by Simon Julian Staufer
On 22 January 2021, Donald Trump’s term as President of the United States officially came to an end. Trump had been impeached and acquitted; had contracted and survived Covid-19; fought for re-election and lost, refused to accept the election outcome, and tried to overturn it. He had told supporters on January 6, the day the election results were certified, that “if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore,” then watched as a mob of rioters broke into the Capitol in a last attempt to remake American history and secure him a second term; resulting in Trump being charged with incitement of insurrection, impeached for a second time, and finally acquitted once again, when his term had already expired.
All of this is very recent and very well-known history. The attack on the Capitol was the dramatic conclusion to four years that it can be described without hyperbole as the most turbulent and controversial single presidential term in American postwar history. It demonstrated in the starkest possible manner that Donald Trump was not only the most consistently unpopular US president since World War II, but that at the same time, he had built a devoted political base radical enough to physically try to stop a presidential transition by attacking a core institution of American democracy—even after Trump’s opponent had won as many electoral votes as Trump himself in 2016, clearly carried the popular vote and had his victory confirmed not just by the Electoral College but by judges and election officials across the nation, many of whom represented Trump’s own political party. Never in the country’s history had so many people turned out to vote for either giving a president a second term or ending his tenure.
Donald Trump has very often been described as a populist, to the extent that the label can be considered widely accepted in describing his politics, his behaviour, and his approach. While driving out large numbers of voters either for or against oneself is not the definition of populism, it has been a result of Donald Trump’s style of both magnetising a large segment the voting population and repulsing another one. And if there is one element of a definition of populism that is universally acknowledged, it is its reference to ‘the people’—who, in the particularly turbulent final weeks of the Trump presidency were explicitly told that they had been robbed, and that election officials and judges were conspiring to misrepresent their will.
But appealing to ‘the people’ is not sufficient to establish ‘populism’ in a meaningful sense. ‘The people’ can be a neutral term for any democratic politician’s constituency, and it seems safe to presume that every modern American president or presidential candidate has used it in some form. To understand how Donald Trump’s brand of politics is linked to the idea of populism as an approach to politics—and to study its relationship with recent events—it is worth looking at how we should define populism and what we should consider its key characteristics.
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders
In 2018, in the earlier stages of Donald Trump’s term in office, I started researching Donald Trump’s success as a politician since the announcement of his presidential bid in June 2015, and the relative success of a politician at the other end of the left-right spectrum in American politics, Bernard (‘Bernie’) Sanders. While Sanders’s success never extended beyond good results in certain primaries and caucuses, it was still considered remarkable by many that a 74-year-old, self-proclaimed democratic socialist (who only joined the Democratic party temporarily to run for president) managed to win almost 2,000 primary delegates and move into the position of being a serious competitor to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for several months. Sanders accomplished a similar, if more short-lived, feat in 2020, leading the race for the Democratic nomination in its earliest stages.
In 2016, Trump and Sanders campaigned on platforms that had little in common. Their ideas as to how to improve the economy—then, as in most election years, considered the most important issue by the American electorate—were radically different, as were their views on immigration, climate change, and a range of other topics. Yet the ‘populism’ label was applied liberally to both. Moreover, with the rise of many (purportedly) populist parties and movements in Europe in the 2010s, the story of Trump and Sanders, two ‘populists’ competing with ‘establishment’ figures like Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, tied in with a broader debate about the state of democracy on either side of the Atlantic.
Agreeing on the nature of populism, however, is tricky. While there is broad and systematic academic research into this topic, universal consensus on any aspect of it appears confined to the observation that political actors who can legitimately be deemed ‘populists’ in some way pit ‘the people’ against some other entity that they are opposed to. In addition, the notion is common—albeit not uncontested—that populism, whatever its exact nature, is systemically opposed to the tenets of a liberal democracy such as the United States, and much of the more recent research in populism studies has focused on actors on the far political right. On the other hand, there is no consensus on the nature of the entity the ‘people’ are juxtaposed with, on whether populism is a political ideology in its own right, and if not, on just what exactly it is.
In a specifically American context, however, the term ‘populism’ predates contemporary usage and scholarship, and it is historically associated with the left-wing People’s Party of the 1890s, which championed smallholder farmers and labour unions. Only in the 1950s, in the era of what has come to be known as the Second Red Scare, aggressive campaigning against the alleged communist subversion of the United States put right-wing politics in the spotlight of the discussion about populism, and—as the historian Michael Kazin writes—‘the vocabulary of grassroots rebellion’ began serving ‘to thwart and revert social and cultural change rather than to promote it.’ On the other hand, politicians considered left-wing populists kept playing a major role in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, particularly in Latin America, with figures like Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales rising to prominence years after the end of the Cold War.
This broad application across the political spectrum makes ‘populism’ even more elusive than it would be if applied chiefly to political movements on the contemporary right. It demonstrates that not only Donald Trump but also Bernie Sanders stands in a long tradition of politics associated with the concept. Their campaigning at the same time for the presidency during a timeframe of a little over a year—from 15 June 2015, when Trump announced his campaign, until 12 July 2016 when Sanders retired from the race—makes for an intriguing object of study in attempting to observe empirically whether, and to what extent, two politically fundamentally opposed actors can both be populists. If indeed two so wildly different actors should be populists, the question also arises whether the concept of populism may mean different things for different individual approaches to the political discourse.
However, such research needs to first get back to the question of what populism in general is. Attempts to do so in academic studies have differed significantly. Ernesto Laclau has constructed what is perhaps both the most wide-reaching and the most abstract theoretical framework for the topic, widely recognised for focusing on the essential characteristics of populism as such (rather than on elements only found in some forms of it) but also criticised for making it difficult to differentiate populism from other approaches to politics. An oft-cited alternative to dealing with this challenge is Cas Mudde’s definition of populism as a ‘thin-centred ideology’ based largely on a juxtaposition of ‘the people’ with an ‘elite’ against which populism rallies—which is thus malleable enough to fit a wide range of policy orientations and political platforms, while allowing for different types of mobilisation and political organisation. However, applying the ‘ideology’ label to populism has been viewed rather critically by authors such as Michael Freeden, Donatella della Porta and Manuela Caiani, and Benjamin Moffitt and Simon Tormey.
Aiming to address the discussion on both populism’s ideational core and its amorphous nature, and to provide a foundation on which to build empirical research, I define populism as a political discursive logic whose normative ideational core is the juxtaposition of ‘the people’ as the group it claims to represent with one or several particular antagonists. This definition builds on a Laclauian approach but maintains that populism can be distinguished from other political discursive logics through this particular presentation of an antagonistic relationship, and of the people being the entity purportedly represented, rather than any other or more specific group (such as e.g. Christians, liberals, etc.).
There are several elements of political discourse that can serve to express this relationship, which different populists may use differently. Based on the prior research in the field, I identified11 possible ways in which populism as a discursive logic articulates itself at the level of text (as opposed to non-textual or meta-textual levels such as the tone of speeches or visual elements of populists’ presentation), serving an instrumental function in expressing the people-antagonist dichotomy that lies at its core. The list of elements is not designed to exhaust all possibilities—and it bears stating that non-textual or even non-verbal elements would merit being studied through alternative or more extensive designs—but it is considered to feature most of what are considered populism’s most common traits on this level of analysis in the literature:
Two different kinds of populist
Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’s 2015 campaign announcement speeches were key elements of their political platform, as were two books written by them, or in their name, Great Again. How to Fix Our Crippled America (Trump) and Our Revolution (Sanders), both of which describe the platforms of their respective (attributed) author and their ideological positions and policy ideas. The definition of and empirical framework for populism established was thus applied with a focus on this key discursive output in their campaigns. Speeches made by both candidates during the primary elections in 2016 were analysed to complement their books’ ideological content.
The results offered new insight into the ideological malleability of populism, and into the challenge of pinning it down. The analysis found that both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders engage in a form of political discourse that features populist elements, but that they represent distinctly different approaches to articulating populism.
Neither Donald Trump nor Bernie Sanders can be considered an ideal-type populist. For the discursive actions of both candidates during their respective 2015–2016 campaigns, some of the 11 elements identified were clearly present in the material analysed, some to a limited degree, and some, not at all. Both former presidential candidates’ discourse presented a normative juxtaposition of the people as a group with one or several antagonists, as has been considered constitutive for the definition of populism—in the case of Donald Trump, the antagonists are painted as external forces from countries like China, Mexico and Iran as well as politicians and bureaucrats whose most essential characteristic is incompetence in representing American interests against these outside forces; in the case of Bernie Sanders, the main antagonist is the ‘billionaire class’, whose schemes are aided and abetted by ‘establishment’ politicians from both major American parties.
While Sanders makes a more explicit appeal to ‘the people’ and provides a more specific moral framework than Trump, a clash between populism and pluralism can textually be identified only in Trump’s discourse. Elements #6 and #7 of the framework—disregard for deliberative processes and a favourable view of swift executive action as well as promises of fast and wide-reaching change—are where Trump and Sanders differ most sharply. There is no evidence of these elements in Sanders’s speeches and book, and there is a substantial amount of evidence in Trump’s.
Crucially, where in both the academic and the popular debate, especially in Europe, there is a tendency to equate ‘populism’ with the political far right, in a sense Bernie Sanders is more of a populist than Donald Trump—because his appeal to ‘the people’ is more explicit, reference to them as a group is more central to his discourse than to Trump’s, and the people-antagonist dichotomy is more clearly framed in normative terms.
Populism and pluralism
This finding has implications for the study of the relationship between populism and the political pluralism that is a fundamental tenet of liberal democracy. Considering that the people-antagonist conflict that forms the normative ideational core of populism is more clearly present in Bernie Sanders’s discourse than in Donald Trump’s, the idea seems questionable that populism, in and of itself, is at odds with liberal democracy, as proposed by a number of authors in populism research. While this notion remains prevalent in the literature of authors seeking to establish definitions of populism that take account of its unique features vis-à-vis other political phenomena but are universally valid, other research has indeed claimed that, at the very least, a diverse electorate can be openly acknowledged by populists, and it may be that, even with a normative people-outgroup antagonism firmly in place, a denial of pluralism does not necessarily follow.
Based on the example of Bernie Sanders, the argument could in fact be posited that populism can aim—or certainly profess to aim—at restoring the very mechanisms of liberal democracy that would make a campaign like that of Sanders unnecessary. The extent to which this correlates with Sanders’s position on the political left-right spectrum would be an interesting subject for further research on actors who position themselves similarly and use a similar, arguably populist discursive approach.
What recent events have, in any case, emphatically demonstrated is how on the other hand a brand of populism that openly disdains institutionalism, multilateral decision-making and any opposition through the democratic process can unleash great destructive potential and have significant consequences for the stability of democratic institutions. The January 2021 storming of the United States Capitol is a stark reminder of that.
 See also https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/
 This is true not only of the absolute number of voters but also of the percentage of the voting eligible population since the earliest data point available (the 1980 election), and of the percentage of the total voting age population since the 1960 election (when no incumbent ran). See https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/statistics/data/voter-turnout-in-presidential-elections for detailed statistics.
 M. Kazin, The Populist Persuasion. An American History (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995), 4.
 See for example E. Laclau, On Populist Reason (London: Verso, 2005).
 See for example C. Rovira-Kaltwasser and C. Mudde, Populism. A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
 See for example: M. Freeden, ‘After the Brexit referendum: revisiting populism as an ideology’, Journal of Political Ideologies 22(1) (2017), 1–11; M. Caiani and D. della Porta, ‘The elitist populism of the extreme right: A frame analysis of extreme right-wing discourses in Italy and Germany’, Acta Politica 46(2) (2011), 180–202; and B. Moffitt and S. Tormey, ‘Rethinking Populism: Politics, Mediatisation and Political Style’, Political Studies 62(2) (2014), 381–97.
 It may be noted that Donald Trump is reported to have employed a ghostwriter for his book, while Bernie Sanders is reported to have written his book himself. However, both books constitute textual output with which either respective politician is officially credited, to which he contributed, and which formalises his official positions and views.
 See for example J.-W. Müller, ‘Populismus: Theorie . . . ’, in ibid. (ed.), Was ist Populismus? (Berlin:
Suhrkamp, 2017), pp. 25–67; and P. Rosanvallon, ‘The populist temptation’, in A. Goldhammer and P. Rosanvallon (eds.), Counter-Democracy: Politics in an Age of Distrust (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 265–73.
 For a specific example and case study of ‘inclusive’ populism, see Y. Stavrakakis and G. Katsambekis, ‘Left-wing populism in the European periphery: the case of SYRIZA’, Journal of Political Ideologies 19(2) (2014), 119–42.
by Regina Queiroz
Although ‘neoliberalism’ means different things to different people, I follow those, who, like Michael Freeden, view neoliberalism as an ideology, i.e., ‘a wide-ranging structural arrangement that attributes decontested meaning to a range of mutually defining political concepts’. In this approach, neoliberalism relies on a libertarian conception of both the individual and liberty. Even if not all decontestations of what “libertarian” is meant to denote have made it into neoliberalism (e.g., libertarian socialisms, or even a fair number of anarcho-libertarianisms), libertarian views on individuals and liberty provide a particular interpretation of its core values: individualism, liberty, law, laissez-faire governance, and market states.
In general, libertarianism views individuals as free, separate persons—self-contained and self-sufficient maximisers of their exclusively private ends. As Robert Nozick writes: “there are only individual people, different individual people, with their own individual lives”. Libertarianism assigns a pivotal role to one’s liberty. Under an exclusively negative conception of liberty, the fundamental notion of non-constraint involves the individual having a claim to non-constraint by another's will when pursuing the maximisation of his or her wellbeing. Except for their own private will, individuals who pursue their ends are free of all external human limits, whether individual or collective.
Furthermore, despite its association with more Anglo-American and 20th-century conservatism, neoliberalism is grounded in a conservative understanding of the extra-social source of political laws. Accordingly, instead of locating the source of common law in the people or a populus, neoliberalism locates it in spontaneous processes. For instance, as an ‘assemblage of some size associated with one another through agreement on law and community of interest’, the people as a political concept points to the question of whether, as a collection of distinct individuals or a collective undifferentiated person, individuals associate to establish governing laws that serve a common interest (e.g. peace). The concept of the people also requires that individuals be united in a common entity, capable of collective action.
However, when understood as a collective person or political body whose members are united in a common human entity, the notion of a human source of law clashes with the neoliberal conception of liberty. When a collection of individuals who share a common end attain it through collective action, both the end and collective action clash with the atomistic conception of the individual. Insofar as this collective picture undermines both the atomistic conception of the individual and freedom from human interference in the individual pursuit of well-being, the categories of the individual and the people are mutually exclusive under neoliberalism. There is either a law of the people and individuals lack freedom; or, individuals are free and there is neither the people nor the law of the people. Due to this conundrum, neoliberalism removes the concept of ‘the people’ from its ideological corpus and prioritises individual personal interests via the unrestricted enjoyment of individual liberty.
Neoliberals have a need, however, for legislation and centralised state structure that protect individuals’ unrestricted liberty. Neoliberalism creates an analogy between states and economic markets: i.e., mechanisms for coordinating production, distribution, and exchange, and activities carried out by private individuals or corporate bodies under the guidance of spontaneous forces. In states-as-markets, the wellbeing of all individuals is only attainable through the state’s coercive and intentionally laissez-faire command over the individual’s unlimited pursuit of private wellbeing. For example, neoliberals acknowledge that citizens can fail to acquire certain goods. Nonetheless, neoliberalism maintains that individual misfortune or success, even if undeserved, is and ought to remain a private affair. When such matters are treated as affairs of state (or the public), the state apparatus, such as the welfare state, illegitimately uses the coercive power of law to impose a personal duty on individuals to contribute to others’ well-being.
Besides leading to collective impoverishment, the pursuit of collective welfare under coercive state power deprives individuals of the private and unlimited liberty usufruct. Thus, the neo-libertarian state departs from the welfare state, excluding all forms of concrete state practices configured as public policies (e.g., increased social services, pensions), and instead imposes specific policies expressed in the ‘D–L–P-Formula’: ‘(1) deregulation (of the economy); (2) liberalisation (of trade and industry); (3) and privatisation (of state-owned enterprises)’.  Only these policies allow for the usufruct of neoliberal citizenship, viewed as the equal unlimited right to a private domain beyond state (and peoples’) borders. Notice that in the market analogy, the state is a borderless, open-ended, cosmopolitan entity—a notion that does away with the idea of state control over physical territory, that goes beyond the family, the tribe, and the nation-state. Individual well-being is and must be pursued beyond national (and ethnic) borders. Otherwise, any political limitation of individuals’ private property, based on national-ethnic claims, entails global collective impoverishment.
Neoliberalism and social divides
Despite a libertarian understanding of the individual and liberty, neoliberal conservatism situates individuals in concrete groups and attributes differential value to them or the true social divide à la neoliberalism. It views society as divided into two main groups: paternalistically regulated people (the poor, the losers, the dependent, the debtors, and the receivers) versus successful entrepreneurs (the winners, the ‘rich’, the creditors, the givers, those who are self-sufficient and independent). More specifically, state dependents and paternalistically-regulated people ask the state to use coercive laws to intervene on their behalf. Conversely, as ‘successful winners’, the rich are conceived as having succeeded in self-sufficiently attaining wellbeing, relying exclusively on themselves. As givers, they freely transfer and spread their wealth and wellbeing in society as a whole. These qualities, following Friedrich von Hayek, allow them ‘to prevail over others’, to ‘displace […] others’, and to give them ‘superior strength’.
Since under spontaneous laws, undeserved disappointment cannot be avoided, the disappointed ‘losers’ and the poor request intentional state intervention (i.e., public policies) to prevent or compensate for their losses. Nevertheless, since both interventive prevention and compensation (welfare) states allow for certain people (the poor) to be given that which belongs to others (the rich), market-states’ support of “poor claims” are illegitimate. On the other hand, when the power and superiority of the rich are challenged by the effects of the spontaneous forces of the market mechanism itself, neoliberal market-states change the rules under which the ‘rich’ lose part of their property and are prevented from increasing it, although it still includes the transfer of property from the poor to the rich. In reality, under the paternalistic conservative supposition that, as debtors, the poor acquire property solely as a result of the rich choosing to lend them property (e.g., through salaries, taxes), the (re)transfer of property from the former to the latter not only restores to the rich what, as creditors, always belonged to them but also ensures the wellbeing of the poor. Accordingly, when arguing for the unlimited and unquestionable individual right to private property, individuals use state coercive power to impose indisputable state policies on all citizens. Therefore, the neoliberal conceptual framework does not prevent neoliberalism from fostering a minoritarian tyranny over the majority, and the single individual over the many at the local, national, and global level.
Insofar as ‘the people’ is populism’s main ideological concept, alongside the concept of ‘popular sovereignty’ and the idea of the antagonistic relationship between the over-esteemed people and the denigrated elite one might infer that populism is incompatible with neoliberal individualism, with its stress on liberty, law, laissez-faire governance, and market states.
Nevertheless, the literature has already stressed the ‘unexpected affinities’ between populism and neoliberalism, such as: (a) an anti-elite discourse, wherein populism aims to protect the unity of the people against politicking factions and selfish elites, whereas neoliberalism attacks established elites (political class and rent-seeking mercantilist entrepreneurs, replacing the old elites with new (foreign and domestic investors); (b) strengthening the executive branch and weakening rival institutions such as parliament; and (c) their top-down approach to decision-making.
Neoliberal affinity with populism is, however, not merely a matter of a top-down decision-making approach and strengthening or weakening of rival institutions. Rather, neoliberal affinities with populism are a more specific unfolding of the internal logic of neoliberalism and the framework of neoliberal globalisation. For instance, even if individual well-being is and must be pursued beyond national (and ethnic) borders, people in nation-states still claim territorial sovereignty and ethnonational identity characteristics (e.g., language and culture). This occurs even though the neoliberal conception of globalisation precludes any political limitation (e.g., national borders or ethnonational claims) on individuals’ private property. Consequently, per the internal metamorphosis of ideologies, neoliberal populism can be viewed as an adaptation of neoliberal ideology to a complex world in general, and to the 2008 financial crisis in particular. This points to the global attempt to impose: (a) the meaning of the concept of the people as a collection of separate individuals pursuing their unlimited right to private well-being; and (b) the conservative criterion of individuals as applied to the people themselves.
Populism does not have a systematically-articulated political ideology that grounds practices, nor does it contain conceptual fundamentals pertaining to political decision-making on issues of redistribution and the status and goods conferred by political membership. These practices and fundamentals are provided by neoliberalism, which, as a fuller and broader host ideology, allows the association of the populist core concept of ‘the people’ to the neoliberal conception of the individual and the neoliberal conservative distinction between groups. Additionally, there is a tendency to present anyone who questions the fundamentally individuated character of the people/society as “not part of the people”, including everyone from “the elite” to “the left” to those with supposedly anti-individualistic foreign cultural backgrounds. Therefore, neoliberal populism situates the unrestricted pursuit of individual and entrepreneurial wellbeing as the domain of the will of the people and as a criterion for distinguishing between us and them.
When supposedly defending the people, in reality, neoliberal populists are speaking in the name of the limitless pursuit of individual ends; likewise, when invoking the prerogatives of us, the true people, against them, the false people, they are invoking the prerogatives of the entrepreneur against those characterised as being dependent on the state. For example, in a speech delivered from ‘the viewpoint of economic logic’, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán opposes the true citizens (us)—who under globalisation live in fear of losing their well-being and falling victim to downward social mobility, or who are already precariously employed and unemployed—to them (immigrants, refugees, and national minorities, such as the Roma). The former, viewed as the rich, who ‘do not want to see their level of welfare spending and standards of living fall’, while the latter are viewed as the ‘poor multitudes’ who want to appropriate the property rightly held by the true people (to ‘take […] what you have’).
Consequently, our approach to neoliberal populism from the perspective of the tyranny of the individual reveals that neoliberal populism’s illiberal content stems not only from its conception of the people but also from its commitment to unrestricted individual liberty. Since neoliberal populism retains the people as a core concept, some authors locate the source of populism’s political despotism in the collective conception of the people alone, which roughly and controversially associated with Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of the ‘general will’. Jan-Werner Müller, Cas Mudde, and Cristóbal Kaltwasser maintain, for example, that the populist understanding of the sovereignty of the people as a homogeneous collective body—whose members pursue the same undifferentiated end—undermines the individualistic and pluralistic nature of liberal democracy.
On the one hand, without dismissing the importance of pluralism as a criterion for distinguishing populism from liberalism (namely liberal democracy), the merging of the concept of the people with neoliberal individualism implies that neoliberal populism involves an element of pluralism (since unrestricted individual liberty is the criterion for a pluralistic society under neoliberalism). On the other hand, the emphasis on pluralism obscures the fact that not every appeal to pluralism and individual liberty is liberal and democratic (e.g., neo-libertarian conservatism, encapsulated in demarchy, or democracy without a people), nor is every populism incompatible with individualism and freedom from human coercion (e.g., neoliberal populism), nor indeed is every appeal to the people populist and anti-pluralist (e.g., liberalism). Liberalism shares neoliberalism’s suspicion of the collective understating of the people as a concept, its disdain for the tyranny of the majority, and the core values of liberty and individualism. However, liberalism does not exclude the concept of ‘the people’ from its ideological corpus, nor the prioritisation of individual personal interests via the unrestricted enjoyment of individual liberty.
Liberalism and neoliberalism share a concern for liberty, which includes the private domain, or to give John Stuart Mill’s classic definition, ‘a circle around every individual human being, which no government, be it of one, of a few, or of the many, ought to be permitted to overstep’. The liberal ideal of liberty does not reduce it to the negative conception of ‘freedom from’ restraints, since it still includes positive meaning. Focusing on enabling rather than constraining conditions, instead of leaving individuals alone to fulfil their aims, positive freedom requires empowering individuals to fulfil them. Moreover, the positive conception also includes having the active cultivation of valuable behaviour or growth processes and a positive capacity to do and enjoy something of worth, in common with others.
Similarly, liberalism and neoliberalism share the political value attributed to individuals, viewing them as individuals. ‘[E]ndowed with a qualitative uniqueness [and] [c]apable of self-expression and flourishing’, individuality is associated with development and indeterminate and open-ended self-realisation. Nevertheless, challenging the unilateral focus on people’s separateness, liberalism and ‘purist autonomy theories that regard individuals as capable of making their own life plans without benefiting from the nourishing support of others’ highlight ‘respect and affinity between people [and] beneficial mutual interdependence’. This ideological approach emphasises individuals’ sociability: individuals simultaneously benefit from the support of others and support for others.
Moreover, individuality in liberalism involves a public dimension, i.e., individual awareness of belonging to the ‘political community of human beings’, as Cicero called the ‘people’. Conceived according to the individualistic Anglo-American conception, ‘the people’ is both collective and individual, and a human political community of separate and free individuals. Viewing the people ‘as humanity’, and beyond the intricate theoretical issues related to the institutionalisation of the people in the Anglo-American liberal tradition, the ‘people-as-humanity’ establishes the rules of their political community. Entitled by their supreme and rational controlling sovereign power (since rationality is ‘a persistent core liberal concept’), peoples have the constituent power of establishing the common law of their political communities.
In summary, in liberalism ‘the people’ is understood neither as a homogeneous person aiming at undifferentiated common ends nor as a collection of separate individuals pursuing an unlimited right to their well-being. Individuals—belonging to ‘a people’ as humans—are a collection of separate and free individuals, who do not dissociate their wellbeing from the wellbeing of others pursued under freely and rational willed public laws.
These ideological distinctions between liberalism, libertarianism, and neoliberalism are subtle and far from irrelevant. In addition to the supposition that the people’s interests are better safeguarded by populists, and individual liberties by demarchy, the merging of neoliberalism and populism undermines any reasonable liberal defence of the compatibility of individual liberties with ‘the people’. Not only do neoliberals still present themselves as the ‘true’ liberals, but neoliberalism and its ideological metamorphosis does not dispense with the concept of the people, understood as a collection of individuals pursuing their unlimited liberty.
 M. Freeden, Ideology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 54 (emphasis in the original).
 M. Steger and R. Ravi, Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2010), 47.
 J. Buchanan and G. Tullock, ‘The Calculus of Consent’ (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1962).
 Cicero, On the Commonwealth and On the Laws (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 39.
 M. Canovan, The People (Cambridge: Polity, 2005).
 M. Ostrowski, ‘Towards libertarian welfarism: protecting agency in the night-watchman state’, Journal of Political Ideologies 18(1) (2013), 107.
 F. Hayek, ‘Los principios de un orden social liberal’, Estudos Públicos (1982), pp. 179-198.
 Steger and Ravi, Neoliberalism, 14.
 J.W. Müller, ‘Comprehending conservatism: a new framework for analysis’, Journal of Political Ideologies 11 (2006), 363.
 F. Hayek, ‘Rules and Order’, in Law, Legislation and Liberty: A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy (London, Routledge, 1982), 9.
 Ibid., 18.
 Ibid., 19.
 J. Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality (London: Penguin Books, 2013), 35–64.
 M. Canovan, ‘“People”, Politicians and Populism’, Government and Opposition 19 (1984), 312–27.
 B. Stanley, ‘The thin ideology of populism’, Journal of Political Ideologies 13 (2008), 102.
 K. Weyland, ‘Neopopulism and neoliberalism in Latin America: Unexpected affinities’, Studies in Comparative International Development 31 (1996).
 A. Fabry, ‘Neoliberalism, crisis and authoritarian-ethnicist reaction: The ascendency of the Orbán regime’, Competition and Change 22 (2018), 1–27; A. Knight, ‘Populism and Neo-Populism in Latin America, Especially Mexico’, Journal of Latin American Studies 30 (1998), 223–48.
 Weyland, ‘Neopopulism and neoliberalism’.
 Knight, ‘Populism and Neo-Populism in Latin America’.
 Weyland, ‘Neopopulism and neoliberalism’.
 Freeden, Ideology.
 Viktor Órban, 2014, available at www.kormany.hu/the-prime-minister/the-prime-minister-s-speeches/viktor-orban-s-speech-at-the-14th-k, accessed 15 March 2019.
 C. Mudde and C. Kaltwasser, Populism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 16–19.
 J-J. Rousseau, Du Contrat Social (Paris: Gallimard, 1762 ).
 J.W. Müller, ‘The People Must Be Extracted from Within the People: Reflections on Populism’, Constellations 21 (2014), 487, 490, emphasis in the original.
 Mudde and Kaltwasser, Populism, 16–19.
 B. Holden, Understanding Liberal Democracy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), 84, 86.
 See J.S. Mill, On Liberty. With Subjection of Woman and Chapter on Socialism (Cambridge University Press: Avon, 1859 ).
 M. Freeden, Liberalism. A Very Short of Introduction (Oxford: University Press, 2015).
 J.S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy: With Some Their Applications to Social Philosophy, Books III-V (Canada: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1848 ), 938.
 M. Freeden, Ideologies and Political Theory: A Conceptual Approach (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 146, 186.
 Freeden, Liberalism, 61.
 J.S. Mill, On Liberty, 57.
 M. Freeden, ‘European Liberalisms. An Essay in Comparative Political Thought’, European Journal of Political Theory 7 (2015), 22.
 Freeden, Liberalism, 62.
 Canovan, The People, 101.
 Ibid., 30–2.
 J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 195–201.
 Freeden, Liberalism, 60.
by Arthur Borriello and Anton Jäger
Few words still offer a more tantalising, but also frustratingly vague, indication of our contemporary era than “populism”. The statistics speak for themselves: from 1970 to 2010, the number of Anglophone publications containing the term rose from 300 to more than 800, creeping over a thousand in the 2010s. The semantic inflation was not only the result of a growing and emboldened nationalist radical right, however. Instead, the 2010s also saw a specifically left-wing variant of populism gain foothold on European shores. This new group of political contenders took, tacitly or explicitly, their inspiration from previous experiences in the South American continent, of which left populism had long been cast as an exclusive specimen. Where did this sudden upsurge come from?
In addition to cataclysmic crisis management, without doubt the most important thinker in this transfer was the Argentinian philosopher, Ernesto Laclau—light tower to left populists like Podemos, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and even Syriza. Before he went properly political, Laclau was already a mainstay of academic debates in the 1990s and 2000s. Laclau’s theory of populism—formulated from 1977 to 2012, spanning books such as Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (1977) to On Populist Reason (2005)—has fascinated a whole generation of scholars dissatisfied by either positivist or mainstream Marxist approaches. To them, Laclau provided a full theory of populism that stands out by its conceptual strength, internal coherence, and direct political appeal. Contrary to many other approaches, there also was intense two-way traffic between his populism theory and its activist uptake by movements, from Latin America (Chavism, Kirchnerism, etc.) to the more recent political experiments in the post-2008 Europe (Podemos, Syriza, La France insoumise, etc.). In the 2010s, this two-way traffic took off in Europe.
Laclau’s vision of populism is as short as it is appealing. In his view, ‘populism’ is not an ideology, strategy, or designated worldview. Rather, ‘populism’ is an ever-present ‘political logic’, which tends to unify unfulfilled demands based on shared opposition to a common enemy—elites, castes, classes, parasitical outsiders. Populists condense the space of the social by reducing all oppositions to an antagonistic relation between ‘the people’ and a power bloc, the latter consisting of a politically, economically, and culturally dominant group held responsible for frustrating the demands of the former. To Laclau, the unity of this ‘people’ is always constructed and a given. This construction is both discursive and negative: because there is no pre-given to the ‘people’, cohesion is necessarily achieved through condensation in the figure of a leader—one of the most controversial aspects of Laclau’s theory. Populism, in this perspective, is also bereft of any intrinsic programmatic content. Instead, it only refers to the formal way in which political demands are articulated: those demands, in turn, can be of any type, and can be voiced by extremely disparate groups. For Laclau populism can thus take many forms, ranging from the most progressive to the most reactionary one—both Hitler and Marx have their ‘populist’ moments.
Like any grand theory, however, Laclau’s theory has also become subject to two symmetric processes: either dogmatic mutation or automatic rejection. These mirror the treatment of left populism in the public sphere in general. Academics either uncritically endorse these movements as democratically redemptive, or unfairly blame them for jeopardising democratic norms. Increasingly, disciples of the Laclauian approach themselves have express their dissatisfactions vis-à-vis Laclau’s theory and the current state of the field. Save a few exceptions calling for an earnest assessment of its balance sheet, however, these critiques—both theoretical and practical—are made from perspectives external to the Laclauian theory (mainly liberalism and Marxism). From the liberal perspective, Laclau’s theory is criticised for its alleged illiberal and authoritarian/plebiscitarian political consequences. Marxists, on the other hand, tend to resist the ‘retreat from class’ that his theory implies.
Contrary to these criticisms, we propose an internal assessment. To paraphrase Chantal Mouffe’s famous quip about Carl Schmitt, we can reflect upon left populist theory both ‘with’ and ‘against’ Laclau, submitting his theory to closer scrutiny while sticking to most of its basic assumptions. Four aspects of Laclau’s theory are granted particular scrutiny: the articulation of ‘horizontality’ and ‘verticality’, a deficit of historicity, an excessive formalism and a lack of reflexivity.
The first point moves from the abstract to the concrete. For Laclau, any populist ‘people’ needs to be constructed and moulded, something that will have to be done through a central agency—here taken up by the figure of the leader. In the view of ‘horizontal’ theorists, Laclau’s theory of populism supresses the natural spontaneity of groups, disregards their organisational capacity, and always runs the risk of sliding into an autocratic path. On the descriptive side, the central role of the leader encounters many counterexamples across historical and contemporary populist experiences, from the American People’s Party, the farmers’ alliance that shook up US politics at the end of the nineteenth century, to the contemporary Yellow Vests, the recent social upsurge against Emmanuel Macron’s politics in France. On the normative side, left populism does indeed live in the perpetual shadow of a Caesarist derailing—as recently shown in the extremely autocratic management of Podemos and la France insoumise by Pablo Iglesias and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, respectively. Yet, in a context where European parties are losing members and politics is becoming more liquid and impermanent, the importance of leaders to organisations seems to be an obstacle to patient organisation-building and mass mobilisation. In this sense, they tend to encourage rather than decelerate the anti-democratic trends they purport to critique.
A second problem in Laclau’s oeuvre is its treatment of historicity. Although Laclau makes recurrent references to historical episodes, his work as a whole consistently suffers from a chronic incapacity to relate his findings to a coherent theory of historical change. The poststructuralist language he takes on leads to a relative randomisation of history, placing him at pains to explain large-scale historical changes. Without falling back on a teleological and deterministic conception of history, it is necessary to pay greater attention to the structural transformations of global capitalism and parliamentary democracy to understand our current ‘populist moment’. The history of the 2010s as the European populist decade can not be understood only through the triptych dislocation-contingency-politicisation but must be replaced within a much broader context: the declining structures of political representation across Western democracies, whose roots, in turn, must be found in the changing political economy of late capitalism.
Finally, we claim that Laclau and his disciples lack a properly performative theory of populism. Recent research carried out by Essex School scholars (the current started by Laclau) have compensated for this problem, focusing on the intellectual history of populism as a signifier, and showing the performative effects its use by scholars and politicians can have. These show anti-populist researchers and political actors tend to consolidate the coming of a populist/anti-populist cleavage as a central axis of conflict by endorsing a specific reading of contemporary politics and setting out a terrain of battle that superimposes itself on older ones, such as the left-right distinction. However, Essex School theorists remain surprisingly silent on the thin frontier between description and prescription from a Laclauian perspective, and thus on their own inevitable role in creating the reality they purport to merely describe.
Finally, Laclau’s extremely formal definition of populism can easily turn into hypergeneralism. His endorsement of a strictly formal conception of populism creates an inability to account both for the similarities and differences between the left- and right populisms. It then becomes dangerously easy to overstretch the concept ad absurdum and even to depict contemporary anti-populism—such as Macron’s—as a form of populism, simply because of the latter’s antagonistic character towards established political parties, even though this antagonism is rooted in a liberal-technocratic conception of politics. As appealing as this overstretch might look—it rightly grasps that Macron and Mélenchon, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, for instance, have ‘something’ in common—it adds to the confusion around ‘populism’ rather than providing a satisfying answer to it. It also distracts the attention from what really unites these political actors: the fact that their emergence in the French party system represents a moment of political disruption (not necessarily populist) made possible by the decline of traditional, organised party politics.
To end on a hopeful note, we propose a renewed approach to populism that builds on Laclau’s strengths while re-embedding them in a more robust analytic framework. Such a reassessment could lead to a more careful balance between a general theory of populism (based on, but not reducible to, Laclau’s political ontology) and the concrete appraisal of its empirical manifestations. We can here deploys the metaphor of an ‘ecosystem’: populism is simply one political species (amongst many) particularly adept at adapting itself to the new environmental setting of our increasingly disorganised democracy. In scientific jargon, Laclau’s ‘populism’ is a bio-indicator: a species which can reveal the quality and nature of the environment, while also depending on it. Only when we take this step back, we claim, can we see the silhouette of populism against the wider democratic canvas.
 The most prolific schools of thought, besides the Laclauian perspective (C. Mouffe, For a Left Populism, London: Verso, 2018; G. Katsambekis & A. Kioupkiolis (eds.), The Populist Radical Left in Europe, Oxon & New York: Routledge, 2019) have undoubtedly been the approaches to populism as a ‘thin-centred ideology’ (C. Mudde and C. Rovira Kaltwasser (Eds.), Populism in Europe and the Americas: Threat or Corrective for Democracy?, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012; J-W. Müller, What is Populism?, London: Penguin Books, 2016) and as a ‘political style’ (B. Moffitt, The Global Rise of Populism : Performance, Political Style and Representation, Standford : Standford University Press, 2016).
 For an early criticism of this sort, see B. Arditi, ‘Review essay: populism is hegemony is politics? On Ernesto Laclau’s On Populist Reason’, Constellations, 17(3) (2010), 488–497 and Y. Stavrakakis, ‘Antinomies of formalism: Laclau’s theory of populism and the lessons from religious populism in Greece’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 9(3) (2004), 253–267. Recent initiatives to go beyond theoretical immobilism within the Essex school can be found, for instance, in the special issue of the Journal of Language and Politics edited by Benjamin De Cleen and al. (« Discourse Theory : Ways forward for theory development and research practice », January 2021), as well as in a 15th year anniversary symposium for On Populist Reason, edited by Lasse Thomassen, Theory & Event, vol. 23 (July 2020).
 Good examples of liberal and marxist critiques of Laclau’s theory can be found respectively in P. Rosanvallon, Le siècle du populisme. Histoire, théorie, critique, Paris : Seuil, 2020 and S. Žižek, « Against the Populist Temptation », Critical Inquiry, 32(3), Spring 2006, 551-574.
 See for instance: A. Jäger, ‘The Myth of “Populism”’, Jacobin, January 3 2018, available at https://www. jacobinmag.com/2018/01/populism-douglas-hofstadter-donald-trump-democracy; B. De Cleen, J. Glynos and A. Mondon, ‘Critical research on populism: Nine rules of engagement’, Organization, 25(5) (2018), 651; Y. Stavrakakis et al., ‘Populism, anti-populism and crisis’, Contemporary Political Theory, 17(1) (2018), 4–27; B. Moffitt, ‘The Populism/Anti-Populism Divide in Western Europe’, Democratic Theory, 5(2) (2018), 1–16; A. Mondon and J. Glynos, ‘The political logic of populist hype: The case of right-wing populism’s “meteoric rise” and its relation to the status quo’, Populismus Working Papers 4 (2016), 1–20.
by Jaakko Heiskanen
Political ideologies are collections of concepts, ideas, or principles that provide a blueprint for how a society should be organised. Liberalism, conservatism, and socialism—the three major political ideologies of the modern era—can all be understood in this way. In each case, it is possible to identify a set of core commitments that provides the basic template for ordering and governing society: liberalism is centred on the principles of individual liberty and equality before the law; conservatism is centred on the maintenance of order and the preservation of traditional social institutions; and socialism is centred on the public ownership of the means of production. Other modern ‘isms’ such as environmentalism and feminism can also be understood in this way: environmentalism is centred on ecological sustainability and respect toward nature, while feminism is centred on women’s rights and gender equality. Of course, each of these political ideologies allows for substantial diversity within their general framework; they provide broad schemas rather than precise rules. They can also be mixed and matched in various ways to produce a much wider array of specific ideological positions that any given individual might hold. But what all of them have in common is that they offer a blueprint that says something substantive about how society should be organised and governed. To borrow Harold Lasswell’s well-known formulation, they are all ideologies about politics: who gets what, when, how.
Nationalism and populism are often erroneously described as political ideologies. What sets nationalism and populism apart from the ideologies listed above is that they offer no substantive blueprint for the organisation and governance of society. Precisely for this reason, nationalism and populism are typically qualified as ‘thin’ or even ‘phantom’ ideologies that are parasitic on ‘full’ ideologies such as liberalism, conservatism, or socialism. Indeed, part of what makes nationalism and populism so difficult to define is their chameleonic quality, which allows them to appear across the political spectrum, from the far left to the far right, and in all manner of political regimes, from liberal democracies to authoritarian dictatorships.
The elusiveness of nationalism and populism has been exacerbated by the politicisation of the terminology in political and academic discourse alike. Typically, the terms ‘nationalism’ and ‘populism’ are deployed in a derogatory sense to describe the politics of others: they are the populists, they are the nationalists. But not always: history has also seen their sporadic use of these terms as positive self-designations. Relatively recent examples of this include Yael Tamir’s defence of a liberal nationalism and Chantal Mouffe’s call for a left-wing populism. As a result of all this terminological politicking, nationalism and populism invariably seem to divide into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ variants. In the liberal-centrist mainstream of political and academic discourse, for example, there exists a longstanding distinction between ‘civic’ and ‘ethnic’ nationalisms, where the former is idealised as inclusionary and egalitarian while the latter is denigrated as a dangerous and divisive degeneration thereof. In a similar vein, among certain left-leaning scholars and politicians, there has recently emerged a conceptual distinction between ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ populisms, where the former is depicted as emancipatory and democratic while the latter is decried as racist and authoritarian. Neighbouring terms have also been drawn into these conceptual battles as a result of attempts to specify the positive or negative valence of nationalism or populism. The term ‘nationalism’, for instance, sounds exclusionary and dangerous when placed alongside ‘patriotism’, but inclusionary and unifying when compared to ‘racism’. All in all, definitions of nationalism and populism seem to reveal more about the commentator’s political stance than about the phenomena themselves.
The trick to making sense of nationalism and populism is to see their elusive and chameleonic quality not as a problem, but as a symptom of their political function. To this end, I propose a distinction between political ideologies and ideologies of the political. This distinction draws on the distinction between ‘politics’ and ‘the political’, which has become rather fashionable in recent years thanks to the work of Chantal Mouffe. Following Mouffe, ‘politics’ captures the concrete set of practices and institutions through which society is governed—or, in Lasswell’s terms, who gets what, when, how. In contrast, ‘the political’ refers to a fundamental and ineradicable antagonism or impossibility that is constitutive of human society as such. In Heideggerian terms, ‘politics’ is an ontic category whereas ‘the political’ is an ontological category. Hence, political ideologies such as liberalism, conservatism, and socialism are about guiding and legitimating the everyday practice of politics on the ontic level. In and of themselves, these political ideologies have little or nothing to say about the kind of political entity within which their core tenets are to be applied—this could be an ancient city-state, a modern nation-state, a futuristic world-state, a multinational empire, or something else entirely. In contrast, nationalism and populism are directly concerned with the ontological dimension of the political, that is, with the legitimation of the modern political order as such. And the central pillar of the modern political order is, of course, the modern state. Conceptualising nationalism and populism as ideologies of the political thus not only allows us to make sense of their constitutive ambiguity and to distinguish them from political ideologies, it also allows us to historicise these phenomena and to locate their origins in the advent of political modernity.
The central pillar of the modern political order is the modern state. There are two key features that differentiate the modern state from other forms of political organisation. The first is the reification of society and its projection as something separate from the state, as an alternate place from which the state can draw its legitimacy. The legitimacy of the modern state thus depends on its claim to represent a particular society, a particular group of people, the existence of which is taken to precede that of the state. This is the principle of popular sovereignty. The second and closely related key feature of the modern state is the emergence of a spatial disjuncture between government and society: the relatively small ruling elite and the mass of the common people are seen to exist on two distinct planes, whereby a gap of representation always separates the rulers from the ruled. This is the principle of political representation. Overall, therefore, the conceptual architecture of the modern state is composed of two closely interrelated yet conceptually distinct spatial boundaries: a ‘horizontal’ boundary between the inside and the outside of the state, and a ‘vertical’ boundary between the ruling elite and the common people. These two spatial distinctions constitute the basic ontological structure of the modern political order. And it is this ontological structure that gives rise to nationalism and populism as legitimating ideologies, that is, as ideologies of the political.
Nationalism relates to the horizontal boundary between the inside and the outside of the state: it is about the legitimacy of the state as a bounded territorial entity. To this end, nationalist ideology posits the existence of a nation as a bounded pre-political community that logically (if not always historically) precedes the existence of the state. Whether the identity of this national community is based on language, culture, geography, ethnicity, race, and/or something else, does not really matter here. In all cases, at the core of nationalism is the idea that the boundaries of the political unit should correspond to the boundaries of the national unit, no matter how this national unit is defined. Simply put, every state should represent a nation and every nation should have a state of its own. Within this general framework, nationalist ideology can take both ‘state-framed’ and ‘counter-state’ forms. State-framed nationalisms operate within existing states and underpin their legitimacy, whereas counter-state nationalisms aim at the reconfiguration of existing political boundaries, for example through secession or unification. Fundamentally, both forms of nationalism—state-framed and counter-state—revolve around the horizontal boundary between the inside and the outside of the state.
Populism relates to the vertical boundary between government and society: it is about the legitimacy of the ruling elite as the representatives of the people. If the ideal that drives nationalism is the equation of the nation with the state, then the ideal that drives populism is the equation of the people with the elite. At the heart of populism is thus the idea that the will of the people should be present in the place of power. Moreover, in the same way that nationalism splits into state-framed and counter-state variants, populism splits into ‘regime-framed’ and ‘counter-regime’ forms. Regime-framed populisms buttress the legitimacy of ruling elites by appealing directly to the people for legitimacy, while counter-regime populisms challenge the legitimacy of existing political regimes by claiming that they do not represent the will of the people. Fundamentally, both forms of populism—regime-framed and counter-regime—revolve around the vertical boundary between government and society.
Nationalism and populism emerge out of the ontological framework of political modernity, that is, out of the architecture of the political as such. This is why they are such chameleonic and contradictory phenomena. After all, as Mouffe reminds us, the concept of the political encapsulates a fundamental antagonism or impossibility that is constitutive of human society as such. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that nationalism and populism also revolve around a constitutive antagonism or impossibility. In the case of nationalism, at stake is the impossibility of determining the identity of the people qua nation through political means. To legitimate the territorial boundedness of the state, the identity of the people qua nation has to be given pre-politically, yet there exists no such pre-political community in nature: the pre-political community has to be politically constructed. The construction of the people qua nation is thus a never-ending political process of positing the existence of a pre-political community, while at the same time denying the political nature of this process. Similarly, in the case of populism, what is at stake is the impossibility of direct rule by the people: within the bifurcated architecture of the modern state, there exists an ineradicable gap of representation between the mass of the common people and the relatively small ruling elite that claims to govern on their behalf. The legitimacy of the ruling elite therefore depends on its political claim to embody the will of the people, which aims to short-circuit the spatial and conceptual disjuncture between government and society.
Both the nationalist and populist projects revolve around a constitutive antagonism or impossibility that can never be definitively resolved. This is why nationalism and populism continually turn against their own political creations. Precisely because the nation is not pre-given but has to be politically constructed as such by nationalists, the identity and boundaries of the nation always remains open to contestation by other nationalists. And precisely because the people are never directly present in government, but only re-presented therein through the political claims made by the populist ruling elite, the representativeness of this elite is always open to question by other populists. Ultimately, by precluding the emergence of a final political solution, it is the impossibility of the nationalist and populist projects that makes modern politics work.
In conclusion, thinking about nationalism and populism as ideologies of the political, rather than as political ideologies, helps us to better understand their historical origins and political functions. Instead of offering a substantive blueprint for organising and governing society, nationalism and populism are about legitimating the modern political arena as such. What this means is that nationalism and populism are much more pervasive in modern political theory and practice than has traditionally been recognised. The extreme phenomena to which the terms typically refer are just especially intense and polarised manifestations of two underlying political logics that are always-already at work. Following Michael Billig’s seminal work on ‘banal nationalism’, this constitutive function of nationalism in modern society and politics has become quite widely recognised. It is high time to complement this with a recognition of the equally prevalent role of ‘banal populism’ in modern politics. Significantly, this constitutive function of nationalism and populism also means that the two are, like conjoined twins, historically and structurally coupled to one another: it is possible to differentiate between them on a theoretical or conceptual level, but in practice nationalism and populism always come together.
 Harold Lasswell, Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1936).
 Michael Freeden, ‘Is Nationalism a Distinct Ideology?’, Political Studies 46(4) (1998), 748–65; Michael Freeden, ‘After the Brexit Referendum: Revisiting Populism as an Ideology’, Journal of Political Ideologies 22(1) (2017), 1–11; Cas Mudde, ‘The Populist Zeitgeist’, Government and Opposition 39(4) (2004), 542–63; Ben Stanley, ‘The Thin Ideology of Populism’, Journal of Political Ideologies 13(1) (2008), 95–110.
 Yael Tamir, Liberal Nationalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993); Chantal Mouffe, For a Left Populism (London: Verso, 2018).
 David Brown, ‘Are There Good and Bad Nationalisms?’, Nations and Nationalism 5(2) (1999), 281–302; Rogers Brubaker, ‘The Manichean Myth: Rethinking the Distinction Between “Civic” and “Ethnic” Nationalism’, in Hanspeter Kriesi, Klaus Armingeon, Hannes Siegrist, and Andreas Wimmer (eds.), Nation and National Identity: The European Perspective (Chur: Rüegger, 1999), 55–72.
 Yannis Stavrakakis and Giorgos Katsambekis, ‘Left-Wing Populism in the European Periphery: The Case of SYRIZA’, Journal of Political Ideologies 19(2) (2014), 119–42; Jens Rydgren, ‘Radical Right-Wing Parties in Europe: What’s Populism Got to Do with It?’, Journal of Language and Politics 16(4) (2017), 485–96; Yannis Stavrakakis, Giorgos Katsambekis, Nikos Nikisianis, Alexandros Kioupkiolis, and Thomas Siomos, ‘Extreme Right-Wing Populism in Europe: Revisiting a Reified Association’, Critical Discourse Studies 14(4) (2017), 420–39.
 Chantal Mouffe, On the Political (Abingdon: Routledge, 2005).
 Rogers Brubaker, ‘Myths and Misconceptions in the Study of Nationalism’, in John A. Hall (ed.), The State of the Nation: Ernest Gellner and the Theory of Nationalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 300–1.
 Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (London: Sage, 1995).
by Grigoris Markou
Recently, the emergence of populist parties, movements, and leaders around the world has sparked researchers’ interest on the phenomenon of populism, something that is reflected in the sheer volume of scientific publications, articles, and conferences held internationally on the subject. There are many researchers who try to define the notion of populism, to discover its secret and mystical essence, as well as analyse its effects on (liberal) democracy. However, only a few scholars examine populism in relation to its permanent opponent, anti-populism, and even fewer in number are those people who understand and analyse the strong conflict between populism and anti-populism, which in some cases looks like a mythological clash of titans. In this context, in my research I aim to highlight the internal features of anti-populism through two common paradigms (Greece and Argentina), and thereby contribute to an academic debate that has been timidly opened of late by a small subset of populism scholars.
So, what is anti-populism? Anti-populism is a phenomenon that appears over the course of its history as a form of strong criticism aimed at the rise of populist parties, launching a fierce attack on populism and sometimes on the popular subject. A short time ago, specifically after the outbreak of the global economic crisis (2007–8), anti-populism emerged as a forceful response by social-democratic and liberal parties against the rise of both left and right-wing populist radical cases. Anti-populist ideas have been expressed through the political discourse of mainstream parties, which felt that their semi-consolidated hegemony was threatened by populism, as well as through academic discourse and media. It is not difficult at all for someone to identify anti-populist elements inherent in the arguments of well-known scientists and journalists.
Most of the time, anti-populist discourse develops problematic theoretical formulations and reproduces stereotypical arguments on populism, equating it with irresponsibility, demagogy, immorality, corruption, destruction, and irrationalism. Moreover, as we have seen in the cases of Greece and Argentina, those anti-populists—who often claim to embrace liberal values—usually highlight the supposedly “undemocratic” and “dangerous” character of populism through modernising views and dualist schemes that divide society, politics, and culture between the forces of civilisation, modernisation, and rationalism and the forces of tradition, decadence, and irrationalism, placing populism in the second category. The stigmatisation of populism as a symptom of irrationalism is connected with the work of American historian Richard Hofstadter, which turned over the positive connotation of the term. In Greece, the devaluation of the populist phenomenon has been developed to a large extent through the utilisation of the concept of cultural dualism by Nikiforos Diamandouros and has been more intensely used by the anti-populist forces after the outbreak of the crisis. In Argentina, we can say that anti-populists relied, in a way, on Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’s old dichotomy of “civilisation and barbarism” to attack left-wing populism, placing Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on the side of barbarism.
What if this kind of anti-populist criticism ultimately provokes more problems for democracy, society, and politics than some populist paradigms? At a time when most researchers turn their attention to populism and its implications, it is essential to underline the problem of anti-populism. The most common mistake of political, academic, and media anti-populism is that it often equate populism with demagogy, clientelism, authoritarianism, irrationality, and anti-pluralism, turning a blind eye to those non-populist and anti-populist cases that also present a demagogic and clientistic character, and rejecting the possibility of developing populist paradigms that are instead rational, pluralist, and democratic. Moreover, we can see that anti-populist discourse harshly criticises populism, populist leaders, and even the people who support populists, without undertaking any serious self-criticism on their own inadequate and problematic governance. Further, it is not uncommon for anti-populists to underestimate the popular subject and popular culture, viewing the people as an uneducated mass that blindly heads down the wrong path. Overall, the problem of anti-populism—all the more so today—is that it analyses populism in a stereotypical and simplistic way, without taking into consideration that populism is a multifaceted and complex discourse that presents different features and shades each time. However, in order to avoid falling into the same trap, it is necessary to emphasise that anti-populism (like populism) can be seen as a rationale that presents different tendencies, nuances, and tensions in each case—and that there are times when it exerts pressures that can improve the political situation.
Why is it crucial to turn our attention to the study of anti-populism? The study of anti-populism can help researchers fully understand and draw reliable conclusions about the elements that comprise the social-political scene of countries that present populist as well as anti-populist voices both in opposition and in power. How else can one analyse the motives, aspirations, and arguments of populism if one does not examine the anti-populist side, and vice versa? How can one understand the complex political scene of some countries and provide responses to paradoxical politico-social alliances and hostilities? How will one study fairly democracy and contemporary political issues by analysing only populist mobilisations and closing one’s eyes to the anti-populist side, which plays an equally important role as the populist one? The only answer is to study populism and anti-populism jointly.
Even though anti-populism is still an under-researched field, the discussion seems to be tentatively opening up through important scientific interventions, both from a political and a historical point of view, which help us to examine its principal characteristics and its genealogy. It is finally the time to talk openly about anti-populism, analysing the problems that arise today through the “anti-populist attack”, without cultivating criticisms that duplicate the anti-populist polemic arguments from the opposite side.
 Grigoris Markou, ‘Anti-populist discourse in Greece and Argentina in the 21st century’, Journal of Political Ideologies (forthcoming 2021).
 Yannis Stavrakakis, ‘The return of “the people”: Populism and anti-populism in the shadow of the European crisis’, Constellations 21(4) (2014).
 Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1955); Stavrakakis, ‘The return of “the people”’.
 Nikiforos Diamandouros, ‘Cultural dualism and political change in postauthoritarian Greece’, working paper, Madrid: Instituto Juan March, 50 (1994); Nikiforos Diamandouros, ‘Postscript: Cultural dualism revisited’ in Anna Triantafyllidou, Ruby Gropas, and Hara Kouki (eds.), Greek Crisis and European Modernity (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
 Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Facundo: Civilización y Barbarie (Santiago: Imprenta del Progreso, 1845).
 Thomas Frank, The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2020); Benjamin Moffitt, ‘The populism/anti-populism divide in Western Europe’, Democratic Theory 5(2) (2018); Stavrakakis, ‘The return of “the people”; Yannis Stavrakakis, ‘How did ‘Populism’ become a pejorative concept? And why is this important today? A genealogy of double hermeneutics’, Populismus, Working Paper 6 (2017).
by Dani Filc
The strengthening of populist movements worldwide since the 1990s, and especially following the 2008 crisis, has been mostly explained either as the reaction to the socio-economic consequences of neoliberal globalisation, or as a “cultural backlash”. For the former, the strengthening of populism results from increasing inequalities, from the weakening of traditional class identities, and from the growing insecurity, mostly resulting from the individualisation of risk following the privatisation of welfare. For the latter, it is a reaction to the spread of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. Populism, for both approaches, is a form of resistance. Before it reaches government, populism presents itself as the opposition to the elites, and this is a central reason for its blooming. Once in government, populist movements still present themselves as resisting the powers that be, by a narrative that argues that even though the elites lost government, they are still in power (whether in the economy, the media, the juridical system, or the academy).
Resistance may be defined as a set of plural and complex practices that oppose or contradict dominant ideologies, cultural codes, structures, or power relations. So, whichever approach we agree with, we may argue that populist movements are expressions of resistance either to the economic model or to cultural changes. But are populist movements only reactive resistance to change? Are they perhaps more ambitious? Maybe it could be claimed that populist movements are counter-hegemonic, that they are not only reactive, but put forward an alternative to the neoliberal model (mainly in its liberal-democratic version) that became hegemonic since the 1980s? A first, rather obvious answer, is that as posed, this question has no single reply. Since populism is not a single phenomenon, the only way to address the question of whether populism is counter-hegemonic is through empirical analysis of each particular case. This is obviously true, but is it the whole truth? If we concede the plurality and variety of populist cases, are we still able to say anything at a more general/theoretical level about its counter-hegemonic potential?
To answer this question, we need first to define hegemony—since without doing this it is impossible to decide whether a movement or a struggle are counter-hegemonic—and then, since practices of resistance may be understood as a continuum, consider whether there are parameters that help us to distinguish, within the resistance continuum, which movements, struggles, or practices can be considered counter-hegemonic.
I propose to understand hegemony as both a state of affairs and as a political process. As a state of affairs, it is the quasi-stable situation in which a certain model of society—which includes ways of producing, distributing, and consuming, as well as ways of thinking and understanding—becomes dominant. The hegemonic project penetrates society’s system of practices, meanings, and values, producing expectations, beliefs, and an understanding of reality, up to the level of “common sense”; creating a “national-popular will”. A certain model of society becomes hegemonic when its worldview pervades all spheres of society: its institutions, its private life, its morality, its customs, its religion, and the different aspects of its culture. Second, hegemony is also the process through which this dominance is attained, i.e., the struggle for hegemony with other projects or models of society. The hegemonic state of affairs is constantly threatened by counter-hegemonic forces. The attempt to stabilise the social around a certain hegemonic project is always in jeopardy. At any time, forms of alternative or directly oppositional politics and culture exist as significant forces in society.
Hegemonic struggle implies the constitution of a collective subject that advances a certain hegemonic project, what Antonio Gramsci called a historical bloc. In order to succeed, a hegemonic project can never reflect solely the interests and views of the core dominant social groups; it must take into account, at least partially, the interests of those subordinate groups that are part of the historical bloc. The building of consent that is always part of a successful hegemonic project necessitates an ongoing process of negotiation with the different groups that form the hegemonic historical bloc (which is not limited to the core dominant groups). Thus, hegemony is never a completely top-down process; it is always open and challenged from within and from outside the hegemonic historical bloc. It also should be taken into account that the conflict over and for hegemony cannot be reduced to an economic struggle, but always includes a challenge to the current model of material production and distribution. In sum, understanding hegemony as a state of affairs highlights the institutional aspects that produce and reproduce hegemony; understanding hegemony as a process stresses agency and the role of collective subjects.
Once we have defined hegemony, the second step in the attempt to answer the question whether populism, which currently can be considered as a form of resistance, is counter-hegemonic is asking whether there any ways to distinguish, within the resistance continuum, which practices and struggles put forward hegemonic alternatives. I propose three parameters in order to discriminate between which forms of resistance are counter-hegemonic.
The first refers to the potential of the particular practices of resistance to be incorporated by the hegemonic model. Does resistance challenge core elements of the hegemonic model, or only relatively marginal ones? May those practices of resistance be contained or coopted by the hegemonic model, for example by raising wages following a trade union strike, or incorporating into the administration members of environmental movements, or not?
The second parameter involves the interaction between the symbolic and the material dimensions. Hegemony, as argued above, combines both symbolic and material dimensions, so in order to distinguish whether a movement is counter-hegemonic, we must consider whether practices of resistance take place only at the symbolic level, or also challenge somehow the production or distribution of goods and services. For example, whether resistance is against a narrative that argues that a certain group, such as immigrants, does not belong to the political community, or whether it brings to actual allocation of resources to that group, for example, allowing access to health care services for undocumented migrants. This second parameter allows us to identify three types of practices: those that are clearly anti-capitalist, challenging not only the distribution of goods and services, but also the ways in which these are produced; those that put forward claims to modify the hegemonic distribution of material resources and the symbolic patterns of recognition that sustain them, without challenging the capitalist organisation of society; and those that confine themselves to advancing alternatives to the symbolic constructions that validate the hegemonic distribution of power and resources, but do not engage in practices or put forward policies that challenge the hegemonic model at the material dimension. Practices that oppose only symbolic aspects of the social model, that challenge only ideologies or cultural codes—for example the cultural construction of certain identities as “primitive”—do not really challenge hegemony, where symbolic and material dimensions are interrelated elements of a whole. Thus, while the first two types of practices may be considered counter-hegemonic, the third one cannot.
Finally, there is the question of unifying different practices of resistance and the creation of a collective political subject. Counter-hegemony, by definition, entails putting forward an alternative hegemonic project. Thus, it requires a certain level of unification through time, the amalgamation of different actors, interests, and practices. This involves some sort of ongoing political coordination. Counter-hegemony, therefore, includes a dimension where practices of resistance become at least partially consolidated and come together. This is the level at which counter-hegemonic practices coalesce into institutions that can put forward an alternative that may become hegemonic. Moreover, as we learn from the double character of the definition of hegemony, the latter implies the constitution of a collective subject. Following Gramsci, historical blocs should be considered as the subjects of hegemony. Thus, if the collective political subject is the historical bloc, then the construction of alternatives that may eventually become hegemonic requires the political unification of the agents of the different practices of resistance into a historical bloc.
So, after considering the parameters that allow us to discriminate between which practices of resistance can be considered counter-hegemonic, let us go back to our original question. Are we able to make some generalisations about populism and counter-hegemony, or can we only provide empirical, case-related answers to that question? It seems to me that, while the empirical analysis of specific cases is unavoidable, we may be able to provide some more general comments, based on the three parameters I propose.
Considering the first parameter, we could argue that some of the claims that populist movements put forward cannot be incorporated by the liberal-democratic/neoliberal hegemonic model. According either to Cas Mudde’s broadly accepted definition of populism as a thin ideology that considers democracy primarily as the non-mediated expression of the popular will, or Takis Pappas’s or Jan-Werner Müller’s analyses of populism as the negation of liberal democracy, populist movements deeply challenge liberal democracy’s emphasis on mediated representation, checks and balances, and the distribution of power. Populists will try to implement some form of direct democracy (such as plebiscites), or to severely limit or put an end to judicial review, an anti-majoritarian and elitist form of control over the people’s will. Populist movements thus comply with the first parameter, since their claims cannot be really incorporated by liberal-democratic neoliberalism.
At first sight, it could appear that our answer to the second parameter depends on which definition of populism we adopt. If we accept Mudde’s claim that socio-economic issues are marginal to what populism really is—as he famously puts it, “It’s not the economy stupid”—then populism does not meet the requirements of the second parameter, since material redistribution is not part of populism’s core claims. On the other side, according to scholars such as Rudiger Dornbusch and Sebastian Edwards (from an orthodox economic perspective), populism is a program that emphasises economic growth and income redistribution in the short term without taking into account long term consequences, such as inflation or external constraints. From a heterodox economic viewpoint, Adolfo Canitrot saw populism as an alliance between labor and the industrial bourgeoisie, in order to redistribute resources towards them from the traditional exports sector, such as happened during Juan Domingo Perón’s first government, when funds coming from agricultural exports were used to support industrial imports’ substitution; or, mutatis mutandis, during Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s presidency, when agricultural exports were highly taxed and at the same time the government implemented subsidies for the poor and the unemployed. Thus, from this perspective, populism—though not anti-capitalist in most cases—has a material redistributive significant facet, and meets the second parameter.
I think, however, that we can do better than arguing that our answer to the question whether populism is counter-hegemonic depends on how we define it. The literature on populism distinguishes between two main populist “families”: inclusionary and exclusionary populism. We distinguish between both families through three dimensions: symbolic, material, and political. At the material level, inclusionary populist movements put forward claims for redistribution of resources to previously excluded social groups, modifying the hegemonic distribution of material resources; and at the symbolic level, they challenge the patterns of recognition that sustain exclusion. Thus, we could argue that inclusionary populist movements meet the requirements of the second parameter.
The third parameter concerns the constitution of a political subject. In Laclau’s later analysis, populism is characterised by the building of a ‘chain of equivalence’ between particular demands, in such a way that the political field is split in two, opposing the people as a collective subject to the powers that be. According to Laclau, when the state is unable to provide solutions to particular claims—such as wage raises, diminishing unemployment, improving public education, allowing access to health care for all—there is a possibility that those different claims connect in such a way that all the “claimers” see themselves as “the people” opposing the detached elites, unwilling or unable to answer their claims. The political consequence of successfully building a ‘chain of equivalence’ between diverse particular claims is the constitution of a collective political subject, the people. Thus, populism also meets the third parameter. However, is this political subject stable through time? While there is an approach within the literature on populism that regards it as the combination of a charismatic leader and a loose organisation, the history of populism teaches us that there are several populist movements and parties that present strong organisations and firm practices of articulating different social groups into a historical bloc. Among a large sample of such cases, we can mention examples that are very different from one another; inclusionary populist movements such as Peronism and Chavism, and exclusionary ones, such as the French Front National (now Rassemblement National) or the Italian Lega (formerly Lega Nord).
In conclusion, while empirical study of the counter-hegemonic significance of populist movements is indispensable, we are able to see from the analysis above that at least inclusionary populist movements fit the three parameters, and can be considered not only forms of resistance, but counter-hegemonic as well.
 Hans-Georg Betz, ‘Exclusionary Populism in Austria, Italy, and Switzerland’, International Journal 3 (2001), 393–420; Dani Rodrik, ‘Populism and the Economics of Globalisation’, Journal of International Business Policy 1(1) (2018), 12–33.
 Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris, ‘Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-nots and Cultural Backlash’, Faculty Research Working Papers Series (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Kennedy School, 2016).
 Jeffrey W. Rubin, ‘Defining Resistance: Contested Interpretations of Everyday Acts’, Studies in Law, Politics and Society 15 (1996), 237–60.
 James C. Scott, ‘Afterword to “Moral Economies, State Spaces and Categorical Violences”’, American Anthropologist 107(3) (2005), 395–402.
 Gwyn A. Williams, ‘The Concept of “Egemonia” in the Thought of Antonio Gramsci: Some Notes on Interpretation’, Journal of the History of Ideas 21(4) (1960), 586–99.
 Antonio Gramsci, The Antonio Gramsci Reader (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2000).
 William Roseberry, ‘Hegemony and the Language of Contention’, in Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniel Nugent (eds.), Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 355–65.
 Cas Mudde, Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Jan-Werner Müller, What is Populism? (London: Penguin, 2016); Takis Pappas, Populism and Liberal Democracy: A Comparative and Theoretical Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).
 Mudde, Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe.
 Rudiger Dornbusch and Sebastian Edwards, ‘Macroeconomic Populism’, Journal of Development Economics 32(2) (1990), 247–77.
 Adolfo Canitrot, ‘La Experiencia Populista de Redistribución de Ingresos’, Desarollo Económico 15(59) (1975), 331–51.
 Dani Filc, The Political Right in Israel: Different Faces of Jewish Populism (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010); Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, Populism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
 Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason (London: Verso, 2005).
Constructing ‘alternative’ ideological narratives in conservative thought: Populist strategy from village politics to a post-truth world
by Richard James Elliott
One of the most remarkable traits of modern conservatism in Britain and the United States is its populism—its ability to speak for and to a working class audience. Traditionally, conservative parties attracted popular support by pitching themselves to the masses as steadfast bastions of property and the established order. Yet in recent years, disruptive political movements on both sides of the Atlantic—Brexit in Britain and Trumpism in America—have magnified the importance of the direct (and personal) dialogue between conservative leaders and their working class supporters.
Calls from leading Brexiteers for Britain to ‘take back control’ from the European Union continue to resonate with disempowered voters in deprived regions of England, amplifying the reach of Boris Johnson’s opportunistic brand of conservatism. In the United States, Donald Trump speaks directly to the concerns of his working-class base, delighting thousands of adoring supporters at mass rallies, while—at least until recently—captivating (and enraging) millions more instantaneously via Twitter. And across the airwaves, conservative pundits like Fox News’s Tucker Carlson address viewers face-on, speaking directly to camera in an ersatz conversational style in order to give the impression that right-wing talking points emerge out of a straightforward and ‘authentic’ dialogue among reasonable Americans.
Using this approach, conservative leaders have been able to cultivate personal loyalty, to construct an ‘alternative’ narrative of political events around core ideological beliefs, and to undermine the credibility of the experts and journalists that question the new political orthodoxy. To those outside the bubble, this ‘alternative’ narrative often appears like a bewildering display of mendacity, bombast, nationalism, and self-aggrandisement, bearing little resemblance to reality. But for all the talk of transition to a ‘post-truth’ era of politics (and the cannibalism of conservatism), the current state of affairs is not as unprecedented as we often tend to imagine.
The ‘alternative’ narratives that have developed out of the contemporary dialogues between conservative leaders and their working-class supporters draw on many of the same strategies that have been used over the past three centuries to mobilise mass support during periods of intense political partisanship. By examining two rich historical examples (without losing sight of the clear differences in historical context) it should be possible to elucidate how these strategies work in practice. Moreover, it should become easier for us to step outside our own experience and reflect on some of the ways that populism expands and transforms conservative ideology.
The first example is a classic propaganda pamphlet targeted towards the labouring classes. Hannah More’s Village Politics (1792) was published at the height of the French Revolution, as the moderate constitutional aims of the early revolutionary years gave way to much more radical demands for social and political transformation. More’s popular pamphlet reflects the growing anxiety of the British ruling elite that revolutionary ideas would spread across the Channel, inspiring the lower orders to rise up and overthrow the existing political system. More sought to counter this threat (manifested in the immense popularity of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man) by addressing the labouring classes directly in the form of a dialogue between two characters: Tom Hod, the mason, and Jack Anvil, the blacksmith. At the beginning of the dialogue, Tom reveals that a book of revolutionary ideas has caused him to grow dissatisfied with his lot. He demands ‘Liberty and Equality, and the Rights of Man’. Jack initially laughs off Tom’s sudden political transformation, before countering his demands with a discussion of the violent excesses of the French Revolution and the natural superiority of the English constitution. As Tom gradually cedes ground, Jack demonstrates that the ‘Rights of Man’ are all abstract theoretical principles with no real foundation. And he reminds Tom of the tangible benefits of the existing order (from a day off every week on the Sabbath to the ‘superfluity’ of ale). Ultimately, Tom abandons his new revolutionary ideas, accepting that ‘we’re better off as we are’.
The second example plays on many of the same themes. C. S. Price’s Love and Mr. Smith (1932) was one of a series of ‘Plays for Patriots’ intended for use as propaganda during the interwar period. These mini-dramas were official campaign materials (approved by the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Parties), performed by party-members to an audience of local electors. Crucially, the plays were not simply am-dram electioneering: they reflected real anxieties among conservatives about the dangers of socialism and the threat of class war. Love and Mr. Smith centres on the tension that arises in a working-class household when ‘good old-fashioned’ conservative values are challenged by the arrival of a communist interloper. Mr. Smith returns home from a political meeting fuming that the local Conservative candidate has been heckled by communists intent on stirring up trouble. His daughter has invited Billy Johnson, the young man that she is walking out with, for dinner. But it soon emerges that Johnson is one of the communist agitators that disrupted and ultimately broke up the meeting. Mr. Smith is outraged, and proceeds to lecture Johnson and the audience on the perils of social disintegration if the communists get their way. Fortunately, the drama is resolved when the middle-class curate arrives and explains that Johnson was fighting back against the bully tactics of his comrades, and Johnson renounces his former political beliefs for the love of Mr. Smith’s daughter.
Neither historical example is especially subtle. But the similarities between Village Politics and Love and Mr. Smith highlight some of the most effective strategies employed by conservative cultural and political leaders to construct an ‘alternative’ ideological narrative for their working-class supporters.
First, the narrative is presented in the form of a horizontal (i.e. a non-hierarchical) dialogue between ‘authentic’ working characters, encouraging the audience to identify with the message presented to them without closely scrutinising its provenance. Both historical examples then build upon this conceit by contrasting the horizontal transmission of conservative ideas with the vertical transmission of revolutionary ideas from detached intellectual sources (books) and pernicious left-wing elites (philosophers and party apparatuses). While the audience is encouraged to laugh at Tom the mason for gesturing towards the intellectual authority of The Rights of Man and proclaiming that ‘I find here that I'm very unhappy, and very miserable; which I should never have known if I had not had the good luck to meet with this book’, the message is clear: revolutionary ideas (and all related discontents) are artificially imposed from above, while conservative principles arise naturally out of the community.
And yet, there is a certain irony to this horizontal dialogue, given the didactic tone and the condescension that the authors privately felt towards their working-class audience. More commented that Village Politics was ‘as vulgar as [the] heart can wish; but it is only designed for the most vulgar class of readers’, while historian David Jarvis has noted that ‘Plays for Patriots’ were informed primarily by middle-class prejudices about the workers, and for this reason draw on very simple stereotypes. To contemporaries that saw through the conceit (and that cared about such things), the cognitive dissonance must have been jarring. The insincerity of conservative strategy was obvious, while its success was positively bewildering.
Second, the narrative is played out in the sphere of domestic drama, building personal stakes that transcend the political message. Love, friendship, family prosperity, and the social order are all thrown into turmoil by the prospect of revolution. Mr. Smith reminds everybody around the dinner table that communists ‘envy the people who’ve got the grit an’ the stomach to work ‘ard an’ get on’, inciting the weak and desperate to class war. By turning the communist preoccupation with the welfare of the working classes on its head, he elevates the domestic concerns of the household over the political concerns of the party activist. At the same time, he explicitly challenges the communist conception of the worker, bolsters a competing vision of working-class respectability, and primes the audience to remember that their own security and happiness is tied to a conservative political outlook.
Nonetheless, for all the anxiety, the audience is inclined to root for a happy resolution in both domestic dramas because the characters are relatable, pragmatic, and funny. Poor Billy Johnson has to suffer through a traumatic first meeting with his sweetheart’s parents before he can reveal that he has turned his back on communism for the love of Mr. Smith’s daughter. The eventual dénouement draws sympathy and laughs from the audience in equal measure. Likewise, in Village Politics, Jack’s repeated references to Sir John, the local landowner, his ‘rantipolish’ wife, and her desire to tear down and rebuild the estate with the changing fashions lends an element of mirth to a staid, conservative analogy for revolutionary reform. In the end, it is the personal stakes of this amiable cast of characters—and the humour that they bring to the dialogue—that enables the audience to look past the contrivances and identify with an ‘alternative’ ideological narrative.
Third, the narrative defines conservative values relative to a ‘foreign’ ideological antithesis, allowing the audience to fall back on the simple dichotomy of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Throughout their debate, Tom never really challenges Jack’s assertion that ‘Liberty, Equality, and the Rights of Man’ are quintessentially French principles and are thus intrinsically alien. In fact, Jack makes hay with this distinction, contrasting French freedom (‘They make free to rob whom they will, and kill whom they will’) with English freedom (‘a few rogues in prison keep the rest in order, and then honest men go about their business, afraid of nobody’), before demanding to know ‘suppose the French were as much in the right as I know them to be in the wrong; what does that argue for us?’
Ultimately, the nationalist distinction between English conservative values and foreign revolutionary dogmas applies a subtle psychological lever that makes it possible for conservative leaders to draw their supporters towards quite radical patriotic affirmations. As Jack and Tom proclaim: ‘While Old England is safe, I'll glory in her and pray for her, and when she is in danger, I'll fight for her and die for her’.
Fourth, by drawing and expanding upon all three preceding strategies, the audience is persuaded of the existence of a conspiracy to subvert natural social relations and suppress the truth. Though Jack has some success in casting doubt onto the value of foreign innovations, Tom remains obstinately convinced that his new revolutionary principles are sound until Jack pulls back the curtain: ‘Tis all a lie, Tom. Sir John's butler says his master gets letters which say 'tis all a lie. Tis all murder, and nakedness, and hunger’. The abstract theoretical principles of the revolution are a cover for an all-out assault on civil society. As Jack makes plain: ‘when this levelling comes about, there will be no Infirmaries, no hospitals, no charity-schools, no Sunday-schools’, and no security in marriage, because ‘for every little bit of tiff, a man gets rid of his wife’. Or, as Mr. Smith puts it rather more bluntly, the communists would have ‘No Gawd, no country, no marriage’.
At this point, it doesn’t really matter that the conspiracy appears wildly outlandish and all-encompassing, because it plays into a much more fundamental aspect of the ‘alternative’ ideological narrative: its anti-intellectualism. The plan to overthrow civil society is being perpetrated by a self-serving intellectual elite determined to further its own power at any cost. In Village Politics, this elite is embodied by Tim Standish, the local philosopher, who talks ‘Nonsense, gibberish, downright hocus pocus’, and is every bit the treacherous rat: ‘He is like many others, who take the king's money and betray him’. Men like Tim Standish should be grateful for the patronage of their social superiors, and should feel an obligation to preserve the status quo. Instead, they actively challenge it: they are guilty of the ancient Socratic crime of corrupting the youth with radical and dangerous ideas. Emphasising this point has two major consequences. First, it absolves all ‘misguided’ idealistic working class participants in the dialogue from blame (as Jack tells Tom, ‘they've made fools of the most of you’), and opens the door for reconciliation and even romance. Second, it primes the audience to believe that any attempt by intellectuals to appeal to reason is simply another attempt to deny the truth.
For those that are willing to buy into the narrative, the only reliable source of information becomes the ‘horizontal’ dialogue with likeminded conservatives. And at this point, it becomes more logical to deny expert authority and to reject evidence that appears to contradict the party line than to try to come to terms with a complicated reality. Thus, the narrative really does become an ‘alternative’ framework for understanding and explaining the world.
Of course, Village Politics and Love and Mr. Smith only provide a glimmer of insight into the kind of strategies that conservatives use in order to shape ‘alternative’ ideological narratives for their working-class supporters. But both of these examples do reveal continuity across time that may help to explain the flourishing of ‘alternative’ ideological narratives in the ‘post-truth’ world of today. Core aspects of conservative ideology clearly do incentivise cultural and political leaders to cultivate a direct dialogue with their working-class supporters, and to use that dialogue to shape the political reality. All it takes is a charismatic, amiable, or funny candidate, and the right kind of political appeal.
 Hannah More, Village Politics (1792).
 Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (1791-92).
 C. H. Price, Love and Mr Smith – A Play in One Act (June 1932). This play, and many others like it, form a rich body of propaganda literature in the Conservative Party Archive.
 As quoted in M. G. Jones, Hannah More (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), p. 134.
 David Jarvis, ‘British Conservatism and Class Politics in the 1920s’, English Historical Review, cxi (1996), p.63-4.