There is a long tradition of the rise of nationalist movements in the world that goes back to the 1980s. They have been turned into political parties since the inception of many nationalist revolutions, which have attained high levels of popularity, especially in Western democracies. As seen in the 1990s, the popularity experienced by the first nationalist movements has produced the evolution of those movements to be very popular in many Western European countries. Mudde (2014) claims that in every conversation between ruling forces and those in the opposition, the current world exhibits characteristics. Several schools of thought have been forwarded trying to explain the rising populist movements in the world and their impact on the existing democracy. As such, the main epicenter of discussions involving populism in the world is the aspect of its impact. A wide section of scholars argues that populism is a threat to established liberal democratic systems in the world. According to Mudde (2014), she stated that _x0093_maybe the arguments of populist are true and that could explain why they are so successful_x0094_ (553). Taking an example of western and Central Europe countries, it is clear that established democracies are under threat by emerging populism phenomenon (Krastev, 2008). However, Margaret Canovan avers that _x0093_Trust the people! Populism and the two faces of democracy” is a clearly articulated argument that discusses the main threats of populism to democracy. Therefore, the question for discussion in this paper will be; can populism be perceived as a real threat to an established democratic system? In this paper, I agree that populism is a threat to established democratic systems.
Decker (2013), believes that were there is democracy populism is common because of the existence of “the people.” Understanding the definition of populism is an important aspect of understanding its threat to established democracies. There are three main approaches that form the basis of defining populism. These approaches are populism as some right-wing parties, as a respectable way of using political parties to their advantage and as an ideology (Akkerman, 2013). On the other hand, populism can be understood to be a populist movement that manifests itself from protests of social organizations and groups, but it follows elections or referenda as its basis of political activities (Meny & Surel, 2012). Mudde (2014) defines populism as “as an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, _x0091_the pure people’ versus _x0091_the corrupt elite,’ and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonte general of the people” (544). Thus, this paper will consistently follow the definition of populism as offered by Mudde as a simply creation of homogenous antagonistic groups one comprising of the people and the other led by the corrupt elite.
The major argument in this paper is that populism is a real threat to established democracies in the world. As such, this can only be understood by creating an understanding that the threat posed by populism is created through two conflicting styles. According to Margaret Canovan, she named this as pragmatic and redemptive approaches of politics (Canovan, 1999). Similarly, Meny & Surel (2012) demonstrate these two contrasting styles as the power of the people and authority of the elite selected by the people. The perception created by Canovan shows that populism emerges as a result of an out of balance pressure created by liberal constitutionalism and democratic majoritarianism. This forms two main sides that populism movements are created, but it is argued that the law should remain supreme authority and this way the will of the majority establishes the source of legitimization. Canovan (1999) states that _x0093_tension […] provides the stimulus to the populist mobilization that fallows democracy like a shadow_x0094_ (9). This indicates that populism evolution can take place even at the heart of democracy itself.
There are two main features of populism that are synonymous with establishing a threat to democracy. For example, populism parties are clearly different from mainstream political parties. Firstly, political parties have a different perception and understanding of “the people” and leadership. Canovan (1999) creates three appeals from the understanding of the term “the people.” Firstly, it means a country observing a divided into two factions of political parties. Canovan believes that _x0093_people_x0094_ do not only limit to citizens of that country, but any person who shares the same _x0093_blood_x0094_ (Canovan, 1999). However, in theory, it is obvious that it is easy to identify a population or any formation that a populist movement is advancing.
An established democratic system does not have a recognized barrier that can manage the influence of populism. In this regard, democracy is more prone to vulnerability to any populist propaganda and criticism (McDonnell, 2008). In a populist phenomenon, it is evident that populists are concerned with more leadership obtained from little participation as it was its initial understanding of more participation with diminishing leadership. It is common to find many people around the world are not interested in politics, and there is need for a charismatic leader who will promote champion their voice and will. Conversely, the main focus of populists does not in any way support democracy, but has restricted reservations on the impact of political machinations (Mudde, 2014). Thus, one side of populism does not oppose democracy completely, but it requires a democratic system (elections and voting) to achieve its primary goals. In reality, it is the idea of institutions concerned with liberal democracy that forms the basis of a populist criticism.
Populism, as a phenomenon rejects, does not agree with limitations developed on the expression of a popular will. For example, protection of minority rights and independence of constitutional bodies in a country (Mudde, 2014). This is a serious threat to democracy because populist will create their own ideal political system. Therefore, an increased manifestation of illiberal democracy is the whole mark of populism that poses a great threat to established democracy. On the other hand, populism is exclusive in nature making populist intolerant, racist and xenophobic in and on many occasions, excludes individuals who do not meet their definition of “the people.” For instance, the Lega Nord is a populism movement that has a strong hard-line position regarding Muslim foreigners and multiculturalism. In many democracies, the impact of populist movements is observed hostility created to intellectual economic and political leaders. Here, delegitimization of political opponents creates a notion that they are not adversaries, but rather are evil enemies to the country. In this regard, a populist movement destroys a symbolic framework unto which a political stage that initiates a democratic struggle is understood (Abts & Rummens, 2007). As such, such a democracy will experience a permanent situation of conflict that will not promote any further development of a prosperous democracy.
Populism parties increase the chance of racism and xenophobia, especially where intense radicalism is practiced. This is because its radical nature influences and motivates people’s thoughts and advances political actors. Majorly, populist movements will establish the evolution of racist violence and any attack on immigrants. Contrary, violent behavior is often common in populist movements it is not obvious that parties are involved in violent activities. In some cases, the expulsion of perpetrators is a clear indication that political parties are not involved in violence (Eatwell & Mudde, 2009). According to Posquino, populism can result in violence aspects when it is affected by excessive expectations that are unable to be delivered.
According to the Pericles assumption of democracy, it is not wise to jump into an action before its implications are completely debated. This was a populist culture can be a threat to democracy because its plebiscitary perception of democracy leads to a situation of being victims of truth. Populist opinion is very responsive because they are determined by mood, and this makes it irresponsible. As such, it favors decisions more than patient negotiations leading to a diminishing quality of a decision-making process (Decker, 2013). In this regard, populism as an anti-pluralistic ideology when it gets into power is a real threat to any established fundamental rules of a democratic system. This is consistent with a populist theory of voting that promotes the tyranny of the majority.
Populism is not only a threat to activities of political parties, but it is also a major source of concern for parliamentary legislations. In many democracies, the ruling elite respond to demands of populist movements in several ways that cause antagonism. The ideology propagated by populism forms the basis of response by ruling elites. For example, right-wing populism in Germany has been treated very hard compared to left-wing parties. Similarly, in France, the communist party of France was forced to be accepted as part of a coalition of socialists whilst its counterpart the French National was rejected by the right-wing and left-wing parties. The ideal strategy for dealing with a challenge of populism is to compete and possibly defeat populism through cooperation, hostility, and marginalization. In other cases, parties will exclude populist parties portraying them as enemies of the system and refuse any cooperation at any level (Mudde, 2007). Lack of cooperation is a limitation to advancing democracy in a particular country.
In conclusion, populist emergence is a demonstration of a crisis in a democratic system leading to a feeling by a section of people that their dissatisfaction cannot be heard. On the other hand, democracy is founded on the ideals of openness and a diverse society that is built on an integrated political stage. This is contrary to the ideals promoted in a populist society that focuses on closed, collective identity that discourages individuality (Abt & Rummens, 2007). In its initial stages, populism starts as a threat to the existence of democracy, but this advances to a more advanced problem to the realization of fundamental objectives of democracy. At the start of populist movements, they do not have much influence, but as they become part of the government and acquire power, they are able to implement plebiscitary democratic ideologies. The main threat posed by populism is its erosion of openness and cohesion of democracy through the effect of prejudice, bigotry, and self-righteousness. Therefore, according to Canovan “Trust the people! Populism and the two faces of Democracy” is a true statement because populism is a threat to the existence of democracy but also it requires elements of a democratic society like elections or a referendum to achieve its objectives.
Abts, K.& Rummens, S. (2007). Populism versus Democracy. Political Studies, 55(2), 405- 424.
Albertazzi, D. & McDonnel, D. (2008). Twenty-First Century Populism. The Spectre of Western European Democracy. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Canovan, M. (1999). Trust the People! Populism and the Two Faces of Democracy. Political Studies, 41(1), 2-16.
Decker, F. (2013). The Populist Challenge to Liberal Democracy. Berliner Republik. Retrieved from http://www.fes.de/ipg/ONLINE3_2003/ARTDECKER.PDF
Eatwell, R. & Mudde, C.(2009). Western Democracies and the New Extreme Right Challenge. New York: Routledge.
Krastev, I. (2008). The Populist movement. The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs, 11(4), 43-45.
Meny, Y. & Surel, Y. (2012). Democracies and Populist Challenge. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Mudde, C. (2007). Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mudde, C. (2014). The Populist Zeitgeist. Governance and Opposition, 1(1); 541- 563.