by Katy Brown, Aurelien Mondon, and Aaron Winter
Discussion and debate about the far right, its rise, origins and impact have become ubiquitous in academic research, political strategy, and media coverage in recent years. One of the issues increasingly underpinning such discussion is the relationship between the far right and the mainstream, and more specifically, the mainstreaming of the far right. This is particularly clear around elections when attention turns to the electoral performance of these parties. When they fare as well as predicted, catastrophic headlines simplify and hype what is usually a complex situation, ignoring key factors which shape electoral outcomes and inflate far-right results, such as trends in abstention and distrust towards mainstream politics. When these parties do not perform as well as predicted, the circus moves on to the next election and the hype starts afresh, often playing a role in the framing of, and potentially influencing, the process and policies, but also ignoring problems in mainstream, establishment parties and the system itself—including racism.
This overwhelming focus on electoral competition tends to create a normative standard for measurement and brings misperceptions about the extent and form of mainstreaming. Tackling the issue of mainstreaming beyond elections and electoral parties and more holistically does not only allow for more comprehensive analysis that addresses diverse factors, manifestations, and implications of far-right ideas and politics, but is much-needed in order to challenge some of the harmful discourses around the topic peddled by politicians, journalists, and academics.
To do so, we must first understand and engage with the idea of the ‘mainstream’, a concept that has attracted very little attention to date; its widespread use has not been matched by definitional clarity or subjected to critical unpacking. It often appears simultaneously essentialised and elusive. Crucially then, we must stress two key points establishing its contingency and challenging its essentialised qualities. The first of these points is therefore that the mainstream is constructed, contingent, and fluid. We often hear how the ‘extreme’ is a threat to the ‘mainstream’, but this is not some objective reality with two fixed actors or positions. They are both contingent in themselves and in relation to one another. In any system, the construction and positioning of the mainstream necessitate the construction of an extreme, which is just as contingent and fluid. These are neither ontological nor historically-fixed phenomena and seeing them as such, which is common, is both uncritical and ahistorical. What is mainstream or extreme at one point in time does not have to be, nor remain, so. The second point is that the mainstream is not essentially good, rational, or moderate. While public discourse in liberal democracies tends to imbue the mainstream or ‘centre’ with values of reason and moderation, the reality can be quite different as is clearly demonstrated by the simple fact that what is mainstream one day can be reviled, as well as exceptionalised and externalised, as extreme the next, and vice versa. Racism would be one such example. As such, the mainstream is itself a normative, hegemonic concept that imbues a particular ideological configuration or system with authority to operate as a given or naturalise itself as the best or even only option, essential to govern or regulate society, politics and the economy.
One of the main problems with the lack of clarity over the definition of the mainstream is that its contingency is masked through the assumption that it is common sense to know what it signifies, thus contributing to its reification as something with a fixed identity. Most people (including academics) feel they have a clear idea of what is mainstream; they position themselves according to what they feel/think it is and see themselves in relation to it. We argue that a critical approach to the mainstream, which challenges its status as a fixed entity with ontological status and essentialised ‘good’ and ‘normal’ qualities, is crucial for understanding the processes at play in the mainstreaming of the far right.
To address various shortcomings, we define the process of mainstreaming as the process by which parties/actors, discourses and/or attitudes move from marginal positions on the political spectrum or public sphere to more central ones, shifting what is deemed to be acceptable or legitimate in political, media and public circles and contexts.
The first aspect we draw attention to is the agency of parties and actors in the matter. Far-right actors are often positioned as agents, either unlocking their own success through internal strategies or pushing the mainstream to adopt positions that would otherwise be considered ‘unnatural’ to it. While we do not wish to dismiss the potential power of far-right actors to exert influence, it is essential to reflect on the capacity of the mainstream to shift the goalposts, especially given the heightened status and power that comes from the assumptions described above. What we highlight as particularly important is that shifts can take place independently and that the far right is not the sole actor which matters in understanding the process of mainstreaming. A far-right party can feel pressured or see an opportunity to become more extreme by mainstream parties moving rightward and thus encroaching on its territory. However, a far-right party can also be made more extreme without changing itself, but because the mainstream moves away from its ideas and politics. The issues associated with the assumed immovability and moderation of the mainstream have led towards a lack of engagement with the role of this group. It is therefore imperative to challenge these assumptions and capture the influence of mainstream elite actors, particularly with regard to discourse, in holistic accounts of mainstreaming.
This leads on to one of the core tenets of our framework, which places discourse as a central feature with significant influence across other elements. Too often, discourse has been swallowed up within elections, seen solely as the means through which party success might be achieved, but we argue that it can stand alone and that the mainstreaming of far-right ideas is not something only of interest and concern when it is matched by electoral success. Our framework highlights the capacity of parties and actors from the far right or mainstream (though the latter has greatest influence) to enact discursive shifts that bring far-right and mainstream discourse closer or further from one another.
Problematically, we argue, discourse is often seen solely in terms of its strategic effects for electoral outcomes. While we do not deny its importance in this regard, we suggest that discursive shifts may not always be connected in the ways we might expect with elections, and that the interpretation of electoral results can itself feed into the process of normalisation. First, changes at the discursive level do not always lead to a similar electoral trajectory, nor do the effects stop at elections: the mainstreaming of far-right ideas and narratives (including in and as policies) has the potential to both weaken the far right’s electoral performance if mainstream politicians compete over their traditional ground or bolster such parties by centring their ideas as the norm. Whatever the case, we must not lose sight of the effects on those groups targeted in such exclusionary discourse. The impact of mainstreaming does not stop at the ballot box. This feeds into the second key point about elections, in that the way they are interpreted can further contribute to normalisation, either through celebrating the perceived defeat of the far right or through hyping the position of far-right parties as democratic contenders. Certainly, this does not mean that we should not interrogate the reasons behind examples of increased electoral success among far-right parties, but that we must do so in a nuanced and critical manner. We must therefore guard against simplistic conclusions drawn from electoral, but also survey, data which we discuss at length in the article. Accounts of the electorate, often referred to through notions of ‘the people’ or ‘public opinion’, have tended to skew understandings of mainstreaming towards bottom-up explanations in which this group is portrayed as a collection of votes made outside the influence of elite actors. Through our framework, we seek to challenge these assumptions and instead underscore the critical role of discourse through mediation in constructing voter knowledge of the political context.
Far from being a prescriptive framework or approach, our aim is to ensure that future engagement with the concept, process and implications of mainstreaming is based on a more critical, rounded approach. This does not mean that each aspect of our framework needs to be engaged with in great depth, but they should be considered to ensure criticality and rigour, as well as avoid both the uncritical reification of an essentially good mainstream against the far right, and the normalisation and mainstreaming of the far right and its ideas. We believe it is our responsibility as researchers to avoid the harmful effects of narrower interpretations of political phenomena which present an incomplete yet buzzword-friendly picture (i.e. ‘populist’ or ‘left behind’), often taken up in political and media discourse, and feed into further discursive normalisation.
This brings us to the more epistemological, methodological, and political reason for the intervention and framework proposal: the need for a more reflective and critical approach from researchers, particularly where power and political influence are an issue. It is imperative that researchers reflect on their own role in contributing to the discourse around mainstreaming through their interpretations of related phenomena. This is important in the context of political and social sciences where, despite unavoidable assumptions, interests and influence, objectivity, and neutrality are often proclaimed. Necessarily, this demands from researchers an acknowledgement of their own positionality as not only researchers, but also as subjects within well-established and yet often invisibilised racialised, gendered, and classed power structures, notably those within and reproduced by our institutions, disciplines, and fields of study.
by Blendi Kajsiu
There is a strong tendency to conflate populism and anti-politics. In the media every political actor or party that rejects the political status quo is labelled populist, regardless of their political ideology. In academia, on the other hand, the rejection of the existing political class and institutions is understood as the very essence of populism. According to one of the leading political theorists of populism, Margaret Canovan, ‘in its current incarnations populism does not express the essence of the political but instead of anti-politics.’ In similar fashion, Nadia Urbinati argues that anti-politics constitutes the basic structure of populist ideology. Hence, the concept of populism has been ‘regularly used as a synonym for “anti-establishment”’.
The conflation between populism and anti-politics is understandable given that anti- elitism constitutes one of the core features of populism in its dominant definitions, whether as a thin ideology or as a political logic. In most contemporary populist movements anti- elitism has taken the specific form of anti-politics, whether in the rejection of traditional political parties (la partidocracia) by Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, or the denunciation of the political establishment by Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece. The traditional political class has also been the main enemy of right-wing neo-populist movements in Latin America. Likewise, dissatisfaction with the political establishment has constituted an important source of right-wing populism in Europe. Hence, the confusion between anti-politics and populism, even when absent theoretically, can easily appear at the empirical level.
Yet anti-politics and populism are two distinct phenomena. The rejection of the political status quo, the denunciation of the existing political class and institutions can be articulated from different ideological perspectives. Politics, politicians, and political institutions can be rejected for violating the popular will (populism), for undermining market competition (neoliberalism), for weakening the nation (nationalism), for undermining tradition and family values (conservatism), or for producing deep inequalities and high concentrations of wealth (socialism). Hence, there are populist, conservative, socialist, neoliberal, and liberal anti-political discourses, alongside many others, which combine various ideological perspectives in their rejection of the political class and political institutions.
It is only when the rejection of politics, politicians, and the political status quo is combined with key concepts of populism that we can talk of populist anti-politics. Following Mudde, I understand populism as a “thin-centred ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite,’ and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people.” The antagonism between the honest people and the corrupt elite, the people as the underdog and the only source of political legitimacy, as well as popular sovereignty, constitute the conceptual core of any populist discourse because they are present in all its historical manifestations.
Populism functions as an ideology insofar as it partially fixes the meaning of these concepts in relation to each other. Thus, from a populist perspective, democracy is understood primarily as a direct expression of ‘the’ people’s will rather than as a set of institutional or procedural arrangements (liberal democracy). Popular sovereignty here means that ‘the people are the only source of legitimate authority’. Political legitimacy is defined in terms of the will of the people, as opposed to tradition (conservatism) or procedures (liberalism). Within the people–elite antagonism, the people are defined vertically as the underdog (the plebs) against a corrupt elite. This is different from the horizontal definition ‘the-people-as-nation’ within nationalist ideology, where the people are defined primarily in opposition to non-members rather than against the elite.
The last point is important in order to distinguish between populism and nativism. The latter denotes an exclusionary type of nationalism ‘that holds that states should be inhabited exclusively by the members of the native group [….] and that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogeneous nation-state.’ It is normally conflated with populism given that ‘both nationalism and populism revolve around the sovereignty of “the people”, with the same signifier being used to refer to both [“the people” and “the nation”] in many languages (e.g., “das Volk”).’
Although in practice these two ideologies are interweaved, they define ‘the people’ in distinctive ways. From a populist perspective, the people is defined vertically as the underdog against an oppressive elite. This is an open-ended definition which implies that all those social groups that are being oppressed by the elite could be part of the people. In other words, the ‘people’ is not defined positively through a fixed set of criteria, as much as negatively in opposition to the corrupt elite.
The nativist ideology, on the other hand, defines the people horizontally as a nation in opposition to other nations, cultures, religions, or social groups. This is a closed definition that assigns a set of positive attributes to the people in terms of language, territory, religion, race, culture, or birth. Hence, from a nativist perspective the national elite remains ‘part of the nation even when they betray the interests of the nation and their allegiance to the nation is questioned.’ This is not true in the case of populism where ‘the elite’ by definition is not part of the ‘people’.
Given that populism as a very thin ideology articulates a very limited number of key concepts, anti-politics can rarely be simply, or even primarily, populist. This is why a number of scholars have argued that although radical right-wing parties in Europe are often labelled populist they are primarily defined by ethnic nationalism or nativism. In other words, their rejection of the existing political class and institutions is more nativist than populist. Yet despite the growing consensus that ethnic nationalism or nativism is the key ingredient of extreme right-wing parties in Europe, they are still labelled populist radical-right parties, and not nationalist or nativist radical-right parties.
This is not to say that there cannot be right-wing political parties that articulate anti-politics primarily in a populist fashion, although they are hard to find in Europe. A number of leaders and political movements in Latin America, usually labelled neo-populists, have successfully combined a neoliberal ideology with populism. Presidents Alberto Fujimori in Peru (1990–2000), Carlos Menem in Argentina (1989–1999), and Fernando Collor (1990–1992) in Brazil combined populism and neoliberalism when in office. In all these cases, populism, and not nativism, was the key element of their political articulation.
Hence the articulation of populism with nativism in right-wing populist movements is contingent rather than necessary. It appears natural due to the Eurocentrism of most literature on radical right-wing populism, which focuses on Europe and often ignores right-wing populist movements in Latin America and beyond. Our obsession with populism can blind us to the ideological zeitgeist that fuels the current anti-politics. Instead of identifying the populist versus anti-populist cleavage that has supposedly displaced the left–right division, it could be more productive to clarify how ideological polarisation has been producing rejections of current politics, whether along the cosmopolitan–nationalist or the left–right ideological dimensions.
Indeed, ideological polarisation along the left–right and the cosmopolitan–nationalist spectrums would tell us a lot more about the 2020 Presidential Elections in the USA than the populist–non-populist cleavage. A focus on nationalism would tell us a lot more about the emergence of radical-right parties in Europe, as well as the rise of extreme right-wing politicians such as Eric Zemmour in France, which mainstream media calls “populist”. Not to mention that populism, unlike nationalism, tells us very little about the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Focusing on populism diverts our attention from the multiple ideological dimensions of anti-politics discourses today. The rejection of politics, the political class, and political institutions is rarely developed simply from a populist perspective, especially in Europe. It is often justified in the name of tradition, equality, identity, and especially in the name of the nation. Equating populism with anti-politics tends to obscure the ideological dimension of the latter, especially when populism is understood as a non-ideological phenomenon that lies beyond the left–right spectrum.
 M. Canovan, The People (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005), 78.
 N. Urbinati, Me the People: How Populism Transforms Democracy (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2019), 62.
 J. W. Müller, What Is Populism? (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 1.
 See C. Mudde, 'The populist zeitgeist', Government and Opposition 39:4 (2004), 542–563, at p. 543 and E. Laclau, On Populist Reason (London: Verso, 2005).
 K. Weyland, 'Neopopulism and Neoliberalism in Latin America: Unexpected Affinities', Studies in Comparative International Development 33:3(1996), 3–31, at p. 10.
 See C. Fieschi & P. Heywood, 'Trust, cynicism and populist anti-politics', Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004), 289–309; as well as H. G. Betz, ‘Introduction’, In Hans-Georg Betz and Stefan Immerfall (Eds.) The New Politics of the Right: Neo-Populist Parties and Movements in Established Democracies (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998).
 C. Mudde, 'The populist zeitgeist', 543.
 B. De Cleen and Y. Stavrakakis, 'Distinctions and Articulations: A Discourse Theoretical Framework for the Study of Populism and Nationalism', Javnost – The Public 24:4 (2017), 301–319, at p. 312.
 C. Mudde, ‘Why nativism not populism should be declared word of the year’, The Guardian, 7 December 2017, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/07/cambridge-dictionary-nativism-populism-word-year
 B. De Cleen and Y. Stavrakakis, 'Distinctions and Articulations', 301.
 B. De Cleen, ‘Populism and Nationalism’ in C. Rovira Kaltwasser, P. Taggart, P. Ochoa Espejo, and P. Ostiguy, (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Populism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 342–362, at p. 351.
 See B. Moffit, ‘The populism/Anti-populism Divide in Western Europe’, Democratic Theory 5 (2018), 1–16; B. De Cleen, ‘Populism and Nationalism’, 349; J. Rydgren, ‘Radical right-wing parties in Europe: What’s populism got to do with it?’, Journal of Language and Politics 16:4 (2017), 485–496.
 K. Weland, 'Neoliberal Populism in Latin America and Eastern Europe', Comparative Politics 31 (1999), 379–401, at p. 379.
by Federico Tarragoni
In an old textbook on populism, the psycho-sociologist Alexandre Dorna described the phenomenon as a 'volcanic eruption': a surge of the repressed impulses, instincts and fantasies of the masses onto the political scene. This analysis is very common today, especially in relation to the so-called 'far-right populisms', such as the governments of Trump, Bolsonaro, or Orbán. We will not be talking here about the fantasies (in a Freudian sense) of which populism would be the political vector, but about those that it expresses in the speaker who speaks about it. What exactly are we saying when we categorise something as 'populist'? It is well known that the word is used more to stigmatise than to designate positively. Its proliferation in public debate over the past decade has been unprecedented: in 2017 the Cambridge Dictionary awarded it 'word of the year'. Its inflation in the public debate points to the undeniable re-emergence of the ‘people’ as political operator, especially since the subprime crisis of 2008. On the extreme right, this resurgence is expressed in xenophobic nativist movements that oppose the national people to immigration and to ethnic and sexual minorities. On the far left, it appears in plebeian movements that oppose the ‘people’ as a democratic subject to a ruling class, judged to be in collusion with neoliberal economic elites, and accused of corrupting democracy. Both renewals emerge in the global political space. While the former may be compatible with a neoliberal economic orientation, as in the cases of Trump and Bolsonaro, the latter is in frontal opposition.
The fantasies of populism
Contemporary uses of populism, whether they see it as a threat or as a chance to radicalise democracy, assume that both phenomena lie in the same direction; that they are politically and historically univocal. This is the fantasy I am talking about: in the Freudian sense, the main imaginary production by which those who speak of populism today escape from reality. Here, the historical and sociological reality is that the 'people' of the extreme right have very little to do with the 'people' of the far left. Each of us can easily see that their projects, situated on opposite sides of the political spectrum, have more differences than similarities. In spite of this, the majority of studies in political science persist in seeing in these two phenomena some variants of the same reality: populism. This would be anchored in the extremes, which would therefore be strictly comparable in terms of their political use of the ‘people’. With a touch of irony, I call 'populology' the scholarly discourse structured around this thesis, which takes up the old 'horseshoe theory' in French political science. A thesis that seems to describe, in a clear and transparent way, our political actuality in the 21st century. But its simplicity tends to oversimplify it to the point of obscuring its real socio-political dynamics for at least three reasons.
The first reason is that the only thing in common between the extreme-right and the far-left 'populists' is nothing other than the opposition between the 'people' and the 'elites'. However, this opposition takes on such different and even opposite meanings in its two ‘variants’ that it is no longer sufficient to qualify something common. The 'people' is an extremely polysemous concept, since classical Greece, where there are about twenty words used to describe it: dèmos or the whole of the citizens, laos or the whole of the individuals sharing a common culture, ethnos or the whole of the members of a clan, genos or the whole of the individuals sharing a common ancestor, hoi polloi (‘the most numerous’) or the social majority of a population, ochlos or the people in tumult, ekklesia or the assembled people, etc.
Each of these terms designated this intangible and ineffable entity that was the ‘people’, based on a specific property or operation that it is supposed to perform in the polis. This definitional difficulty has been further complicated by modern political ideologies, all of which have more or less adopted this central word of democratic modernity. This is why the term is now invoked to designate political projects that have more differences than similarities between the extreme right and the radical left. Unless we consider, as the vast majority of contemporary theorists of populism do, that it is an essentially discursive phenomenon. That it is therefore extremely plastic, reflecting the emptiness of the word ‘people’ and the appeals that invoke it. But are the affects and political behaviours that these populist appeals aggregate really comparable? In reality, if populism is discursive by nature, all politics is discursive; in the same way, liberalism would be a political discourse centered on the word 'freedom', which is also fundamentally ambiguous. Would we then be ready to assert that all political actors who have claimed or are claiming today 'freedom' against a regime that deprives them of it, whatever the political project defended, are comparable? Are we ready to compare feminists, socialists, Berlusconi, the Austrian FPÖ, and so many others? We should recognise that almost all the political phenomena of our modernity are 'liberal' in this sense. Just as today we end up thinking that everything is potentially populist, when we talk about the 'people' against the 'elites'.
The second reason is that behind this idea that populism refers to any appeal to the ‘people’, we are in fact confusing distinct political phenomena: social movements, such as Occupy Wall Street, the Indignados or the Gilets jaunes, all structured by the opposition ‘people vs. elites’; political organisations, such as the Rassemblement national, Podemos, and the Labour-affiliated group Momentum, all calling for the ‘people’ against the establishment; modes of appealing to the electorate by the ruling class, more or less demagogic, such as those of Silvio Berlusconi, Nigel Farage, or Donald Trump; finally, political regimes based on the principle of the embodiment of the people by the Head of State, such as those of Erdogan, Putin, or Orbán. These phenomena are ontologically heterogeneous. Here the concept of populism is more confusing than elucidating, because it leads to abandon more precise historical concepts, such as demagogy, neo- or post-fascism, Bonapartism, and authoritarianism, in favour of a vague and fuzzy word. In other terms, there is more in common between authoritarian regimes, whatever their modes of legitimation, than between an authoritarian regime claiming to represent the people against corrupt elites, and a social movement claiming to constitute one against the ruling elites. Similarly, if populism describes modes of appealing to the electorate based on proximity, illusion, and overpromising, it would be more correct to speak of demagogy; it would then be necessary to question the reasons for its rise in contemporary political communication, as much among the establishment parties as among the anti-establishment ones.
The third reason is that behind the idea that populism is a plastic discursive construction, there is a tendency to confuse positive and value judgements. The ‘people’, like all our political terms, is a controversial normative word: as a synonym for collective sovereignty, it can be seen as the quintessence of democracy, or as a symbol of an oppressive totality, representing a threat to individual freedoms. If we do not empirically observe the concrete practices that this 'people' produces in the social space, we can be led to take our own value-judgments about 'the people' as science. Depending on the different ways of defining democracy (this concept which is also inseparably descriptive and normative), one will thus make a different case for populism. If, like Jan-Werner Müller, we define democracy as a procedural horizon for safeguarding individual liberties, the 'people' inevitably becomes suspect, both in the political discourse of the extreme right and the far left. If, like Chantal Mouffe, we define democracy as an agonistic horizon of conflictuality, the ‘people’ becomes the very quintessence of the democratic dynamic, because it is always constructed by opposing groups claiming democracy against the elites. Thus, on Müller's side, we lose sight of certain emancipatory uses of the ‘people’, which can radicalise a democracy conceived in a strictly procedural way. But on Mouffe's side, we lose sight of the fact that certain conflictual constructions of the ‘people’ are actually anti-democratic, such as those proposed by the neo-Nazi movement FPÖ in Austria or by the ‘Golden Dawn’ in Greece, because they challenge the liberal foundations of our democracies.
A new genetic approach
In fact, before we can even discuss whether populism is progressive or regressive for our democracies, we need to agree on what we are talking about. We need to clear up the many ambiguities to which contemporary uses of populism give rise: ambiguities in the classification and in the comparison that is proposed. In reality, we still do not know what populism is: not only do we not really know how to explain it, but we continue to disagree, among scholars, on what it encompasses empirically.
Despite the huge inflation of books and articles on the subject, we are still at the first steps of a scientific method. This makes the enterprise questionable for those who consciously choose not to use the concept. But it also makes it exciting and thrilling for those who take the problems posed by the concept seriously, seeking new solutions to its enigma. I propose a new 'genetic' approach, which consists in going back to the founding experiences of populism: the Russian narodnichestvo (between 1840 and 1880), the American People's Party (at the end of the 19th century) and the national-popular regimes in Latin America (between 1930 and 1960). Why them and not others? Why this return to the past when populism is such a current phenomenon? For one simple reason: these three historical experiences are defined by the entire scientific community as populist; they do not carry the ambiguities of what is too broadly called populism today. It is therefore a solid starting point for a new analysis. This is all the more true since historical distance makes it possible to look at current events in a more complex way. If there is one lesson of social sciences since Max Weber, it is this: we must analyse the present from the past, and not the opposite. Yet, concerning populism, we often move between presentism (the idea of the radical newness of our present, disjointed from the past) and anachronism (the distorted reading of past populisms from our present).
By comparing these founding experiences of populism, we obtain an ideal type: in the sense of Max Weber, a 'logical utopia' resulting from the stylisation of reality and the deliberate accentuation of certain features, which help to understand empirical reality by comparison with the model. The first recurring feature, which will be accentuated, is that populism always appears within the crisis of governments claiming to be legitimated by the people, but excluding them socially, economically, and politically.
The second recurring feature is that populism is structured by the opposition between the 'people' and the 'elite', but it gives an ideologically singular interpretation of this opposition, which defies any comparison between the far left and the extreme right. The 'people' appears as the name of a utopia: a democracy restored to its sovereign subject, involved in a dynamic of radicalisation of both freedom and equality. Populist democracy is conceived against the reduction of democracy to representative governments: an ‘elective aristocracy’ that is always potentially oligarchic. The 'elite' is the force that opposes this project of founding a populist democracy. The 'people' and the 'elite' thus do not define two concrete social groups, but two forces of democratic modernity: the 'people' is associated with the insides, with life and tradition; the 'elite' with the outsides, with reason and modernisation. This idea is central to the writings of the founder of populist ideology, the Russian Alexander Herzen (1812–70), who provided a systematic version of it at about the same time as Marx and Engels were working on the idea of communism. The Russian populists (narodniki), who were to deeply influence Lenin (his brother had been one of them), were convinced that the peasantry, the social majority of the people, could provide the organisational forms on which the future democracy could be built.
As a radical political ideology, populism is accompanied by the expression of a certain revolutionary charisma. This is the third recurrent feature of the phenomenon. In the Russian and American cases, this charisma is ‘available’ to the actors of the social movement, who can all aspire to embody the mobilisation: it is an ‘acephalous’ charisma. When the American farmers created their own party, the People's Party, this charisma was gradually personalised: the party acquired two brilliant charismatic leaders, James B. Weaver and William Jennings Bryan.
The latter, a great critic of the financial system of the Gold Standard, deemed responsible for the American social crisis, gave a speech in 1896 with eschatological connotations: the ‘Cross of Gold’ Speech. This young lawyer from Nebraska attacked the idle holders of capital in the ‘great American cities’, accusing them of strangling the working classes and draining the country's ‘broad and fertile prairies’. ‘The humblest citizen in all the land’, he said, ‘when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the whole hosts of error that they can bring. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty, the cause of humanity’. ‘You come to us’, he replied to the supporters of the Gold Standard, ‘and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the Gold Standard. I tell you that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country’. ‘If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the Gold Standard as a Good thing’, he concluded, ‘we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a Gold Standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold’.
In the Latin American case, populism had powerful charismatic leaders too: Juan Domingo Perón in Argentina, Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico, Getúlio Vargas in Brazil, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in Colombia, Rómulo Betancourt in Venezuela, Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre in Peru, Víctor Paz Estenssoro in Bolivia, Carlos Ibáñez del Campo in Chile.
Finally, a last recurring feature of populism is the socially heterogeneous nature of the mobilisations. They involve alliances between impoverished working classes and middle classes made precarious by the economic crisis: they all share the view that the ruling class is disconnected from the needs of the population's majority. Moreover, these mobilisations have no real class basis: they bring together different democratic causes carried by ‘subaltern groups’ in the sense of Antonio Gramsci, whose relations of domination go from class, to gender, to race.
Populism is therefore an ideology of crisis. It appears in a context of socio-economic crisis which becomes a legitimacy crisis of a government which, claiming to rule in the name of the people, appears collectively as the expression of an oligarchy's interests. Because of this context, populism operates as a crisis phenomenon. Thus, we can speak of 'populist moments' because populism can hardly survive beyond the crisis that institutes it. Despite its mobilising potential, because of the revolutionary charisma it brings to the stage and its capacity to federate several social demands, it is not sustainable. Why is this so?
The Latin American case provides some answers to this tricky problem. From the outset, it is difficult to achieve a programme as ambitious and vague as founding a radical democracy. On the one hand, such a programme should cover all spheres of social life, from culture to education, employment, citizenship. Let's think of Perón's Partido Justicialista, founded in 1946 and charged with democratising Argentinian society in the areas of education, university, civic and social rights, work and social inequalities, gender, culture ... A project that can lead to many disappointments among the mobilised popular base once populism is in power. The radical wing of Peronism—the Montoneros—and the communist left constantly deplore public policies that do not meet the democratic expectations of the Argentinian people. On the other hand, such a maximalist project runs the risk of removing all obstacles to State intervention in society: an intervention which, adorned with the noble objective of radicalising democracy, may end up subjecting to it the preservation of certain freedoms, such as those of the press or the unions.
In short, as much as populism is useful and necessary as a protest ideology, it is not very effective as an ideology in power. This is all the more the case because, by giving a central place to charisma, it leads, in the conditions of the organised competition for power, to a strong personalism. The mobilisation's leader who becomes the charismatic Head of State tends to introduce into populism a strongly vertical dimension, which is opposed to the horizontality of the social movement. The opposition between the 'people' and the 'elite' also tends to change once it is transformed into an ideology of public action: from a radically democratic opposition (deepening democracy by injecting more popular sovereignty), it tends to polarise society between 'friends' of the people and 'friends' of the elite. During my fieldwork in Venezuela (2007-11), one of the countries of the populist revival in the twenty-first century, I was confronted daily with the harmful effects of such polarisation, which ultimately undermines democratic communication. In institutional politics as well as in ordinary life, people had stopped debating, and instead fought each other in the name of imaginary plots attributed to one part of society against the other. This logic, combined with personalism and statism, finally legitimated an authoritarian turn within the State that began in 2005 and was reinforced with Nicolas Maduro's election.
What is left of populism?
As the Latin American case shows, this is the main problem with populism in power: an ideology that aims to re-found or radicalise democracy quickly comes into conflict with the logic of the State. This reflection is useful when considering what to do with populism today.
What remains of this historical ideology? What is left is clearly left-wing populism. From an ideological point of view, the so-called 'right-wing populism' refers to a completely different historical matrix: that of ethnic nationalism (or nativism), with strong antisemitic connotations, which was born in Europe at the end of the 19th century, irrigated the fascist movements, and was rebuilt in the 1980s against the migratory globalisation and the emancipatory struggles of the 1970s. Left-wing populism, by contrast, emerged in Europe and the United States after the Latin American ‘left turn’ in a similar context to that of past populisms: a socio-economic crisis, the subprime crisis, which revealed the disconnection of neoliberal elites from the social needs of the majority. The democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Labour Momentum, Podemos, the Five Star Movement, Syriza, La France insoumise: they have canalised the new populist mobilisations.
For those of them that have come to power, the same structural problems of Latin American populisms can be observed, even if the danger of an out-of-control statism is less pronounced there, due to the smaller role of military elites in the socio-historical construction of States. Like past populisms, populisms of our time are very ephemeral: none of them are in the same place as they were three years ago. The concessions made to the establishment have almost erased some of them from the electoral map, like Syriza. All of them have strong internal cleavages. One is the opposition between a ‘pragmatist’ wing and a ‘radical’ wing, as in the Italian Five Star Movement during Mario Draghi's government. The other is the split between 'populist strategy' and 'leftist strategy', as in Podemos (between Íñigo Errejón and Pablo Iglesias) and La France insomise (between Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Clémentine Autain). In short, populism still appears as a singular political moment; a moment that already seems, in part, to be behind us. If the populist moment of 2008 has closed, with the disappointments that populist parties in power have generated in their falling electorates, another one may arise in the future.
Two points should then be borne in mind. Firstly, populism does not remain the same between the destituting, contesting phase and the reinstituting phase in power; it changes politically. It is therefore necessary to control this mutation. Secondly, it is becoming urgent to separate the destiny of the extreme right and that of the radical left: the idea that there would be a populist dynamic common to both prevents us from thinking about the necessary renewal of a left-wing populism. On the contrary, this idea causes systematic haemorrhaging of left-wing voters who see in a supposedly common strategy with the extreme right a legitimate reason for disgust. Thinking about a left-wing populism for the years to come can only be done on the basis of these two analytical and strategic observations.
 Alexandre Dorna, Le populisme (Paris : PUF, 1999).
 Federico Tarragoni, L’esprit démocratique du populisme. Une nouvelle analyse sociologique (Paris : La Découverte, 2019). On the 'horseshoe theory', see Jean-Pierre Faye, Le siècle des idéologies (Paris : Press Pocket, 2002). For a critical point of view, cf. Annie Collovald and Brigitte Gaïti (eds), La démocratie aux extrêmes. Sur la radicalisation politique (Paris : La Dispute, 2006).
 Quentin Skinner, ‘The Empirical Theorists of Democracy and Their Critics’, Political Theory, 1, Issue 3 (1973), pp. 287-306; John Dunn, Setting the People Free. The Story of Democracy (New York: Atlantic books, 2005).
 Jan-Werner Müller, What is Populism? (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).
 Chantal Mouffe, For a Left Populism (London: Verso, 2018).
 Federico Tarragoni, « Populism, an ideology without history? A new genetic approach », Journal of Political Ideologies, 26, Issue 3 (2021). DOI : 10.1080/13569317.2021.1979130.
 Bernard Manin, The Principles of Representative Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
 Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks [25 §4, 1934] (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).
 Federico Tarragoni, L’Énigme révolutionnaire (Paris : Les Prairies ordinaires, 2015).
There is always someone more populist than you: Insights and reflections on a new method for measuring populism with supervised machine learning
by Jessica Di Cocco
The debate on populism and its effects on society has been the subject of numerous studies in the social and non-social sciences. The interest in this topic has led an increasing number of scholars to analyse it from different perspectives, trying to grasp its facets and consider the national contexts in which populist phenomena have developed. The scholarly literature has increasingly highlighted the need to adopt empirical approaches to the study of populism, both looking at the supply side (i.e., how much populism political actors ‘offer’) and at the demand side (i.e., how much populism citizens and potential voters ‘demand’).
The transition from almost exclusively theoretical to quantitative studies on populism has been accompanied by several issues of no small importance concerning, for instance, problems of a statistical nature or related to data availability. From the point of view of the demand for populism, studies have shown that its determinants are numerous and often interconnected—ranging, for instance, from social status to institutional trust, from the deterioration of objective well-being to perceptions of subjective well-being. Analyses aimed at studying the causes and effects of populism generally come up against the statistical issues we mentioned earlier. Scientists familiar with empirical analyses might be aware of the problems of endogeneity, reverse causality, and omitted variables that can affect the reading of the final results. For example, the literature has often focused on the links between populism and crisis. However, the direction of what influences what (and, therefore, the causal relationship between them) remains controversial. As Benjamin Moffit has highlighted, rather than just thinking about the crisis as a trigger of populism, we should also consider how populism attempts to trigger the crisis. Populist actors participate in the ‘spectacularisation’ of failure underpinning crisis. Therefore, crises are not purely external to populism; they are internal key elements. Another example concerns reverse causality. There is general agreement that economic conditions impact people’s voting choices. Nevertheless, it is still unclear whether facts or perceptions of these conditions impact more on voting choices. Larry Bartels has argued that it is not the actual economic conditions that matter, but rather that it is how this is interpreted by political parties that shapes perceptions. Hence, there could be reverse causality at play, in which populist parties might impact wider perceptions of economic conditions. From a populist supply perspective, studies have long focused on the classifications that scholars in the field have periodically drawn up. Other scholars have gradually adopted alternative methods, such as focusing on the textual analysis of programmes, speeches, and other textual sources of leaders and parties.
Our work is situated within this field of research on populism and, more generally, on ‘populisms’. We use the plural because we refer to different forms of populism that can develop along the entire ideological continuum and in very diverse national contexts. The diversity in the forms of populism has called for a deeper reflection on how we can compare them across the countries and measure them to consider the possible intensities and nuances.
Indeed, one of the main challenges in comparative studies on populism is how to measure it across a large number of cases, including several countries and parties within countries. We address this issue in our recent work, in which we use supervised machine learning to evaluate the degrees of populism in evidence in party manifestos. Previous literature had already explored the possibility of using different methods, including textual analysis,  and machine learning has cleared the way for further research in this direction. What are the advantages of using automated text-as-data approaches for investigating diversified political questions, populism, and others? For example, these techniques allow for the analysis of large quantities of data with fewer resources, inferring actors’ positions directly from the texts, and obtaining more replicable results.
Furthermore, they make it possible to focus on elites and their ideas, and thereby obtain continuous populism measures which, unlike dichotomous ones, better account for the multi-dimensionality of populism and differentiate between its degrees. Finally, automated textual approaches can help capture the rapid changes and transformations of the party landscape. We used automated textual analysis to derive a score which acts as a proxy for parties’ levels of populism. We validated the score using different expert surveys to check its robustness and verify the most correlated dimensions based on the literature on populism. We obtained a score that we can use to measure parties' levels of populism per year and across countries. In an ongoing study, we have applied the score for testing the Populist Zeitgeist hypothesis. According to Cas Mudde, a populist Zeitgeist is spreading in Western Europe, which means that non-populist parties are becoming increasingly populist in their rhetoric in response to populists’ increasing success. We found that the entrance of populist contents into the debate within non-populist parties seems to be an Italian peculiarity. Prompted by this finding, we started investigating the possible issues connected with this specific trend and concluded that Italy has exhibited sharper decreases in crucial socio-economic dimensions, such as satisfaction with democracy, trust towards institutions, and objective and subjective well-being. For this exploratory analysis, we used data from European Social Survey over the last two decades.
The French case
We can use the same method to investigate other textual sources and answer different questions within the field of populism analysis. For this purpose, we have collected a small corpus composed of 300 sentences drawn from TV interviews and debates available on YouTube and involving some of the candidates for the French Presidential Election that is due to take place in April 2022. The field of candidates is currently still somewhat unclear, since Eric Zemmour, an outsider leaning towards the far right who has enjoyed a degree of insurgent popularity in recent opinion polling, has not yet formally announced his candidacy. Given the limited availability of data, at the moment, we only focused on Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Marine Le Pen, and Eric Zemmour.
Even if the corpus needs further improvement, we can already offer a number of interesting insights for more profound reflections and future studies. For those unfamiliar with French politics, the three leaders we chose for analysis exhibit radical and (or) populist traits. However, while Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen are already well-known to the general public, the third figure mentioned, Eric Zemmour, is new to the political scene. He has gained prominence chiefly as a controversial writer and columnist, politically positioned to the right of Marine Le Pen. Zemmour’s positions are so radical that they have succeeded in overtaking those of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National on the right, ranging from the theory of ‘ethnic replacement’ and anti-abortionism to the repeal of gay rights and nostalgia for the ‘golden age’ of French colonialism. Convicted several times for inciting racial hatred, he has recently be in court for his remarks on unaccompanied migrant minors. For this trial, he is accused of “complicity in provoking racial hatred” and “racial insult”.
Interestingly, by comparison, when listening to Marine Le Pen speaking, she might appear almost moderate, if not progressive, even though she is a notoriously radical right-wing populist. Is this just a feeling, or is this the case? Undoubtedly, Zemmour’s racist and sexist statements would put many extreme right-wingers to shame, and he himself has described Le Pen as a ‘left-wing’ politician. At the same time, the familiar theories of electoral competition also teach us that the electoral arena is made up of spaces in which parties and their demands are located. On that basis, it cannot be ruled out that in the presence of such an ‘extreme’ candidate, Marine Le Pen may opt for (or find herself choosing) more moderate or progressive positions, while still maintaining her attachment to her ideology’s cardinal elements, such as anti-immigration arguments, anti-Islam positions, economic nationalism, and anti-establishment claims.
In all of this, the figure of radical left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon stands out; at the time of writing this article, he is the only leader who has accepted a televised confrontation with Zemmour. Some interesting reflections also arise on how the extreme right and left can share aspects as for what they offer to their potential electorate, especially if the games are played out on populist terrain. To perform the analysis, we derived the scores by applying the methodology we proposed in our work. The algorithm that we use is capable of discriminating between sentences belonging to populist or non-populist parties of a given country. The final party score that we obtained is the fraction of sentences that the classifier considers as being more likely to belong to prototypically populist partisan speech in France. Therefore, the score measures the probability that a sentence is drawn from an speech of a prototypical French populist party. According to our analysis, Zemmour is the most populist leader, with Mélenchon close behind and Marine Le Pen increasingly isolated in the rankings (see Fig. 1 below).
And Macron? What of the other candidates? At the time of writing, Macron has not yet officially launched his election campaign, limiting himself to giving speeches and interviews in his capacity as head of government rather than as a future presidential candidate. As for the other candidates, firstly they belong to more ideologically moderate parties; secondly, they are starting to give their first interviews at the time of writing. The association between moderate stances and anti-populism on the one hand, and extremism and populism on the other, is not new in the literature on populism to the extent that the terms ‘populist’ and ‘radical’ have been almost used interchangeably. On the contrary, moderate parties tend to be anti-populist by nature, since they do not exhibit the traits that are typically attributed to populist actors (for example, anti-elitism, people-centrism, the Manichean worldview). Although many French moderate parties have launched their electoral campaign, they are far from generating the same levels of public outcry as the three populists mentioned above. A clamour that seems to confirm the old saying that, as Oscar Wilde puts it, ‘there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about’. Even if it means finding out that there is always someone more populist than you.
For this article, we have limited ourselves to showing how our method based on supervised machine learning has allowed us to obtain quick and valuable results to start new analyses and reflections. However, we shall have to wait a little longer to build a complete and comprehensive corpus, and to validate our results with further speeches as they take place and enter French political discourse. There are many questions that deserve to be investigated in the coming months. How will the French electoral campaign evolve? Will the levels of populism increase as the presidential elections approach? Does our method allow us to distinguish between left- and right-wing populisms? Is it possible to calculate the distance (or proximity) between the various leaders’ substantive rhetoric? These are just some of the questions to ask ourselves as time goes on. We will try to provide some answers in the coming weeks and months, expanding our analysis to include new leaders, first and foremost the current President Macron, new speeches, and new validations. For now, it remains to be seen how far the populist clamour convinces others to shift in their direction.
 Meijers, Maurits J., and Andrej Zaslove. "Measuring populism in political parties: Appraisal of a new approach." Comparative political studies 54.2 (2021): 372-407.
 Gidron, Noam, and Peter A. Hall. "Populism as a problem of social integration." Comparative Political Studies 53.7 (2020): 1027-1059.
 Algan, Yann, et al. "The European trust crisis and the rise of populism." Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 2017.2 (2017): 309-400.
 Guriev, Sergei. "Economic drivers of populism." AEA Papers and Proceedings. Vol. 108. 2018.
 Guiso, Luigi, et al. Demand and supply of populism. London, UK: Centre for Economic Policy Research, 2017.
 Moffitt, Benjamin. "How to perform crisis: A model for understanding the key role of crisis in contemporary populism." Government and Opposition 50.2 (2015): 189-217.
 Bartels, Larry M. "Beyond the running tally: Partisan bias in political perceptions." Political behavior 24.2 (2002): 117-150.
 van Leeuwen, Eveline S., and Solmaria Halleck Vega. "Voting and the rise of populism: Spatial perspectives and applications across Europe." Regional Science Policy & Practice 13.2 (2021): 209-219.
 Van Kessel, Stijn. Populist parties in Europe: Agents of discontent?. Springer, 2015.
 Di Cocco, Jessica, and Bernardo Monechi. "How Populist are Parties? Measuring Degrees of Populism in Party Manifestos Using Supervised Machine Learning." Political Analysis (2021): 1-17.
 Jagers, Jan, and Stefaan Walgrave. "Populism as political communication style." European journal of political research 46.3 (2007): 319-345.
 Rooduijn, Matthijs, and Teun Pauwels. "Measuring populism: Comparing two methods of content analysis." West European Politics 34.6 (2011): 1272-1283.
 Hawkins, Kirk A., et al. "Measuring populist discourse: The global populism database." EPSA Annual Conference in Belfast, UK, June. 2019.
 Zaslove, A. S., and M. Meijers. "Measuring Populism in Political Parties: Appraisal of a New Approach." (2020).
 Mudde, Cas. "The populist zeitgeist." Government and opposition 39.4 (2004): 541-563.
 EUROPE, POPULIST RADICAL RIGHT PARTIES IN, and C. Mudde. Populist radical right parties in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge university press, 2007.
 Hawkins, Kirk A., and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser. "The ideational approach to populism." Latin American Research Review 52.4 (2017): 513-528.
Fig. 1: The ranking of the leaders based on their TV speeches and debates. The corpus is a sample of speeches, further sentences will be added to expand the analysis to other leaders and validate the results.
by Anuradha Sajjanhar
As in most liberal democracies, India’s national political parties work to gain the support of constituencies with competing and often contradictory perspectives on expertise, science, religion, democratic processes, and the value of politics itself. Political leaders, then, have to address and/or embody a web of competing antipathies and anxieties. While attacking left and liberal academics, universities, and the press, the current, Hindu-nationalist Indian government is building new institutions to provide authority to its particular historically-grounded, nationalist discourse. The ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and its grassroots paramilitary organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have a long history of sustained Hindu nationalist ideology. Certain scholars see the BJP moving further to the centre through its embrace of globalisation and development. Others argue that such a mainstream economic stance has only served to make the party’s ethno-centric nationalism more palatable. By oscillating between moderation and polarisation, the BJP’s ethno-nationalist views have become more normalised. They have effectively moved the centre of political gravity further to the right. Periods of moderation have allowed for democratic coalition building and wider resonance. At the same time, periods of polarisation have led to further anti-Muslim, Hindu majoritarian radicalisation.
This two-pronged dynamic is also present in the Hindu Right’s cultivation of intellectuals, which is what my research is about. Over the last five to ten years, the BJP has been discrediting, attacking, and replacing left-liberal intellectuals. In response, alternative “right-wing” intellectuals have built a cultural infrastructure to legitimate their Hindutva ideology. At the same time, technical experts associated with the government and its politics project the image of apolitical moderation and economic pragmatism.
The wide-ranging roles of intellectuals in social and political transformation beg fundamental questions: Who counts as an intellectual and why? How do particular forms of expertise gain prominence and persist through politico-economic conjunctures? How is intellectual legitimacy redefined in new political hegemonies? I examine the creation of an intellectual policy network, interrogating the key role of think tanks as generative proselytisers. Indian think tanks are still in their early stages, but have proliferated over the last decade. While some are explicit about their political and ideological leanings, others claim neutrality, yet pursue their agenda through coded language and resonant historical nationalist narratives. Their key is to effect a change in thinking by normalising it. Six years before winning the election in 2014, India’s Hindu-nationalist party, the BJP, put together its own network of policy experts from networks closely affiliated to the party. In a national newspaper, the former vice-president of the BJP described this as an intentional shift: from “being action-oriented to solidifying its ideological underpinnings in a policy framework”. When the BJP came to power in 2014, people based in these think tanks filled key positions in the central government. The BJP has since been circulating dominant ideas of Hindu supremacy through regional parties, grassroots political organisations, and civil society organisations.
The BJP’s ideas do not necessarily emerge from think tank intellectuals (as opposed to local leaders/groups), but the think tanks have the authority to articulate and legitimate Hindu nationalism within a seemingly technocratic policy framework. As primarily elite organisations in a vast and diversely impoverished country, a study of Indian think tanks begs several questions about the nature of knowledge dissemination. Primarily, it leads us to ask whether knowledge produced in relatively narrow elite circles seeps through to a popular consciousness; and, indeed, if not, what purpose it serves in understanding ideological transformation. While think tanks have become an established part of policy making in the US and Europe, Indian think tanks are still in their early stages. The last decade, however, has seen a wider professionalisation of the policy research space. In this vein, think tanks have been mushrooming over the last decade, making India the country with the second largest number of think tanks in the world (second only to the US). As evident from the graph below, while there were approximately 100 think tanks in 2008, they rose to more than 500 in 2018. The number of think tanks briefly dropped in 2014—soon after Modi was elected, the BJP government cracked down on civil society organisations with foreign funding—but has risen dramatically between 2016 and 2018.
Fig. 1: Data on the rise of Indian think tanks from Think Tank Initiative (University of Pennsylvania)
There are broadly three types of think tanks that are considered to have a seat at the decision-making table: 1) government-funded/affiliated to Ministries; 2) privately-funded; 3) think tanks attached to political parties (these may not identify themselves as think tanks but serve the purpose of external research-based advisors). I do not claim a causal relationship between elite think tanks and popular consciousness, nor try to assert the primacy of top-down channels of political mobilisation above others. Many scholars have shown that the BJP–RSS network, for example, functions both from bottom-up forms of mobilisation and relies on grassroots intellectuals, as well as more recent technological forms of top-down party organisation (particularly through social media and the NaMo app, an app that allows the BJP’s top leadership to directly communicate with its workers and supporters). While the RSS and the BJP instil a more hierarchical and disciplinary party structure than the Congress party, the RSS has a strong grassroots base that also works independent of the BJP’s political elite.
It is important to note that what I am calling the “right-wing” in India is not only Hindu nationalists—the BJP and its supporters are not a coherent, unified group. In fact, the internal strands of the organisations in this network have vastly differing ideological roots (or, rather, where different strands of the BJP’s current ideology lean towards): it encompasses socially liberal libertarians; social and economic conservatives; firm believers in central governance and welfare for the “common man”; proponents of de-centralisation; followers of a World Bank inspired “good governance” where the state facilitates the growth of the economy; believers in a universal Hindu unity; strict adherers to the hierarchical Hindu traditionalism of the caste system; foreign policy hawks; principled sceptics of “the West”; and champions of global economic participation. Yet somehow, they all form part of the BJP–RSS support network. Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of the RSS, has tried to bridge these contradictions through a unified hegemonic discourse. In a column entitled “We may be on the cusp of an entitled Hindu consensus” from September 2018, conversative intellectual Swapan Dasgupta writes of Bhagwat:
“It is to the credit of Bhagwat that he had the sagacity and the self-confidence to be the much-needed revisionist and clarify the terms of the RSS engagement with 21st century India...Hindutva as an ideal has been maintained but made non-doctrinaire to embrace three unexceptionable principles: patriotism, respect for the past and ancestry, and cultural pride. This, coupled with categorical assertions that different modes of worship and different lifestyles does not exclude people from the Hindu Rashtra, is important in reforging the RSS to confront the challenges of an India more exposed to economic growth and global influences than ever before. There is a difference between conservative and reactionary and Bhagwat spelt it out bluntly. Bhagwat has, in effect, tried to convert Hindu nationalism from being a contested ideological preoccupation to becoming India’s new common sense.”
As Dasgupta lucidly attests, the project of the BJP encompasses not just political or economic power; rather, it attempts to wage ideological struggle at the heart of morality and common sense. There is no single coherent ideology, but different ideological intentions being played out on different fronts. While it is, at this point, difficult to see the pieces fitting together cohesively, the BJP is making an attempt to set up a larger ideological narrative under which these divergent ideas sit: fabricating a new understanding of belonging to the nation. This determines not just who belongs, but how they belong, and what is expected in terms of conduct to properly belong to the nation.
I find two variants of the BJP’s attempts at building a new common sense through their think tanks: actively political and actively a-political. In doing so, I follow Reddy’s call to pay close attention to the different ‘vernaculars’ of Hindutva politics and anti-politics. Due to the elite centralisation of policy making culture in New Delhi, and the relatively recent prominence of think tanks, their internal mechanisms have thus far been difficult to access. As such, these significant organisations of knowledge-production and -dissemination have escaped scholarly analysis. I fill this gap by examining the BJP’s attempt to build centres of elite, traditional intellectuals of their own through think tanks, media outlets, policy conventions, and conferences by bringing together a variety of elite stakeholders in government and civil society. Some scholars have characterised the BJP’s think tanks as institutions of ‘soft Hindutva’, that is, organisations that avoid overt association with the BJP and Hindu nationalist linkages but pursue a diffuse Hindutva agenda (what Anderson calls ‘neo-Hindutva’) nevertheless. I build on these preliminary observations to examine internal conversations within these think tanks about their outward positioning, their articulation of their mission, and their outreach techniques.
The double-sidedness of Hindutva acts as a framework for understanding the BJP’s wide-ranging strategy, but also to add to a comprehension of political legitimacy and the modern incarnation of ethno-nationalism in an era defined by secular liberalism. The BJP’s two most prominent think tanks (India Foundation and Chanakya Institute), show how the think tanks negotiate a fine balance between projecting a respectable religious conservatism along with an aggressive Hindu majoritarianism. These seemingly contradictory discourses become Hindutva’s strength. They allow it to function as a force that projects aggressive majoritarianism, while simultaneously claiming an anti-political ‘neutral’ face of civilisational purity and inter-religious inclusion. While some notions of ideology understand it as a systematic and coherent body of ideas, Hodge’s concept of ‘ideological complexes’ suggests that contradiction is key to how ideology achieves its effects. As Stuart Hall has shown, dominant and preferred meanings tend to interact with negotiated and oppositional meanings in a continual struggle. Thus, as Hindutva becomes a mediating political discourse, it may risk incoherence, yet defines the terms through which the socio-political world is discussed.
The BJP’s think tanks, then, attempt to legitimise its ideas and policies by building a base of both seemingly-apolitical expertise and what they call ‘politically interventionist’ intellectuals. Neo-Hindutva can thus be both explicitly political and anti-political at the same time: advocating for political interventionism while eschewing politics and forging an apolitical route towards cultural transformation. However, contrary to critical scholarship that tends to subsume claims of apolitical motivation within forms of false-consciousness or backdoor-politics, I note that several researchers at these organisations do genuinely see themselves as conducting apolitical, academic research. Rather than wilful ignorance, their acknowledgement of the organisation’s underlying ideology understands the heavy religious organisational undertones as more cultural than political. This distinction takes the cultural and religious parts of Hindutva ‘out of’ politics, allowing it to be practiced and consumed as a generalisable national ethos.
 Nistula Hebbar, “At Mid-Term, Modi’s BJP on Cusp of Change.” The Hindu. The Hindu, June 12, 2017. https://www.thehindu.com/thread/politics-and-policy/at-mid-term-modis-bjp-on-cusp-of-change/article18966137.ece
 Anuradha Sajjanhar, “The New Experts: Populism, Technocracy, and the Politics of Expertise in Contemporary India”, Journal of Contemporary Asia (forthcoming 2021).
 Deepa S. Reddy, “What Is Neo- about Neo-Hindutva?” Contemporary Southeast Asia 26, no. 4 (October 2, 2018): 483–90.
 Edward Anderson and Arkotong Longkumer. “‘Neo-Hindutva’: Evolving Forms, Spaces, and Expressions of Hindu Nationalism.” Contemporary Southeast Asia 26, no. 4 (October 2, 2018): 371–77.
 Stuart Hall, “Encoding/decoding.” Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks 16676 (2001).
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).