A Popular Lecture on Populism

With the rise of Populist political parties in a large number of countries around the world, a lot of people, myself included, have a lot of questions about Populism. What exactly is it? What triggers it? What do Populist parties actually promise or represent? In response to these questions, the University invited Dr. Reinhard Heinisch, a leading scholar on European Populism, to speak on the subject in his lecture “Into the Mainstream: Explaining the Rise of Radical Populist Parties in Europe.”

As I waited to hear what Dr. Heinisch had to say, the room quickly filled up. Every tabled was full, and every chair was occupied. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who wanted to hear what the expert had to say. The first thing he told us, though, is that the issue is way more complicated than we thought. First of all, it is almost impossible to completely define Populism politically or ideologically. Populist parties in Europe are present in the left and in the right of the political spectrum. Some are more authoritarian and autocratic with strong leaders while others actually value strong democracy. What really defines Populism, therefore, is that political ambiguity. Populism represents the angers of people who are upset with the establishment. Populist parties offer an alternative and a promise for change. However, their ambiguity makes it so that they cannot really do much to act on those promises. They make promises, not plans. I had no idea that Populism had such a variety. However, in an age of increasing anger at governments, we need to realize the we don’t need promises. We need actual plans and ideas.

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