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What's in the blog

  • About Populism

  • Comprehensive exploration of populism's intricate dynamics and its global impact on politics.
  • Dissection of historical roots, defining characteristics, and far-reaching consequences.

  • Historical Evolution

  • Tracing populism's journey from the U.S. People's Party to the Russian Narodnik movement.
  • Understanding how populism has shaped political narratives throughout history.

  • Left-Wing vs. Right-Wing Populism

  • Analysis of distinct features, ideologies, and global influences.
  • Highlighting the contrasting nature of left-wing and right-wing populism.

  • Rise of Right-Wing Populism

  • Examination of economic factors, migrant crisis impact, and cultural backlash.
  • Analysis of tools employed, including charismatic leadership, scapegoating, and media manipulation.
  • Consequences

  • Addressing resulting consequences such as xenophobia and erosion of democratic values.

What is populism?

  • Populism, as commonly understood, involves political groups and individuals making appeals to the "people" while contrasting this group against "the elite."
  • Manuel Anselmi's Perspective: "Defined as creating a homogenous community that perceives itself as the absolute holder of popular sovereignty.
  • In socio-economic terms, populism is associated with irresponsible economic policies, including large-scale public spending through foreign loans, often leading to hyperinflation.

  • Political Discourse
    • In political discourse, populism is negatively characterised by promoting simplistic solutions to complex problems, appealing to the emotional sentiments of the population.
    • Examples include a governing party lowering taxes before an election or making promises that the state cannot afford.

Origins of Populism

  • Late 19th Century: The term populism emerged alongside the promotion of democracy in the late 19th century.
  • Association with People's Party: In the U.S., populism was closely linked to the People's Party, and in the Russian Empire, it was associated with the agrarian socialist Narodnik movement.
  • 20th Century: The term gained popularity among social scientists in Western countries in the 1960s and later applied to political parties in liberal democracies.
  • 21st Century: Populism became a common term in political discourse, describing left-wing, right-wing, and centrist groups challenging established parties.

Characteristics of Populism

  • Use of "the People": Populism represents the "people" as a homogeneous, virtuous group, fostering a sense of shared identity among diverse backgrounds.
  • Concept of "the Elite": Anti-elitism is integral to populism, condemning political, economic, cultural, academic, and media elites as a corrupt and homogeneous group.
  • General Will: Populists emphasise the concept of the general will, suggesting citizens are mobilised primarily for elections rather than direct participation in legislation.

Populism and Democracy

  • Moderate vs. Extreme Populism: While moderate populism may coexist with democracy, extreme and right-wing populism can be incompatible with liberal democratic values.
  • Rejection of Pluralism: Populists often reject pluralism, perceiving the people as a homogeneous mass and accepting only specific political positions. Dissenting opinions may be viewed as treason.
  • Fueling Distrust: By creating a dichotomy between "us" and "them," populists undermine trust in democratic institutions, fostering skepticism about the reliability of elections and the actions of the government.

Forms of Populism

Left-Wing Populism


  • Left-wing populism is a distinctive political ideology that merges elements of left-wing politics with populist rhetoric, creating a dynamic and often transformative force in contemporary politics. 
  • It diverges from traditional left-wing parties by placing a strong emphasis on anti-elitism, opposition to established power structures, and a fervent commitment to representing the interests of the "common people."

Key Themes and Characteristics

  • Anti-Elitism and Opposition to Establishment
    • Left-wing populism articulates a vehement critique of political and economic elites, positioning itself as the voice of the disenfranchised masses.
    • It opposes established power structures, challenging the status quo and advocating for a more equitable distribution of resources and opportunities.
  • Pro-"Common People" Rhetoric
    • The core of left-wing populism lies in speaking for the "common people," emphasising their struggles, aspirations, and grievances.
    • This rhetoric often involves portraying the political landscape as a battle between the elite and the ordinary citizens, with the populists aligning themselves with the latter.
  • Anti-Capitalism and Social Justice
    • Left-wing populism stands out with its critique of capitalism, calling for economic reforms that prioritise social justice and reduce economic disparities.
    • Issues of wealth inequality, workers' rights, and social welfare take center stage, distinguishing it from more centrist or moderate left-wing parties.
  • Pacifism and Anti-Globalization
    • A notable feature is its emphasis on pacifism, with left-wing populists often opposing military interventions and advocating for peaceful resolutions to conflicts.
    • Globalization is scrutinized, especially in the context of economic policies that may disadvantage local workers, leading to calls for more protectionist measures.
  • Inclusive Nationalism and Minority Rights
    • While anti-globalization sentiments are prevalent, some left-wing populists exhibit inclusive nationalism, emphasizing national sovereignty and cultural identity without excluding minorities.
    • Terms like "inclusionary populism" are used when left-wing populist parties actively support minority rights, distinguishing themselves from exclusionary nationalist movements.

Debates and Perspectives

  • Reinventing Social Democracy
    • Some scholars argue that left-wing populism represents an attempt to reinvigorate social democracy for the 21st century.
    • It challenges the perception that new movements must be "anti-system" and asserts that their success is rooted in their left-wing orientation.
  • Response to Working Class Weakness
    • Left-wing populism is seen as a strategic response to the weakening and disorganization of the working class, providing a new idiom for radical politics globally.
    • It aims to address the perceived failures of traditional left-wing parties in representing and mobilizing the working class effectively.

Global Dynamics

  • European Context
    • Left-wing populism in Europe challenges stereotypes associated with populism, presenting a commitment to a politically integrated and solidary Europe.
    • Movements like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain have gained attention for their populist discourse and socio-economic agendas.
  • South American "Pink Tide"
    • In South America, left-wing populism has a rich history, contributing to more inclusive political systems and creating democratic environments during the so-called "pink tide."
    • Leaders like Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez are notable examples, where left-wing populism has played a crucial role in the political landscape.

Right-Wing Populism

In the mid-2010s, a seismic shift reshaped the political landscape worldwide, witnessing a surge in democratically elected representatives subscribing to right-wing ideologies. This shift marked a departure from the globalization and international cooperation ethos championed in the preceding two decades.

Diverse Manifestations

  • Not a Monolithic Trend
      • Right-wing populism manifests diversely across countries, defying a monolithic characterization.
      • Attempts to pigeonhole these movements oversimplify their complex political nature.
  • Common Traits
    • Despite diversity, shared elements include xenophobia, nationalism, authoritarian tendencies, assertive leadership, and an anti-elitist narrative.
    • These traits bind the movements, creating a discernible pattern within the global right-wing populist wave.

Europe's Xenophobic Surge

  • Growing Xenophobia
      • Across Europe, a notable upswing in xenophobia has unfolded.
      • Heightened reactions against asylum seekers and immigrants have fueled far-right movements.
  • Brexit and Anti-Cooperation Sentiments
    • The rejection of European cooperation is exemplified by the 2016 Brexit vote in the UK.
    • Far-right movements gain traction, challenging the principles of European unity.

United States and Trump Era 

  • Anti-Immigrant Agenda
    • President Donald Trump, propelled by right-wing populist strategist Steve Bannon, champions an anti-immigrant agenda.
    • Incendiary comments and policies contribute to a surge in hate crimes during his tenure.

Brazil's Bolsonaro Era

  • Authoritarian Resurgence
    • Brazil's election of President Jair Bolsonaro underscores the global resurgence of far-right populism.
    • Authoritarian promises to restore law and order resonate, solidifying its influence on the global stage.

Causes Underlying the Rise of Right-Wing Populism

  • Economic Reasons
    • Historical Precedent: Throughout history, economic recessions have consistently correlated with increased support for extremist parties.
    • Recession of 2008: The global financial crisis of 2008 was a catalyst for the rise of far-right parties, exacerbated by rising unemployment and uneven benefits from globalisation.
    • Globalisation and Technological Progress: Economic insecurities arising from globalization and technological advancements intensified resentment among sections of the population, contributing to widespread discontent.
  • The Migrant Crisis
    • National Populism Dominance: The refugee crisis elevated national populism as a dominant ideology, particularly in former communist countries.
    • Anti-Migration Rhetoric: Right-wing political parties capitalized on anti-migration sentiments, especially targeting Muslim migrants, gaining momentum after the refugee crisis of 2015.
    • Fear of Cultural Impact: Large sections of the native population expressed concerns about the perceived negative impact of immigration on their livelihoods and culture, fueling the call for closed borders.
  • Cultural Backlash
    • Demographic Changes Fear: Unreasonable fear of demographic changes and the perceived loss of national identity due to immigration contributed to the rise of populist parties.
    • Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Identity Concerns: Native populations feared the loss of cultural, religious, linguistic, and culinary identity, intensifying calls for immigration control.
  • Distrust, Destruction, Deprivation, and Dealignment
    • Distrust: Voters' feelings of being unheard and undervalued in political debates led to a sense of distrust in political systems.
    • Destruction: Fears of losing cultural identity due to immigration and globalization fueled concerns, evident in both multicultural and homogenous societies.
    • Deprivation: Loss of faith in the future, coupled with concerns about growing inequality, contributed to a perception that the past was superior to the present and the future holds more deprivation.
    • Dealignment: Shifting voter cleavages and increased political system volatility marked by dealignment, where traditional political affiliations are less defined.

Tools Utilised by Right-Wing Populist Parties

  • The Charismatic Leader
    • Charismatic Appeal: Right-wing populist parties rely heavily on charismatic leaders who position themselves as the voice of the people, capable of mobilizing the masses.
    • Strongman Image: The leader is often dubbed "the strongman," projecting an image of decisiveness and action, particularly in times of perceived crisis.
    • Anti-Intellectualism: Populist leaders distance themselves from intellectual elites, emphasizing common-sense solutions and portraying themselves as champions of ordinary citizens.
  • Scapegoating and Fear-Mongering
    • Fear-Mongering: Deliberate creation of fear, commonly used by populist parties to exaggerate certain issues, especially related to immigration and globalization.
    • Scapegoating: Blaming specific individuals or groups, acting as scapegoats for the country's problems, a tactic often employed during and after economic crises.
    • Historical Examples: Notable instances include blaming the Jewish population for Germany's troubles in the 1930s.
  • The Media
    • Crucial Tool: Media plays a vital role as it serves as a primary source through which citizens form opinions about politicians and political parties.
    • Image Building: Media coverage significantly influences a politician's public image, and populists, being relatively unknown, rely heavily on media to establish legitimacy.
    • Provocative Speech: Populists naturally garner media attention due to provocative speeches and viewpoints that attract eye-catching headlines.
  • Social Media and the Internet
    • Penetration into New Media: Right-wing populist parties leverage new media, such as blogs and social platforms, to reach wider audiences.
    • Direct Interaction: Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter provide direct links between politicians and supporters, fostering interactive communication.
    • Personal Touch: Citizens can express ideas personally, and populist leaders use social media for targeted messages, taking advantage of the personal touch.
    • Influence through Trust: Research suggests people are more influenced by messages from trusted individuals than from news organizations, a dynamic exploited by populist parties.
    • Data Utilization: Right-wing populist parties utilize personal data from social media users, employing profiling and targeted messages for political advertising, exemplified by cases like Cambridge Analytica.

Impact of Right-Wing Populism

  • Xenophobia
    • It is dislike or prejudice against people from other countries.
    • Resurgence: The rise of right-wing populism has witnessed a resurgence of racism and xenophobia.
    • Work Visas: Xenophobic tendencies manifest in denying work visas under the guise of protecting employment opportunities for citizens.
    • Islamophobia: Instances of linking terrorist activities to Islam, fostering hate speech, and escalating violence against Muslim minorities.
  • Rise of Authoritarianism and Decline of Democratic Values
    • Undermining Democratic Values: Aggressive right-wing leaders contribute to the erosion of democratic values like liberty and equality.
    • Institutional Undermining: Democratic institutions face undermining, and the independence of the judiciary is compromised in some nations.
    • Human Rights Violations: Human rights violations occur with impunity in countries where right-wing populism prevails.
    • Rollback of Democratic Norms: Right-wing populists may seek to roll back democratic norms and institutions to entrench their authority and suppress political opposition.
  • Economic Protectionism
    • Blaming Globalization: Right-wing leaders attribute unemployment and trade deficits to economic globalization.
    • Imposition of Trade Barriers: Economic protectionism is evident through the imposition of tariff and non-tariff barriers on imports, illustrated by Trump's higher tariffs on steel.
  • Isolationism
    • Foreign Policy Approach: Right-wing populists adopt an isolationist foreign policy, advocating that a nation's interests are best served by keeping a distance from other countries.
    • Impact on Global Dynamics: Isolationist policies contribute to the rise of authoritarian governments and may lead to the dominance of certain powers in specific regions (e.g., China's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific due to Trump's isolationist tendencies).
  • Opposition to Collective Responses to Global Threats
    • Disdain for Global Cooperation: States influenced by right-wing populism often oppose collective global responses to issues like climate change and migration.
    • Far-Right Regimes: Far-right, illiberal regimes reject global cooperation, favoring a country-first approach, as demonstrated by Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Threat to Global Security
    • Democratic Backsliding: The decline of democracy poses a threat to global security, as nondemocracies are more prone to violence and war.
    • Crisis Instigation: Non-democratic regimes are more likely to stoke crises and confrontation, amplifying global instability.
    • Examples: Trump's withdrawal from international agreements indicates a reluctance to participate in collective efforts, impacting global security dynamics.

Comparison between Left Wing and Right Wing 


Left Wing 

Right Wing

Political Ideologies

Liberals, socialists, democrats, and communists, aiming to overhaul the current system.

Conservatives, nationalists, and republicans, believing in the current system.

Political Outlook

More liberal in method and outlook.

More conservative than left-wing politics.


Originated from anti-monarchy revolutionaries during the French Revolution.

Originated from supporters of the monarchy during the French Revolution.

Economic Policies

Advocate reduced income inequality, higher taxes for the wealthy, and increased government spending on social programs.

Focus on minimal taxes and reduced government supervision of enterprises.

Political Characterization

Emphasizes equality, fraternity, development, and reform.

Characterized by notions of authority, hierarchy, tradition, and nationalism.

Government's Role

Believes a larger government role benefits society.

Prioritizes individual rights and civil liberties, advocating for limited government.


Based on social equality, popular sovereignty, and national self-determination.

Influenced by Romantic nationalism, linking state legitimacy to culture, language, race, and customs.

Religious Institutions

Traditionally hostile, supporting the separation of state and religion for a secular state.

Finds followers among those supporting a larger role for religion in society.


The intricate spectrum of populism, whether in its left-wing or right-wing manifestations, weaves a compelling narrative of political upheaval and societal transformation. Emerging from historical roots, populism disrupts established norms, with left-wing variants championing social justice and right-wing counterparts expressing diverse traits like xenophobia and nationalism. The rise of right-wing populism, fueled by economic discontent, the migrant crisis, and cultural anxieties, deploys charismatic leadership and media strategies. The consequences encompass xenophobia, erosion of democratic values, economic protectionism, isolationism, and threats to global security. A nuanced comprehension of the distinctions between left and right-wing ideologies is imperative to navigate the challenges posed by populism, safeguard democratic principles, and foster global stability.


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