Into the Mainstream

Last Tuesday, I was able to hear an amazing professor, Reinhard Heinish speak about populism and how it is affecting Europe and the rest of the world as well. Heinish started his lecture by saying “we live in an age of populism.” This struck me, as I was not really sure what populism was, yet this professor was telling me that I live in the age of it? I was quite confused, and my curiosity had peaked, but luckily Professor Heinish continued on to explain how I live in the age of populism, and what exactly this “populism” is.

He began to explain this phenomenon by explaining that there are different types of populism depending on their location. For example, in Western Europe, the populism is seen as polarized, new populist, and majoritarian. Next, in Eastern Europe it is gradual/fluid, new/old/facist populist, and illiberal and autocratic. And finally, in Southern Europe the populist movement is polarized, new/leftist populist, and is a movement democracy. At this point I was starting to realize that populism was a type of political party, that was new, but also making progress, which I learned when Heinish told us that these parties were winning elections. I was still quite confused though.

He continued on to explain that there are several understandings of what populism is, but he stressed the definition that he believes to be most true which is: “an ideological construct consisting of ambivalent claims propagated by political actors to question the status quo in order to depose the elites and allow the ‘true forgotten people’ to take power.” I know had a definition of populism, but wondered how successful these parties really were. Yes, they are currently winning elections, but will they really be able to stay successful for hundreds of years? Heinish answered this question by stating that the parties are not sustainable and usually decline after 15 to 20 years. I found this whole lecture quite interesting, as I had not realized that political parties formed and then went away after short numbers of years, after seeing success.

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