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Rising Populist Wave And Democracy

  • KIPS CSS Admin
  • July, 2019
  • 235
  • Editorial

HAS DEMOCRACY DWINDLED TO A TRICKLE WITH A RISE IN POPULISM IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE WORLD OR IS IT TRUE TO SAY THAT POPULISM IS ESSENTIALLY DEMOCRATIC BUT AT LITTLE ODDS WITH DEMOCRACY?

To answer this question a brief insight into history is mandatory.

Populist politics have emerged in different historical periods: scholars separate between different waves of populism beginning with the farmers' movements in the United States in the late 19th century, through the Latin American populism in the mid 20th century and rejuvenation of populism in Europe, the United States and South America. In Europe, an exclusionary right-wing variant of populism came to the fore in the 1980s and with a rising wave it targeted mostly immigrants and national minorities. In Latin America, on the other hand, populism in recent years has been mostly associated with an inclusionary vision of society bringing together diverse ethnic identities into shared political frameworks. In the United States, populism has been associated with a variety of economic ideologies and political parties from the Populist Party of the late 19th century and the New Left of the 1960s, through Southern segregationism, to present day Republican orthodoxy of free-market economics.

In the post Civil War period in America, between 1860 and 1890, the population increased in massive proportions and they started moving toward West. For most of them farming was lucrative but it all cost money and modern technology of the time and they just did not have the spare funds so they turned to Eastern Banks for hefty loans. They were of the idea that with more crop yield it would be easier for them to repay debts but they couldn’t get a kick in stampede as they were hit by drought. Railroad was the best cargo transportation at the time but it was under the influence of monopolists who were loaded but were using even monopoly money for their own interests. With the United States Federal Government of little or no help to the farmers and peasants, the situation led to the formation of the first Populist Party in America in 1891. The populists called for the recognition of labor unions, regulation of the railroad industry which had its own monopolies, the direct election of senators, a progressive income tax, women’s suffrage, eight-hour work day and more. These were considered radical ideas of their time. The populists could not hold on majority because of the divisive factions within, so by 1896 they had to merge with the Democratic Party. The twists and turns of populism went deep with the turn of the century and in the middle decades.

Huey Long (Louisiana Governor and Senator) led a left wing populist movement that addressed Americans' real fears during the depth of Great Depression. He avoided 'race-baiting.' Huey Long particularly emphasized on devising ways on the transfer of money from the more affluent to the poor with his famous 'Share Our Wealth' Program as he was not at home with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 'New Deal' policies. As a populist leader he wanted to run for American Presidency in 1936 but he was assassinated. However, his populist ideas have prevailed to this day and left-wing politicians, in particular, in different parts of the world have used in their speeches and programs, Huey Long's vision, to alleviate the issues of the poor; to regulate and redistribute net asset tax to curb poverty and homelessness epidemic; to advocate federal spending on public works; schools and colleges and old age pensions.

Cas Mudde suggested populism as an ideology with a primary focus on European right-wing populist parties describing it a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be separated into 'the pure people' versus 'the corrupt elite.' According to this view, politics should be an expression of the 'general will' of the people. Since populism is thin-centered in his view, it does not provide answer to all the major socio-political questions. Therefore, it can be said that populism is compatible with socialism or liberalism, and can be found across ideological cleavages, fused with rather left or right-wing appeals. Consequently, socio-political context has become more important. The slogans, “axe the tax,” “pensions too low,” “leave the EU” are common these days because people are dissatisfied with politics or other social circumstances. This is becoming evident in Europe. More and more populist parties and movements are appearing. They promise the people “changes” and want to go back to the old and familiar populism.

As a political theory, populism is a strategy of rebalancing the distribution of political power among established and emerging social groups. Translating the majority will into political decisions is the key to populism and democracy is an ideo...

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