“Forget Populism!” › view all
New Publication by BIGSSS Alumnus Frank A. Stengel
BIGSSS alumnus Frank A. Stengel published a new article in the journal Global Discourse:
The article intervenes in the debate about the so-called ‘populist danger’, whose proponents claim that populism constitutes a threat to democracy, European integration, the West, the liberal international order, or all of the above. This paper argues that this argument is severely misguided – with significant consequences for research and political practice. The core problem is that claims of a ‘populist danger’ are based on an exceptionally vague conceptualization of populism that fails to clearly distinguish between left and right, moderate and radical, authoritarian and genuinely democratic versions. In doing so, they not only ignore decades of populism research but also create the impression that actors like Bernie Sanders, Donald J. Trump, Victor Orbán, Marine Le Pen, the Greek Syriza and Spanish PODEMOS (who in fact pursue vastly different and even outright contradictory policy goals) are all variations on a single (populist) theme. Moreover, because advocates of the ‘populist danger’ thesis like Jan-Werner Müller insist that populism as such is inherently anti-pluralist, they hamper efforts to meaningfully distinguish between threats to be countered and legitimate complaints to be taken seriously. This is not just of purely academic interest because any policies based on such an understanding of populism are bound to fail – and potentially backfire. Against this background, the article argues that populism as such is neither inherently anti-democratic nor per se democratic, and using the term to assess the potential dangerousness of certain actors is highly problematic.