As the DIALOGUE ON EUROPE project aims to “rebuild trust” in European institutions and the European Union itself, two question arise amongst others: Which factors lead to a loss of trust in European institutions? What are the consequences of this loss for the European political culture and which possible democratic solutions can be identified? Within this context, it is inevitable to discuss and define the frequently used, yet often not further specified term of populism.
Dr. Takis S. Pappas, Visiting Professor at the Central European University, Greek expert on populism and #DialogueOnEurope contributor, takes on the challenge within his publication, an analysis of modern populism. It offers a presentation of the history of the concept of populism as well as an analysis of the methods used to study this object. It also gives a minimal definition of modern-day populism.
This article takes a different approach. It is explicitly concerned with modern populism, that is, the occurrences of this phenomenon in post–World War Two democracies around the world, which is qualitatively different from populisms in either predemocratic or nondemocratic political settings.
In general, the author’s intent is to provide a concise overview of how the study of populism has grown—rather extravagantly—during recent decades; to identify the major methodological pitfalls that have troubled comparative empirical research; and, finally, to propose a most minimal definition for the further study of populism in the context of contemporary democratic politics. Yet, the empirical evidence produced by continuous research on populist phenomena around the world has become massive. The next, and certainly more courageous, task is to bring together conceptual finesse and the mass of empirical findings into a coherent framework of analysis so as to produce nothing less than a general theory of modern-day populism.
Most, if not all, of the foregoing methodological errors are cured if we define, and study, modern populism simply as “democratic illiberalism,” which also opens the door to understanding the malfunctioning and pathologies of our modern-day liberal representative democracies.