Friday, July 08, 2016

Populist politics

Margaret Canovan provides a useful overview of how populism manifests itself as a form of politics ("Trust the People! Populism and the Two Faces of Democracy" Political Studies XLVII 1999):

Populism in modern democratic societies is best seen as an appeal to 'the people' against both the established structure of power and the dominant ideas and values of the society. This structural feature in turn dictates populism's characteristic legitimating framework, political style and mood. ...

Populism is not just a reaction against power structures but an appeal to a recognized authority. Populists claim legitimacy on the grounds that they speak for the people: that is to say, they claim to represent the democratic sovereign, not a sectional interest such as an economic class.
For politics in Europe and America right now, some understanding of populism as a distinct form of making politics is important. Canovan argues that populism is a particular product of the continual tension in democracy between the "redemptive" style and the "pragmatic" one. Or she calls it, between those two faces of democracy.