Are we all populists now? It’s the word on everyone’s lips in every discussion and it’s often used to silence an opponent. Even new political movements are swiftly tarnished with the label. But what is populism really?

When we talk about populism, we’re talking about people – it’s in the name.  Populists claim that they are the only ones who know the “will of the people” and what to do with it. Modern democracies are hampered by the need for compromise; differing opinions, including those of minority groups, have to be taken into consideration when implementing new laws. That’s complicated. Populists offer simple answers to complicated questions – they’re understandable even if perhaps not feasible solutions.

Europe currently has several examples of so-called populist parties. Germany has the AfD; Viktor Orbán just won an election in Hungary with right wing rhetoric; Austria’s government currently includes the populist right wing Freedom Party of Austria ; Italy’s hard-right League party is part of their government coalition; and the Polish national conservative Law and Justice party is re-arranging the legal system.

Populism is often considered dangerous but what do our readers think? Ivo is certain that you have to win over the “great unwashed” to achieve anything in a democracy because at the end of the day, “majority wins”. That’s his populism. If populist views become socially acceptable, do citizens then feel better represented by or emboldened to vote for populists?

We asked around and posed the question to MEP Terry Reintke. What does she think of Ivo’s comments? Could politics stand a little populism or is it dangerous?

Coming up next, we asked Renaud Camus, a French writer, who talks of a “great replacement” caused by immigration and the subsequent loss of national cultures in his controversial works.

No, I do not think so, but really I am not an expert on the issue. I have been called everything but never a populist, until now. I do not know if populism is a vital element for democracy, but I am convinced that the people are a vital element for the survival of nations. If we change people, we must not delude ourselves: it is a new nation. And as long as the people do not rise up, their great replacement continues.

Finally, we discussed Ivo’s views with Jean-Philippe Turpin who runs the French NGO La Cimade. They take care of refugees in the town of Béziers, France.

No, I don’t think populism is a vital part of democracy. Rather, it’s the opposite of democracy. Democracy is based on reason, a reasoned debate. Populism is the reverse: it is based on the irrational and the absence of debate, or a debate based off of emotions. Indeed, populism is what imperils democracy nowadays. The problem is that this populism feeds off of the dysfunctions of democracy. That is to say, people who claim to support democracy don’t do it as well as one might expect, which helps to spread populist rhetoric.

But, regarding populist rhetoric, it’s not just the populists that we should criticise. We should also look at the environment in which populism propagates. This environment is often created by the politicians themselves or by the liberal politics we have nowadays.

Is populism an important part of politics? Do you think it’s about representing “the common people” or is it destroying the political system right under our noses?

Foto: (CC) Flickr – Katryna ColePortrait: Camus (CC) Flickr – Renaud Camus

62 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    It’s the only real part of politics, the rest is just bending to vested interests, lies and deceit, all of which is epitomised by Brussels.

    • avatar

      ok most of your lines…
      on Brussels… countries should have..
      have to work on it collectively

    • avatar

      Gianfranco What makes you think the peoples of the countries want a collective centred on Brussels because of a solution from the 1950′ to a problem of the 1930’s ? The world has moved on but the EU is stuck in the last Century & is becoming more irrelevant by the day.

    • avatar
      sara marsico

      I absolutely agree

  2. avatar

    In general simplistic solutions have more followers, so political parties are forced to play a game where they promise something and do something else. Personally I would prefer more honesty.

    • avatar

      Rightfull is the opposite of deshonest, wich is what the established political solutions have provided.
      The needs of the people must be met. Everything else is smoke screens. Mirrors and smears, on behalf of we know who.

  3. avatar

    Yes democracy is mob rule when the people are ignorant

    • avatar

      You are incorrect, you get mob rule when the people are ignored.

    • avatar

      Have the people been decieved? Yes they ve been. Now lets call them a mob, ignorant, and scream populism.

    • avatar

      António Of course they have been deceived but by the fanatics who are forcing a EU superstate run from Brussels on them. What you call populists most people call realists.

    • avatar

      Ivan as usual if one is looking for sense or truth has simply to ignore your comment. Even trying to reply to them is a waste of time, it’s astonishing how you spread so much disinformation with no proof, no data and no one trace of truth and in so few words

  4. avatar

    It should be obsolete by now imo. It’s amazing that people still choose to be uneducated and manipulated.

    • avatar

      Wow, you insult millions of people simply because they do not agree with your outdated opinion ? Said like a true hater of democracy comrade.

    • avatar

      What are you even doing on this page? Should The Globalist Scumbag EU concern you? You are free now to march the streets with EDL, you are free from the EU dude.

    • avatar

      Paulius Read the title of the page comrade, its called ‘debating Europe’ & we are leaving the pointless EU, not Europe 8|

      But thank you for showing your hatred of free speech, Emperor Juncker will be so pleased with you.

  5. avatar

    It is absolutely crucial that the democratic institutions represent the opinion of the people in order for a democracy to function.

    Rarely is this the case.

    Democracy is run as a republic now a days where the people has to choose a patron (with limited choices) to give their vote.

    It’s like comparing the ancient roman republic to the free greek democratic city states.

    Democracy is populism.

    Populism is dangerous for a republic, but absolutely necessary for a democracy.

    • avatar

      And a republic is, in my opinion, the best balance of representation of the populace. You can’t have the masses vote directly on issues – they don’t have the time or education to make a wise decision on the most complicated of issues. That’s why you have representatives who consult with advisors and specialists for each issue.

      Populism is not dangerous for a republic – you simply assume it is because it is not raw democracy to have to hear people’s voices through a representative. And you think that’s bad, but then what is the point of democracy? Why is it good? Because it’s supposed to represent the populace for the well-being of all people. Well, allowing all people to make decisions on topics they are not well-equipped to provide input on, is as foolish as letting a child drive a car with no experience. So a Republic is the way to go – it’s having a parent drive the car.

  6. avatar

    Depends on the definition of “populism”. The traditional definition is to promise what people want to hear in order to get elected, knowing very well that you cannot keep your promises. Like, if a politician promises 100% raise of salaries. However, “populism” is lately being used by the political establishment to demonize emerging parties that address legitimate concerns of large parts of the population, which have been neglected by the governments for a long time (i.e. immigration issues).

    • avatar

      That is not the traditional definition of populism. Populism refers to an ideology who sets itself as the protector of the masses against an elite. The elite can be an ethnicity, race, social position, etc. Populism never comes alone and this is what its supporters usually fail, or pretend not to, realize. Nazism, fascism, revolutionary communism, etc where all populist movements. All proclaimed to be the liberators of the common man from the corrupted elite. All ended up being nothing of the kind… this is also a characteristic of populism.

  7. avatar
    Franz M

    No, I don’t think so.
    Populists just harness fears and emotions. Emotional answers are often the simplest answers but create more follow up problems.
    Every topical field in politics is complex and interacts with each other. So answers are complex and often only act positively in the long term.
    A statesman provides complex answers to the people for future generations. A populist harnesses emotions in order for his own political gain and power in the short run.

  8. avatar

    It’s the part of politics one has to repeatedly fight due to the flaws of the education system!

  9. avatar
    catherine benning

    Is populism an important part of politics?

    Politics is populism, if you live in a democracy. What else can it possibly be?

    However, as Europe is a practising ‘Republic,’ populism will be a stone in its shoe.

    Here is a refresher

    Whereas, my preference is democracy by the people for the people. Which removes power from the wealthy and passes it to all citizens via their right to vote against despotic policy imposed against their wishes.

    And here, in this little FT article, you will see how the rich fear true ‘direct democracy’ as it gives the people power over their absolute dominance. Which is why it is so important to all peoples who value their rights to a voice in the running of their governance. And why every man, woman and child of Europe should demand true democracy, that of the Swiss people called, Direct Democracy. The only existing freedom know to mankind……

  10. avatar

    Can someone please explain to what’s the difference between populism and patriotism?.

  11. avatar

    Populismo é um subproduto derivado da massificação do acesso às tecnologias da comunicação. Estas tecnologias permitiram a criação de factos virtuais. Assim, o carisma real pode ser substituído pelo carisma virtual. O populismo corresponde a uma espécie de carisma virtual. Este é perigoso porque se presta a substituir o carisma real. E o carisma virtual é na realidade uma fraude, um logro em que as pessoas caiem facilmente.

    Populism is a byproduct derived from the massification of access to communication technologies. These technologies have enabled the creation of virtual facts. Thus, real charisma can be replaced by virtual charisma. Populism corresponds to a kind of virtual charisma. This one is dangerous because it is to replace real charisma. And Virtual Charisma is actually a fraud, a deception where people fall easily.

  12. avatar

    In S. Europe populism is the new word for fascism!

  13. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    I believe enough and too much controversy and confusion has been created by academia, politicians & their networks – always hungry to explain in millions of words that populism is unrefined, uninformed, the voice of the mob- therefore dangerous, destructive & undesired! Really?

    In spirit of the soccer World Cup: The above picture depicts hysteria! Seen recently in soccer stadiums than in politics! Or in art galleries- “The Scream”?

    Calm, collected & collective interactions of opinionated folks surely look different! Distortions by design! The political “Gallery”

    What is the score between the EC/EP against its national members or its very, very far removed national voters? Does & how does the EC/EP predetermine the score between its national opponents and itself- before the game even started?

    In sport it would be called ‘MATCH FIXING”! Yes, the EU match has been fixed by an array of Treaties, Regulations and Decrees! Great job!

    Referees consensus: the “fixing party” would be condemned, fined, disqualified & blacklisted. Why not in politics? But- by whom? Who feels guilty- or blushes?

    How can one restore credibility into that game? Leveling the playing field by action & scoring of vox populus?

  14. avatar

    The ideal government is the government that invites people to think and guide their minds. But the current governments are never reluctant to freedom of thought, and instead of guiding people, they are bombarding advertisements by the media.

  15. avatar

    Populism (population), without it Democracy is just a word and completely FAKE.

  16. avatar

    Populism is definitely not the solution, but, to an extent, I do agree that it has an important function in a democratic system. Populists are extremely good at intercepting people’s discontents. The real problem is that they then take those dicontents to an extreme, to the point that they become dangerous. Their illusion of representing the “will of the people” makes populist movements a good place for democracies to look at when they start losing focus. Take immigration: all populists agree that migrants are dangerous, that borders must be closed and that they should rejected to their own countries, and that’s clearly wrong, of course. But it’s undeniable that at the roots there is people’s fear for their future, in a system that has failed to grant them a decent life after the worst wave of the economic crisis that struck Europe in recent years. People don’t hate migrants, they see them as a threat cause they don’t think *they* are in a prosperous enough situation to afford to help them, and that’s the issue that democracies should address, rather than condemning populism. A healthy democracy shouldn’t underestimate populism, comparing it to fascism or labeling it as a movement made of ignorant and stupid people. A healthy democracy should always keep an eye on populism and analyze what it says and how and why it does so. This is the only way to stop the rise of populism we’re witnessing: we need to control it and make it useful for us.

  17. avatar

    If by populism, you mean common sense, then best we become populists.

    • avatar

      No, that is not what it means.

    • avatar

      Miguel 😂😂😂 do tell!

  18. avatar

    Yes it’s only authentic thing in politics and natural reaction to globalization.

  19. avatar
    catherine benning

    Is populism an important part of politics?

    Here is the ‘populism’ we in the UK are forced to watch on a daily basis. And, additionally, forced, by our governments, to pay for it. We are charged an annual fee to watch a biased and now hysterical BBC.

    Here you will witness why and how we are paying to have total hypocrisy shoved down our throats and if we try hard to push against it, are called all kinds of very nasty names by those who feel they have more rights to speak than others. Unelected of course. Who turn out to be totally brainwashed robots. It is indeed very worrying.

  20. avatar
    catherine benning

    Is populism an important part of politics?

    Now this link is to a story regarding a medical doctor who cannot stand idly by and pretend he goes along with the fantasy world we are being forced to adopt. He has now lost his job because of his honesty. Remember, this can happen to anyone at any time when a dystopian ideology takes over society, as we have today. And this little manipulation is directly connected to government. So, not something they can or want to distance themselves from.

    How crazy are they going to persuade us we are before people begin to reject what they know collectively is not at all in our best interests?

    And here is a clip from ‘The Prisoner,’ a TV series of old based on a true story of how politics, in the UK, is played by first maddening you And, most likely, this game is played right across the Western world.

    Of course this lunacy would soon make it impossible for populism to play any part in politics, as what is good for the people and what they want for their future is not what politicians want.

  21. avatar

    There’s no such thing as ‘populism’. There’s only democracy, which is actually supposed to reflect the wishes of the people.

  22. avatar
    Joël Landais

    I always feel uncomfortable when the word ‘populism’ is used. It seems to contain a lot of contempt for the people. Normally it should mean ‘in favour of the people’ as opposed to ‘in favour of a privileged minority’ (this is what ‘democracy’ normally means: the government of the people, by the people, for the people). Is the opposite of ‘populism’ ‘elitism’ ? That is in favour of an elite who has everything: the money, the power, the education, the culture, the jobs…

    I recently heard an offcial say, talking about the citizens: “They will have to adapt”; it made me think of Queen Marie Antoinette who said, talking about the people of Paris: “They have no bread ? Let them eat cake !”

    Another thing: Why can’t we call a spade, a spade, and a fascist, a fascist ?
    Thank you very much Catherine Benning for your remarks.

  23. avatar

    Populism is not bad or good… Populist is expression of democracy

  24. avatar

    Antonym = Élitism. Neither are mutually exclusive.

  25. avatar

    In my opinion it is. Populists twists the principles and values of democracy for the benefit of some. We have had some perfect examples of that in Europe with brexit and Cataluña both pure nationalpopulism that are the real enemy of the EU.

  26. avatar

    If we want “democracy” we need to have “populism”.
    Otherwise we end up with “elitism”, which leads to “plutocracy”.

  27. avatar

    It depends on what one is talking about. If one means ‘direct democracy’, then we probably need more of it. If it means ‘mob rule’, then we don’t need more of it.
    I’m very suspicious about the ‘simple answers to complex problems’ mantra that always comes up, though. It may be that problems sometimes seem more ‘complex’ to specialists because they’re missing the wood for the trees. Problems may also seem extremely ‘complex’ to ideologues when they don’t fit into their model of how the world should work.

  28. avatar

    Democracy has only to be intolerant to intolerant movements that limit democracy. If populism doesn’t do that, than let it be. The price will be higher to pay later but it’s the natural life cycle of improving societies. These include these populism movements that are in fact due to.the inability of the previous movements to correctly educate and inform the new generation. It’s similar to the human body fighting an illness.

    • avatar

      since “populism” is the interest and the will of the people (even by definition), it is the foundation of “democracy.
      This is opposed to the “elitism”, which is the foundation of “plutocracy”.

    • avatar

      i believe what is meant by “populism” here is the current trend in Several countries that gathers the part of the population that generically complains (generally by following other people and without clear knowledge of the facts or the clear capability to assess them) about the current status quo. I may be wrong, but that’s how I have interpreted it

    • avatar

      George we are with “elitism” already!

  29. avatar

    Populism is so old as Democracy.
    During the first Athenian Democracy, the populist Leaders were called “Demagogues-ΔΗΜΑΓΩΓΟΙ”.
    They owned the “Gift of Speech” and had the power to manipulate the masses. Usually, the demagogues were murdered by their own followers after a National Disaster, after a failed decision.
    Only extended Education can reduce Populism.

  30. avatar

    It’s part of a democratic system. It needs (and should trigger) a serious political answer from non-populist parties though.

  31. avatar

    Terrible! Just ask Argentina 5th biggest gdp per capita in world at the end of 19th century to bankruptcy today

  32. avatar

    Yes, of course it is! It’s the cancer of democracy!

  33. avatar

    Plutocrats and their puppet extremists are the biggest danger to democracy.
    Populism stops them.

  34. avatar

    I think the Left is populist. And nobody cares?

  35. avatar

    I guess it all depends on your definition of populism. If you mean political parties that don’t follow mainstream ideologies and policies, but are not incompatible with democracy (Rule by the People), I think it adds diversity to our democracies. Democracies need to renew themselves, or they just become an illusion, by manipulation of the masses with false and biased information. If they just tell the people whatever they want to hear, even if there’s blood on the streets, which is the tendency of the new extremist groups, then no. But, even then, they might serve as a wake up call to real democrats. The problem is, real democrats are an endangered species. Our political arena is made up of old, established and manipulative forces, and of dangerous extremist movements. Which ones are the populists?

  36. avatar

    Democracy is only for those in power which is on the hands of those who possess the means of production and the wealth. The rich have the power, they are the rulers, they make the law to protect only their interests and punish the rest. Those in power get away with whatever they do: exploitation of people and environment, drugs, wars etc. Their laws are the cause of poverty in their countries and around the world. They own the media which is used the brainwash and manipulate people who become like herds that can easily be pushed around. We need a better world where the true democracy would prevail.

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