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The Myth of Global Populism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 November 2020


The “rise of global populism” has become a primary metanarrative for the previous decade in advanced industrial democracies, but I argue that it is a deeply misleading one. Nativism—not populism—is the defining feature of both radical right parties in Western Europe and of radical right politicians like Donald Trump in the United States. The tide of “left-wing populism” in Europe receded quickly, as did its promise of returning power to the people through online voting and policy deliberation. The erosion of democracy in states like Hungary has not been the result of populism, but rather of the deliberate practice of competitive authoritarianism. Calling these disparate phenomena “populist” obscures their core features and mistakenly attaches normatively redeeming qualities to nativists and authoritarians.

© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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He would like to thank participants in the University of Zürich’s summer school on populism (2018) and fellow panelists and audience members at APSA roundtables on populism in 2016, 2018, and 2019. Their intellectual tolerance for a populist skeptic, along with their insightful critiques of the arguments, helped improve this essay immeasurably. He is especially grateful to the editor of Perspectives on Politics for his sage comments and patience.


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