Why politicians don’t like to be called populists | BBC Ideas


The A to Z of isms… populism. Populism sounds like democracy in action. It’s all about looking after the little guy,
hearing what ordinary people want and giving it to them -or at least promising to give it to them. Oddly though, ‘populist’ is almost always a pejorative term -no one really wants the label. Most populist leaders would rather
see themselves as inspiring grassroot movements. Populism has been around at
least since ancient Roman times, with emperor’s lavishing money on food and entertainment, bread and circuses to appeal to the masses. The English Civil War, the
French Revolution, the Brexit referendum, Donald Trump’s rise to power -all these
came from populist groundswells of opinion against elites and the status
quo. When a populist movement gets big enough and doesn’t get what it wants, it
gives the mainstream the finger by winning an election. So what could be
wrong with a charismatic leader focusing the will of the people and millions
voting for what they believe in? When populists choose to vote rather than revolt isn’t this just what democracy looks like when it’s working? Well, some people see it that way… But there’s more to democracy
than voting, at least more to liberal democracy. In functioning democracies
disagreement and dissent are part of the political process. Political debate
involves reason, evidence, challenge and argument. Free speech and a free press
are vital to this. Populists, in contrast, love stirring hearts with rhetoric, aren’t renowned for using evidence and argument, and are keen on
dividing the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. They’re prone to scapegoating
journalists, elites and foreigners and to conspiracy theories about why the world
isn’t as they want it to be. Political opponents are dismissed as not
understanding what ordinary people want. The real danger in populism though is
that it can morph into authoritarianism. When populist leaders believe they’re in
touch with the spirit of the people heaven help anyone who stands in
their way. The fervor of populist politics could be
truly terrifying, as the French Revolution demonstrated. The philosopherJean-Jacques Rousseau, whose ideas contributed to it, provides a chilling warning of where unfettered populism can end up. He declared that citizens who
disagreed with the general will of the people, should be forced to be free. That’s a very long way from sticking up for the little guy.

Maurice Vega

30 Responses

  1. Just read “Positive Populism” by Steve Hilton because these practically-idealistic ideas are better than what IS Left-of-US just because they are rooted-in-reality about people-and-progress.

  2. Your bias is showing. You painted brexit negatively as populist, when it is a nationalist movement. The video is propaganda.

  3. To the BBC News, anybody who doesn't agree with their left wing ideology is right wing. Anybody who believes in National borders is "far right".

  4. I don't agree that populists are dividing the world into us and them. Yes they oppose elites, but because they often don't serve the interests of ordinary people, they oppose the media because, in aims of being neutral, they don't fully voice positions off-centre, and it's mostly right-wing, not all populists, that oppose foreigners.

  5. Since globalization is not in favor of world powers, cuz hegemonic power won't be able to exploit weak states anymore, populism suddenly became popular

  6. Populism means nothing. It's a left wing smear. Left wingers use it to dismiss ideas they don't agree with.
    They don't worry about us against them when they talk about people who earn more money than them or have a private EDUCATION. Traditional Tory's.
    You can't help been born to a well off family no more than you can choose the colour of your skin.
    What's the difference between hating rich people and blaming them for your problems or blaming brown people for your problems?
    Real problem seems to be making excuses and finding a scape goat.
    Too many people are failing and looking for excuses.

  7. So what you are saying is that all the establishment parties are 'populists'?

    The problem with that definition is that the terms are so broad and hazily defined that they can apply to almost any political movement. It allows people to preemptively slur opponents as populists just because they believe that the people in power are not doing the job they are elected to do. At least in today's usage, it's an insult used to shut down criticism rather than adding anything useful to a discussion.

  8. BBC: 'Populists are prone to scapegoating journalists'

    Also the BBC: 'Let's have Jimmy Savile host a TV programme aimed for young children for years despite multiple allegations of child abuse, also we'll just ignore all this Rotherham scandal malarkey."

  9. The wall is waste of money . Why don't we just land mine the entire border send military and volunteer instead of a wall which we don't even know if it work or not . Btw wtf am i talking about . Lol this is out of topic .

  10. Populism is to a certain extent democracy. The problem is that most politicians running on a populist platform have absolutely no intention of actually delivering on the populist promises. They only use it as a ploy to get elected, and afterwards they can then enact authoritarianism because it makes life simpler for them and since they don't give a shit about people in general.

  11. You saying its a vicarious expression that eliminates or limits certain actions of individuals through watching the experience of others? Thanks for telling me. The trouble I've been having, I tell you.

  12. It’s easy to criticize populism from the comfort of London. But go LIVE in post industrial Britain, or the US. Not just have a 1 hour documentary. You too will will be a populist.

  13. Populism is not a formal political system. It's a word used to describe the mess the we're in. Bottom line is all societies are authoritarian, but authority is dispensed along a spectrum from gentle and kind authority with better freedom …all the way to harsh and brutal authority. It's all connected to affluence, the more money a country has the more gentle it can afford to treat its people since people are wealthy and happy and nothing to complain about. But the poorer a country is, the stronger the push for stricter authority is necessary because of riots and protests since people are poor and want change.

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