Interview #44 — Mapping Populism in Europe

In this interview with Maurits Meijers, we discuss the result of an expert survey that covers 250 political parties across 28 European countries. They do not simply ask if a party is populist, but how populist it is. Moreover, other dimensions of these parties are considered: their ideological position, their use of emotional tones, and much more. The data are available for downloading at Harvard Dataverse and you can play with the interactive tool to have a better grasp of the characteristics that come with populism.

Enjoy the read.

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Interview #43 — Populists without borders

In this interview we talk about Benjamin Moffitt’s new book, which has the rare quality of reducing chaos and summarize the existing literature with clarity, giving examples and putting the studies out there in perspective. We discuss many topics: from transational to international populism in Europe and Latin America, nationalism and coronavirus, illiberalism, and the future of democracy.

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Interview #39 — Democracy, Constitutions, and Populism

In this interview, Nadia Urbinati reflects on the democratic boundaries set by different types of constitutions, the evolution of Hungary from a populist democracy into an autocracy, the future of democracy in a post-pandemic scenario, the parallels and differences between this crisis and the last one. Moreover, we discuss how certain social aspects, such as education, health and climate change, should be addressed going beyond short-term, national interests. This could be the end for populism, but only if non-populist actors will manage to take advantage of the situation and restore the public sector.

How do populists undermine democracy, and in particular the separation powers, to establish an autocracy? A populist constitution, Urbinati claims, is a majority that constitutionalize itself, because the majority bends the constitution to justify an existing power instead of limiting any existing one. Democracy is now under a tremendous stress, and here we try to understand how populists actors can try to take advantage of the situation and to what extent different types of constitutions can prevent democratic erosion.  The words of Nadia Urbinati help us to understand the present and, crucially, to imagine our future.

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Interview #38 — Populism and Climate Change

Populism and climate change were supposed to be among the most crucial topics of 2020, if not of the entire decade that just started. Then the pandemic cancelled every other topic from the public debate, but climate change did not simply ‘stop’ when swans (allegedly) came back to Venice. Actually, it will be interesting to study the link between air pollution and the diffusion of viruses, because  it seems like air pollution is likely to increase coronavirus’ death rate.

After this emergency, the populist management of climate change will re-become central in the public debate not only because – separately – populism and climate change are both extremely relevant, but also because they are strictly connected to each other. Articles, studies, and reports are increasingly  focusing on the issue, making a connection between the two phenomena. For example, thirty percent of global emissions come from countries led by populist nationalist leaders, and “resistance to climate change policies has become a feature of the populist agenda.” This, however, does not mean that populist leaders have an interest in fighting climate change. In fact,  action on climate change is often seen as an elitist attempt to take away jobs and to impose new taxes. And even those right-wing populist parties that engage in some sort of ‘green patriotism’ – which strongly supports environmental conservation – do not support climate action.

Given the relevant role of populist parties in parliaments across the world, some even argue that a left-wing variant of ‘environmental populism‘ could be a solution. So far, however, this has not been the case, while right-wing populists have ‘successfully’ ignored the issue by pretending to defend the jobs linked to the coal industry. The right-wing populist ideology, based on the antagonism between ‘the people’ and a cosmopolitan elite, goes well with skeptic positions on climate change. Meanwhile, Jair Bolsonaro insists on deforestation, which could push the Amazon rainforest to an irreversible “tipping point” within two years (in his view also coronavirus, like global warming, is just a “media trick“). And in January, while Australia was literally on fire, coal helped Pauline Hanson secure a seat in the country’s Senate, where she staunchly defends Queensland’s coal industry.

Robert Huber is one of the best scholars on populism, and he recently published an excellent article about the association between populist attitudes, climate skepticism, and support for environmental protection. Let’s hear what he has to say.

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Interview #37 – The end of Portuguese exceptionalism?

Portugal has been a dictatorship for almost half a century, until the Carnation Revolution (1926-1974). In the forty-five following years (1974-2019), Portugal has become an “exception” since it seemed to be immune to far right parties, populism, and all the other phenomena that in the meantime were characterizing the rest of Europe. Last October, however, Portugal went to vote (well, not many people, the turnout was below 50%). Is Portugal still an “exceptional” country? Who are André Ventura and Joacine Katar-Moreira? We asked Alexandre Afonso to answer these and many other questions about the lesser known of Iberian democracies. In the next months, the focus will be often on Portugal and Spain, so stay tuned…

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Populism in the hybrid media system

In this article, Niko Hatakka presents the idea that the hybridization of the media system affects populism as a political logic to the point that it makes it less likely to constitute a corrective for democracy. This is the case because, even though populist movements do not have to be anti-pluralist or illiberal, the hybrid media system will make them appear like they are. As he claims in his book, media systems of the 21st century are hybrid: the access to the public sphere has become more inclusive and horizontal, allowing more people to get involved in defining how we should view the world. But what does it mean for the articulation of “the people” when anybody can speak or be perceived to speak in the name of “the people”? 

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Interview #35 — Notes from the third nationalist wave

In this interview, Sivamohan Valluvan explores the current wave of nationalism. Valluvan argues that Trump, Bolsonaro and Orban capitalized on the mainstreaming of nationalist ideas that started with moderate predecessors declaring the ‘death of multiculturalism’ such as Sarkozy, Merkel and Cameron. We then explore many topics and examine a variety of examples, including Brexit, authoritarian populism, Denmark, Thatcherism, and common misunderstandings about the links between working-class and nationalism.

His new book, “The Clamour of Nationalism” is an excellent read, and lately it has been mentioned in a very interesting article concerning the debate on how Europe intends  to “protect the European way of life”.

Enjoy the read.

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Interview #31 – The Contagious Effect of the Radical Right

In this interview, Tarik Abou-Chadi explains that when radical right parties are successful (and especially when they enter parliament), mainstream parties shift toward a more anti-immigrant position. This is hardly surprising. However, according to his studies, this is a totally counterproductive move, and established parties should not go in pursuit of anti-immigration discourses because that would make them lose votes. If there is an “original” nativist and anti-immigration party, why voting an imitation?

Moreover, he claims that the shift toward more anti-immigrant positions of established parties that we have witnessed in the past 20 years is not simply a representation of public opinion, but a strategic move towards the success of radical right parties. In fact, in most Western European countries attitudes toward immigration have become more positive.

In other words: would we have seen the same anti-immigrant shift by established parties had the radical right not been successful? 

Enjoy the read.

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Gender as a Rhetorical Tool for Strengthening Illiberal Democracy in Hungary

In this article, Bianka Vida explains how the Hungarian government uses gender as a rhetorical tool to strengthen its illiberal regime. The so-called “gender theory” is a threat to any right-wing populist government, including Fidesz in Hungary. Starting from the Hungarian example, Vida illustrates how gender is exploited by right-wing political parties to expand illiberal democracy. What is the role of the EU in this illiberal transformation, and what will be the future of Universities proposing courses on gender studies?

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Interview #29 – Populist Citizens & The Media

Anne Schulz investigates the relationship between populist citizens and the media. People with strong populist beliefs reject the media as an enemy because they seem to think that the media conspire together with the political elites. They mainly rely on soft news media and commercial TV. Moreover, populist citizens are strongly projecting their opinion onto public opinion. In other words, they believe that everybody else share their views. Finally: guess which social madia they prefer between Facebook and Twitter?

This, and much more, in a new interview. Enjoy.

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