What is populism and is it a useful term?


– Populism is a particular form of political discourse that divides society into two camps: the people and the elites
or the establishment. The relationship between these two camps is antagonistic or in
contradiction to each other. There are right-wing
and left-wing populists, there are inclusive and
exclusive populist arguments, there are regional – some people think that there
are regional characteristics of the Latin American populism, European, North American populism. This structural, formal definition of populism – the people versus elite – is the common characteristic of all populisms. If you just started to define anyone who claims that the majority of the people and their voice is not being heard by the established political system, then, as I said, a lot of people can be
considered as populist. Populism as a concept will
lose its analytical use. Because it starts to explain everything, it means nothing. Populists generally provide
a very simplistic answer to otherwise very complicated
social and political problems. Either showing a group as a scapegoat like every problem we have, crime to unemployment, is
basically because of refugees, for instance. Or, migrants stealing our
jobs and every criminal act is committed by. These are not reality. These are part of this
rhetoric in order to keep this populist antagonism
as the discourse producing a meaning for the general society. The populist argument as I try to explain in the definition, has a particular representation claim. That is the source of undemocratic, authoritarian development that populism could unfold or develop into. And that is that not only there is the people, homogeneous, unitary, and with one will, but also the populist claim to represent that voice. In the democratic argument, you need to accept that
the people is a plurality, that there are multiple voices
in the people that cannot be represented by one actor. If we think of some
examples from North America, from the United States, a lot of people define, for instance, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders as populists. This is a mistake to make. This is the confusion
between a very important democratic critique to
the established system, the current mechanisms and policies, from, for instance, Orban, or in our case Erdogan, who not only divide the society in an antagonistic way, but claim to be the only
voice of the people. That they are and only they can speak
in the name of the people. Populism referring to
or invoking the people, yet with the claim that
representing the people as a totality, as if there is one voice of the people, undermines the plurality of society. And hence it’s a threat.

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