak the language of populism by identifying the people against the governing party or the main opposition Vasilopoulou et al. The term has also been applied to political outcomes that have enjoyed support across the political spectrum — e. Brexit; and even centrist Macron. Everyone is — or can be — a populist.

Connecting History

But this begs the question: who is not a populist? Simply put, what is the analytical utility of a term, which describes a variety of very different political parties and movements and groups them together by virtue of their common references to the people — something which is a given in every democracy? This could mean that populism is a tautology: if it explains everything, it explains nothing. In order for populism to be analytically meaningful, and for a left—right typology of populism to make sense, we need to be able to first identify what is not populism. This is a point about both the im possibility of theoretical counterfactuals and the existence of such cases empirically.

Bannon plan for Europe-wide populist 'supergroup' sparks alarm

This exercise will allow us to distinguish between a variety of different groups which all challenge liberal democracy in different ways Pappas It stigmatises bankers, the rich and corporations. Sometimes, ethnic minorities or foreigners are tarred as a fifth column in the body politic. The two forms may blend together but are often distinct. The British Election Study Fieldhouse et al. Immigration is the leading issue for 40 per cent of Leavers but just 5 per cent of Remainers.

Inequality is the most important concern for 20 per cent of Remainers but just 5 per cent of Leavers. Immigration is the leading issue for 25 per cent of those who rated Trump a 10 out of 10 during the primaries, whereas just 2 per cent of those giving him a 0 out of 10 prioritise it. Clinton voters were actually marginally more annoyed than Trump voters by the American elite. However, what distinguished partisans was which elite they resented: 34 per cent of Trump voters but just 9 per cent of Clinton voters were exercised by the political correctness of the American elite, whereas 55 per cent of Clinton voters against 27 per cent of Trump voters were bothered by their wealth and power.

Therefore, mainstream parties can win populist right voters back by campaigning on immigration and identity issues, as with, among others, Mark Rutte in the Netherlands, Theresa May in Britain and Sebastian Kurz in Austria. Taggart has convincingly argued that populism has an empty heart.

It does not have core ideological values except for its populist message itself , as a result of which it tends to be highly chameleonic: it adapts itself to the environment in which it occurs. Populism can, in other words, be combined with basically every ideology — from far left to far right and from ultra conservative to highly progressive. First, the extreme left communism and right fascism have been marginalised. Far left and right parties generally do not attack the democratic system in its entirety anymore. Instead, they now criticise the established elite. In other words, they accept the democratic rules of the game.

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That radical left and right parties are inclined to be populist does not mean that all radical parties are populist or that all populist parties are radical. The Rassemblement National National Rally, previously Front National , for instance, was not yet very populist in the s. The Movimento Cinque Stelle Five Star Movement in Italy is strongly populist but cannot be categorised as either radical left or radical right.

What is consistent across both types of arguments is the essential moral opposition between the elites and the people that animates all populist discourse. Evidence of the ideologically bimodal distribution of populism, however, is not new. In Europe too, socialist parties have long mixed Marxist ideology with populist appeals intended to resonate beyond their working class base March Demands for the protection or expansion of welfare state institutions can also be easily coupled with restrictive conceptions of those deserving of state support, as in much European welfare chauvinism.

Discrimination on the rise in Europe

There are some marked differences in the proximate policy issues that motivate supporters of each camp, which correspond to the content of the latter's populist appeals. At the root of these divergent preferences, however, is a common sense of collective status threat. And on both sides of the political spectrum, such concerns are compounded by alienation from a political system that is controlled by those same elites and their allies and not everyday people.

Whatever else the French Revolution was, it was certainly populist. The events after showed that foreign revolutionaries like Anacharsis Cloots might not to be considered French Guiraudon So began the vexed question of defining the French nation. Where lie the differences? Members of the regional political establishment, notably cultural elites in arts and letters, spearhead and lead the movement.

Many of the separatist movements that emerged out of empires, from the Ottoman and Habsburg to the Soviet, likewise preserved the integrity of regional political elites and social hierarchies. There are exceptions. In some instances, where the local elite was aligned with the universal church or empire, it fell to lower strata to champion the nation. This was the case in Serbia and Bulgaria within the Ottoman Empire where the native aristocracy had been Islamised or replaced by Turkish landlords. Indeed, one Serbian nationalist leader was a pig farmer.

Populist nationalism can also emerge when elites fail to win public support for their political project.


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In order to rally public support, they needed to tap into the Catholic sentiments which were much closer to the lived experience of most people. Rather than viewing this elite as cosmopolitan, it is better to think of the liberal elite in the West before as missionary nationalist Kumar That is, competing with other western national elites for prestige: to be first among equals in the advancement of western liberal ideals. The process is similar to the way Iran and Saudi Arabia compete to be the Muslim world's favoured Islamic torchbearer.

Terrorism is only an issue in some Western countries. Secularism, meanwhile, is only a bugbear for Polish populists.

The religious right worked to capture offices within the system rather than overthrow it, thus was less overtly populist. Nationalism focuses on the congruence of the cultural and the political community i. Scholars often make a distinction between two types of nationalism: ethnic and civic nationalism. Civic nationalism is said to be inclusive and emphasises the legal political community. Ethnic nationalism, on the other hand, is said to be exclusive and to focus much more strongly on cultural matters Zimmer They can therefore easily be combined with each other. It is important to emphasise that it is of the upmost importance that researchers do not conflate populism and nationalism.

Although the two concepts are related, they represent different phenomena. The danger of conceptual sloppiness looms in particular when it comes to nativism — one specific form of nationalism. This is not the case. It is important to emphasise that although the concepts of populism and nativism should be distinguished from each other, we should also realise that they are nevertheless closely related. One way to think about their relationship is in terms of elective affinity Weber , with each pair within the triad sharing certain points of articulation that make their combination particularly fruitful.

Because populism is a culturally thin phenomenon with few ideological entailments, the content of the binary categories of the corrupt elites and the virtuous people must be filled with substantive content that draws on more complete ideologies. Nationalism infused with populism enables a politics of resentment and nostalgia, which is as much a battle against elites as it is a reassertion of dominance over ethnic, racial and cultural minorities. Populism and nationalism both place an emphasis on the collective.

They have teleological visions and posit that the society they envisage is morally superior. In addition, they are both divisive, feeding off the creation of dichotomies and the categorisation of social groups behind conflict lines. But it must also be possible for a populist not to be a nationalist and vice versa. This point is similar to my point above about left and right populism.

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