I’ve been reading about populism a lot lately. Its a buzzy word, but its also become sort of a part of my more formal work as a young academic, a role in society where you’re sort of supposed to think about things and telling people about your thoughts and your thoughts are ideally supposed to be helpful in people’s lives. Here are some thoughts about populism:
Populism is not a thing or a noun, it is a type of relationship, just like cooperation or competition or love.
Populism is a type of relationship between groups of people. In other words, you can’t really use the word populism to describe a relationship between two individual people.
Populism is a type of relationship between groups of people within the political structure we call democracy. Populism cannot exist in monarchies or in feudal societies because the monarchs and dukes are not actually ultimately responsible to “the people”. In democracies “the people” have a legitimate claim to power.
Populism is a type of relationship between “the people” and “the powers that be” in a democracy characterized by a political tension between the anarchic force of “the people” and the force of the status quo of “the powers that be”.
Populism is a type of legitimate political tension between the people and the power in a democracy that has both real and dramatic dimensions. For instance, one can be both a rhetorical populist and an elitist conservative. This is a shallow type of populism. In actual populism both the rhetorical and real political dimensions are aligned.
And so yeah, populism seems to me to be a type of legitimate political relationship between the people and their representatives in a democracy that has both material and dramatic dimensions. Seems kinda duh, but I hear people conflating so much with populism…rurality, whiteness, Christian-ness.