Marine Le Pen to “malignant Manichaeism” — how science can help us understand populism

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  • Recent election results in Europe have been interpreted as a reversal of populism.
  • Researchers are trying to better understand what populism is and how it spreads.
  • This raises the prospect of potentially limiting the damage it can cause.

After a pair populist candidates were defeated in last Sunday’s European elections, some reaction sounded like advice we were getting during the downward slope of a wave of COVID-19 – that’s good, but don’t be complacent.

Marine Le Pen, who promised French voters a “national preference“more foreigners for jobs and fewer benefits for immigrants, lost a presidential candidacy. In Slovenia, Janez Janša was denied another term as prime minister after being accused slide into authoritarian rule. Yet more than 14 million votes were collectively cast for both politicians.

Populism has been a litigation solution since at least the 19th century. Tiberius Gracchus, the Roman tribune assassinated by a group of senators in 133 BC, was labeled a proto-populist. But it seems that we are only now beginning to determine what exactly populism is.

A growing number of researchers are on the case, applying machine learning party manifestos and speeches, assess what motivates voters and formulate new definitions. A study published last year quantified the lasting economic and political damage caused by populist leaders in dozens of countries. It also suggested that populism is here to stay.

But the expanding field of “populology” points to an intriguing possibility: if we can break down scientifically, can we limit its the worst impacts?

The historical file shows that claiming to act in the name of the “people” does not necessarily mean that it is so. In fact, it has often led to despotism and Suffering.

Experts trace the origins of modern populism to the 19and-century America. Versions have also appeared in Russia and Argentina.

It has swung back and forth over the years; one form of political left has focused on the redistribution of wealth, and one on the right has focused heavily on xenophobia. In Europe, the right-wing variety has begun a resurgence in the 1980s led by people like Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, the former leader of the French National Front described by the New York Times as a “disturbing political phenomenon”.

The Rise, Fall and Rise of Populism

Andrew Jackson on the 19thandAmerican president of the last century, author of what has been described as ethnic cleansingand possibly the first populistreappeared in the White House in 2017. It was then that his portrait was suspended in the Oval Office by the winner of the previous year’s presidential election, Donald Trump – himself a populist.

The portrait now has faded away of the Oval Office, following the 2020 election. But other impacts of a period populist resurgence have been more durable.

The 2016 Brexit vote that took the UK out of the European Union, for example, widely seen as a populist breakthroughreshaping the country’s economy.

Recently published research found the vote led to a sharp decline in trade relations, which had a disproportionate impact negative impact on small businesses.

The 2020 US presidential election was followed by an election in the Czech Republic last year which was also seen as a repudiation of populist politics. Then came the elections in France and Slovenia.

However, the large number of people refrain of the French vote, a best result for Le Pen than she had succeeded in the previous presidential election, and subsequently protestswere seen as proof that France remains one of many countries vulnerable to the lure of far-right populism.

Francois Fukuyama possesses suggested a validation of “extreme free-market advocates” after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and a related lack of government focus on maintaining stability, allowed populism to thrive.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could now give it a hard blowby embarrassing populist leaders previously tilted to have fun with Vladimir Putin.

If the past is any reliable guide, however, a to come back is likely – making efforts to better understand how populism takes root is more urgent than ever. “Populology” can further improve both our knowledge of the workings of the political brain and “its implications for democracy”, according to an academic. wrote.

More reading on the dynamics of populism

For more context, here are links to further readings of the World Economic Forum’s strategic intelligence platform:

  • Macron’s victory is not the defeat of populism – according to this analysis, the French presidential election may have reassured many but it shows that more voters than ever want the system to explode. (Project union)
  • Populist French presidential candidate Éric Zemmour touts the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory that cosmopolitans aim to replace Christians with Muslim immigrants, according to this article, and despite his defeat he is popular with the upper middle class. (Montaigne Institute)
  • Clever Manichaeism – The most crucial characteristic of populist leaders and their propaganda is the notion that the political spectrum is divided between the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” according to this analysis of elections in Colombia and Brazil. (LSE)
  • Recent European election results may be encouraging to some, but according to this article, trust in democracy is actually on the decline in most parts of the world. (In-depth news)
  • Populists indulge in radical and emotional language while diplomats need to be more cautious, but this article asks if this limitation is still appropriate in a time of climate crisis. (Australian Institute of International Affairs)
  • They can still capitalize on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to this analysis, but for now the war appears to be discrediting Putin’s populist supporters in the West and uniting Europe. (Project union)
  • The populist radical right has more than doubled its share of seats in the European Parliament over the past decade, according to this analysis, reflecting growing public skepticism about European integration. (LSE)

This article previously appeared in the World Economic Forum.


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