( A Popular Four minute read)
It is important to understand this topic since it is apparent that the consequences of the rise of populism continue to play out and they are likely to be profound.
Populist forces have already proven decisive for the outcome of the British referendum on membership in the European Union, and the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States.
Populists support charismatic leaders, reflecting a deep mistrust of the ‘establishment’ and mainstream parties who are led nowadays by educated elites with progressive cultural views on moral issues.
Since about 1970, affluent Western societies have seen growing emphasis on post-materialist and self-expression values among the younger birth cohorts and the better educated strata of society.
This has brought rising emphasis on such issues as environmental protection, increased acceptance of gender and racial equality, and equal rights for the LGBT community.
In recent decades, however, in Western democracies the backlash against cultural change has become increasingly prominent. Throughout advanced industrial society, massive cultural changes have been occurring that seem shocking to those with traditional values.
Moreover, immigration flows, especially from lower-income countries, changed the ethnic makeup of advanced industrial societies.
The newcomers speak different languages and have different religions and lifestyles from those of the native population—reinforcing the impression that traditional norms and values are rapidly disappearing.
All of the above combined were reinforcing each other in part, with long-term processes of generational change during the late twentieth century have catalyzed culture wars, and these changes are particularly alarming to the less educated and older groups in Western countries.
It therefore would be a mistake to attribute the rise of populism directly to economic inequality alone. The rise of populist parties reflects, above all, a reaction against a wide range of rapid cultural changes that seem to be eroding the basic values and customs of Western societies.
On one hand this cultural shift has fostered greater approval of social tolerance of diverse lifestyles, religions, and cultures, multiculturalism, international cooperation, democratic governance, and protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights. Social movements reflecting these values have brought policies such as environmental protection, same-sex marriage, and gender equality in public life to the center of the political agenda, drawing attention away from the classic economic redistribution issues.
But the spread of progressive values has also stimulated a cultural backlash among people who feel threatened by this development.
Less educated and older citizens, especially white men, who were once the privileged majority culture in Western societies, resent being told that traditional values are ‘politically incorrect’ if they have come to feel that they are being marginalized within their own countries.
As I have said, as cultures have shifted, now a tipping point appears to have occurred with the election of Donald Trump who exploited this change as did the Brixit supporters.
Britain’s decision to withdraw from the EU threatens to reenergize populist forces across Europe with France next on the list with Madame Le Pen. Perhaps the most widely held view of mass support for populism is the economic insecurity perspective–emphasizes the consequences of profound changes transforming the workforce and society in post-industrial economies.
If the cultural backlash argument is essentially correct, then this has significant implications; the growing generational gap in Western societies is likely to heighten the salience of the cultural cleavage in party politics in future, irrespective of any improvements in the underlying economic conditions or any potential slowdown in globalization.
Alternatively, the cultural backlash thesis suggests that support can be explained as a retro reaction by once-predominant sectors of the population to progressive value change.
Populist leaders like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Norbert Hoffer, Nigel Farage, and Geert Wilders are prominent today in many countries, altering established patterns of party competition in contemporary Western societies. The net result is that Western societies face more unpredictable contests, anti-establishment populist challenges to the legitimacy of liberal democracy, and potential disruptions to long-established patterns of party competition.
Education also proves significant, with populist parties winning greater support from the less educated sectors of the population.
Anti-immigrant attitudes, mistrust of global governance, mistrust of national governance, support for authoritarian values, and left-right ideological self-placement.
All cultural indicators that are significantly linked with populist voting and the coefficients. Not surprisingly, given populist xenophobic rhetoric, members of ethnic minorities are less inclined to support Populist parties.
In short, Populist support is greatest among the older generation, men, the less educated, ethnic majority populations, and the religious.
Given that populism does not appear to be waning in contemporary democracies let me ask these questions.
Under what circumstances are populist claims viewed as credible or not by their target audiences?
What accounts for temporal fluctuations in particular forms of populism within specific countries—and possibly across democracies in general?
Which groups are included in the category of the virtuous people and which elites (and associated groups) are vilified as morally suspect?
How is this classification process shaped by the broader political context (e.g., the position of the populist actors in the political field, the relative consolidation of political coalitions, the ability of mainstream actors to employ populist language)?
Populism which can be found on all sides of the political landscape is a thin-centered ideology. Driven by modern-day technology interlinkages of Smartphones, Social Media, Facebook, Twitter and the lack of long-term political aspirations it fill the void between the political space and the need for more equality in opportunity for all.
The burning question of today is, shall we drop all other reform issues and run to meet the populist with open arms? or is the Populist platform almost too absurd to merit serious discussion.
I fear not.
Remember that The National Socialist German Worker’s Party founded in Germany in 1919 and brought to power in 1933 under Adolf Hitler was a fascist populist party.
Call it what you want, Authoritarianism, Elitism, Nationalism, Populism, Trumpism it must never be allowed power on its own.
Trump’s rhetorical is unmoored from any sense of reality whatsoever and there is nothing he says than can be taken at face value.
It is intellectual dishonesty.
A better way to describe populism I think would be cosmopolitan socialists.
Its followers see see themselves in opposition to elites of all kinds with the main bone of contention being a system corrupted by economic elites.
All comments welcome, all like clicks chucked in the bin.