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What is really Populism?

What is really Populism?

April 27, 2024

The concept of "populism "(Or adjective" populist ") has entered the current political scene in a fast and almost forced way. This word, although it is used assiduously by politicians, media or even ordinary citizens, does not seem to have a consensus definition and, therefore, its use can lead to confusion.

The formulation and use of words with various meanings is a topic of interest for cultural and political psychology, and that is why we propose to investigate within the bowels of this ambiguous concept which has come to be used (not always correctly) both to designate a xenophobic movement and the "Front National" of Marine Le Pen or the party of PODEMOS led by Pablo Iglesias .

What is "Populism"?

"Populism", understood as a political practice, derives from the Latin word populus which, as is easily deductible, means village . Interestingly, "democracy", formed by the Greek root of dêmos it also means village. According to the sociologist Gérard Mauger [1], the concept of town which refers to "democracy" it is the civic body in the whole of a nation-state . On the contrary, the people who refer to "populism" can be interpreted in two different ways, both conceptions being based on different mental representations of reality. The first, the version corresponding to the conservative political prism, refers to ethnos rather than populus, where its main nuance resides in a logic of social Darwinism. Therefore, xenophobic and excluding logic, as if culture were something closed, well delimited and to some extent atemporal; In addition, it aims to criminalize a political class based in power.

Conversely, the second version , more likely to be used by the political sectors of the left, does not look at social Darwinism, but considers the people as a whole, without differences except those that intervene in the division of classes. That is, according to this conception the town is the living body in which the culture develops , a confluence of singularities that can not be covered by a single explanatory framework. Politically, it is the people dispossessed by over-empowered elites who try to mold the people according to their interests.

Populism and We Can (Pablo Iglesias)

To these last two conceptualizations proposed by the French sociologist, one could add one whose use is predominant lately in the speeches of certain political parties in the Kingdom of Spain. These characteristics could be added in the two proposals of the sociologist. The "populism", used predominantly to designate the political formation PODEMOS (argument used by the Popular Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers Party), has a connotation somewhat different from the definitions previously proposed and, therefore, certainly incorrect. The noun seems to denominate a political practice composed of fallacious arguments whose purpose is aimed at capturing an electorate in general (the people) and, ultimately, power . This definition is closer to demagogy, but the similarities with "populism" and the ease of mixing one with the other are obvious.

On the other hand, Ernesto Laclau, political scientist and Argentine philosopher, suggests a definition that brings together the division between the two visions mentioned above:

"Populism is not a pejorative term. But rather a neutral notion. Populism is a way to build politics. Play the base against the summit, the people against the elites, the masses mobilized against the official institutions set. "

Differences between Populism and Demagogy

Understanding "populism" as a political practice that leads the interpretation of problems towards those of above, that is, against political-economic elites, does not lead inexorably to define a political discourse as fallacious (extended practice in the anti-PODEMOS argument) ). In fact, if we take this definition, "populism" as a fallacious political practice, we could get to denominate as populists the great majority of political parties of the Spanish fan, only for the fact of being subject to the logic of electoralism in a representative democracy .

Conversely, "populism", as a political practice directed to the call of the people against their elites, contributes to the political interventionism of the citizen who they are (or should be), in the first instance, those directly responsible for a democracy. The cases of corruption, the politics of cultural confrontation, the cuts of the public sector ... no longer leave space to think of another representation of reality outside the corruption of the current political system and those who perpetuate it.


[1] Gérard Mauger is a French sociologist, director of research at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France and deputy director of the Center for European Sociology (CSE).

What Is Populism? (April 2024).

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