This is an automatically generated transcript fro Descript.com, please excuse any mistakes.
Turi: Today we’re thrilled to be talking to Jan-Werner Müller, who is a political philosopher and historian of political ideas working at Princeton. He’s also the author of what is populism, which is what we’re going to be talking about today. Jan-Werner, thank you so much for joining us.
Jan: Thanks for having me.
Turi: Can I kick off with the most obvious question of all, which is why populism is such a very dangerous thing?
Jan: So there’s still a widespread view that populism, perhaps isn’t actually all the dangerous it’s very often said that populism is mainly about people being critical of elites or somehow being angry with the establishment. If it were just that I would say it’s not particularly dangerous. In fact, any old civics textbook would tell us that keeping an eye on the powerful is actually, you know, possibly a democratic virtue. However, populists in my view are never just critical of elites. Yes. When they’re in opposition, they will say that, you know, the parties in government are very problematic, maybe corrupt, you know, things like that.
But above all, they will also say that they, and only they represent what populists typically call the real people in quotation marks, or also very often the silent majority. Now that might not sound so bad in and of itself either. Um, it doesn’t, you know, signify that, you know, they’re necessarily racist or have a fanatical hatred of the European union or anything like that. And nevertheless, this kind of claiming of a monopoly of representing the real people always does have, in my view for democracy to a highly problematic, you might say dangerous consequences. Um, one very obvious one is that populist will essentially claim that all other contenders for power, fundamentally lack legitimacy.
So, this is never just about policy differences or even disagreements about values, which after all is completely normal, ideally, perhaps even productive in a democracy in a sense, populists will always immediately make it personal and make it moral. Uh, what do I mean by that? Well, on a less abstract plane, you might say that the kinds of things that Donald J. Trump said about his opponents, especially his opponent in the 2016 election is very typical of what populists tend to do. They will simply say, you know, my opponents are corrupt, uh, crooked to coin a phrase. Um, it’s never just about substantive differences or as I said, any value, any value disagreements so far so obvious, maybe, um, less obvious perhaps is the tendency then also to suggest that all those citizens, all those, if you like among the people themselves who do not share.
The populists vision of the supposedly real people, the kind of symbolic construction of who the people really are and who therefore also, usually don’t support the populace, politically that with all those citizens, you can essentially put into question. Whether they truly belong to the people at home. And again, Trump is a good example. I, in, in 2016 at, at one campaign rally, uh, he basically I’m quoting from memory said, uh, the only thing that matters is is the people and everybody else doesn’t really, it doesn’t really matter. The point is the populist, the sides. Who the real people are, who truly belongs and who doesn’t. And whether you happen to have an American passport, a British passport, et cetera, that’s not the decisive issue. The decisive issue is whether you belong to that. Supposedly real people. So long story short, I think what matters about populism is not anti-elitism. Any of us can criticize elites, it doesn’t mean we’re necessarily right, but this is not in and of itself dangerous and quite possibly it’s the opposite.
What is specific about populism and what is dangerous for democracy is anti pluralism. It’s the conjuring up of a homogeneous people where some people, some citizens are bound to be excluded and exclusion. My last sentence on this is basically the trademark. I would say of populist, obviously at the level of party politics, where they oppose all other contaminants for power less. Obviously at the level of the people themselves were very often, they incite hatred against minorities, uh, maligned, particular groups as having no real standing and where they essentially always prove. That even when they talk about unifying, the people. Their real political business model is dividing the people.
Turi: Wow. Um, can I take this extremely concise critique of populism and ask you to pull out some of the key strands in your book? What is populism? Um, you talk about a triptych of key features. Of populism and idea. You describe it as anti elite, which you flag just now anti pluralist, which you flag just now and then a sort of an extreme form of identity politics, which again, you’ve just talked about in this conception, almost mythical conception of the people. Can I ask you to go through those three key features as a way of grounding? What we understand as populism.
Jan: So let me focus on the third one in particular. I think I already kind of hinted, uh, what I mean by anti elitism and was trying to underline that it’s not enough to beanti elitist. Um, at the same time, maybe also worth flagging.
It’s also not true that populists in power somehow necessarily have to seize being anti-elitist. This is sometimes set, but it sort of becomes a contradiction in terms that, you know, once you have the leavers of power, you can’t criticize, you know, the powerful anymore or any elites because you yourself have become the elite. That’s not quite correct. Um, essentially no populist in government has ever run out of scapegoats or off, you know, conjuring up further shadowy international elites who are somehow preventing them from implementing the peoples the peoples proper proper will. So the anti elitism can run all the way through, um, the same is true of the anti pluralism. So. Because the tendency to suggest a homogeneous, real people with the added element that some are always going to be excluded from that vision. So the people who let’s say happen to have a particular passport are never the real people. It’s always a subset, and that’s always a kind of symbolic suggestion of who the real people or for that matter. The silent majority actually actually are now about the third one. Maybe it’s it’s important to on the line. But yes, populist will construct a particular homogeneous identity and they will derive political. And in a sense, also moral claims from that vision. But I have asked him to add in light of the fact that there’s so much criticism of so-called identity politics on the left today. I mean, you know, you know, all the stuff about, you know, supposedly canceled culture is taking over the world. Uh, this is a new kind of moralism. It’s very dangerous, et cetera, et cetera. Um, I have some to add that a lot of the phenomenon, which are nowadays also referred to as identity politics, such as black lives matter. And me too should not be put into the same category. In other words, I’m not suggesting that, Oh, any talk of identity, inherently dangerous for democracy, or we’re always sort of on the slippery slope towards populism. If you, if you talk about identity at all, there’s been a tendency, especially among. In the broadest sense, liberal observers to make a simple gesture where they say, Oh, it’s, it’s really bad that, you know, Trump did white identity politics, but the left is also really bad in terms of, you know, spreading cancel culture on the campus, et cetera.
And I think that’s a mistake. Yes. You can find, you can find examples of. There’s sort of a radical left wing politics in favor of minorities, maybe having a wrong strategy or suggesting that sort of slippage from strategic essential ism where you appeal to particular groups, but being fully aware that these are not really sort of, you know, given or constitutive identities, but ones that have a history or you slip from that to something that’s that becomes more problematic, but broadly speaking, it can be perfectly okay. To appeal to particular group identities when it comes to the oppressed who, you know, need to talk about their history of their own oppression who have already been singled out by your oppressors. So to then tell people on the left, broadly speaking that all, no, don’t do any of this because this is also identity and identity politics. I think is, uh, is, uh, is a mistake. Now, last thing I’ll say on this is that, of course it’s also true. And you, you may object along these lines that of course, part of the trick. That right-wing populist have often played is to suggest to some of their followers that they are also a kind of oppressed, well, not really minority, but more like an oppressed majority.
So you remember that Trump, for instance, sometimes explicitly said to, uh, his audience at a rally, you’re all victims, um, which was rather strange when you, when you compare that to previous. Previous presidential rhetoric in the, in the U S so in a sense, they’re also kind of trying to play a game of, well, we can sort of create solidarity because we are, you know, the oppressed and certain, in certain ways, we being oppressed by so-called liberal concept poles and elites, and so on, except that empirically that’s a highly problematic statement. And very often, uh, the groups that are being appeal to. Oh, of course, the fact to privileged majority’s. Not always. I mean, obviously we have to look carefully and, and, and be, be careful about, you know, the exact empirical contours of some of these, some of these groups that are being appealed to all I’m saying is, um, may be saying it’s wrong often is that, that the, the point about exclusionary identity politics being associated with populism should not lead one to say, Oh, and therefore. Everything that nowadays is labeled as identity politics is therefore pernicious and potentially dangerous for democracy, the different categories.
Turi: Um, now I’m gonna, can I repeat this back to you so that we anchor these three core ideas of yours around what populism is? The first is this critique of elites, essentially. And it can be, it can be. Well, the powerful, the shadowy, powerful foreigners, et cetera, but this sense of trying to blame shift to an external of some sort, that’s held the country, the people back. The second is this key feature of anti pluralism and antisemitism’s problem you described in the book. Is it in, in a sense it denies, um, in denying diversity, it amounts to denying lots of citizens of the state, um, the rights and freedoms that the majority has. And the third is this particular form of identity politics, which is not the identity politics, which is fashionably critique today, so much as an idea around the core identity of the people. And I want to ask you to come back to this slightly harder, the people in populists.
Discourse is singular. It is an authentic people. It is, as you described morally pure, um, you, you quote Ralph Dahrendorf is saying populism is simple. Democracy is complex. Can we, can I ask you to now dive into this idea of the people that is manufactured by populist discourse?
Jan: Yeah. So maybe it’s worth pointing out that, um, certainly the idea of the people, well, that is being put forward by populists is simple. Or you might even say simplistic on one level because it’s imagined as entirely homogeneous as entirely. Morally pure as a kind of source of, of, of wisdom. I mean, there aren’t, there, there have been other anti pluralists in the history of ideas. So, you know, think of somebody like Lenin, uh, who, you know, it, wasn’t exactly a very prolific kind of tolerant kind of guy. Um, but who would never have said the people as such. Our source of wisdom on the contrary, the working class left to itself, you know, wouldn’t even develop proper, you know, revolutionary consciousness would only ever go as far as sort of the trade union consciousness, you know, to do with better wages and better working conditions and so on.
So the anti pluralism in and of itself is not enough and neither is the anti elitism. It’s really the sort of particular constellation of, of components that, that, that matters. But I also have some to add on here. I would. I slightly disagree with, with Ralf Dahrendohf while I otherwise admired him in many ways? Um, I think it’s too easy to say as happens quite often, that we can automatically assume that whatever populists say or do is very simplistic. Uh, or even worse that we can always assume that they are lying on one level and that they are necessarily associated with what you’re nowadays is sometimes called, uh, fake news, but maybe should better be called disinformation.
Um, yes, these can vary these things can very often happen and there’s a reason for that, but it’s not automatic. And there’s something Dahrendorf says slightly peculiar about the fact that again, it’s sometimes liberals, uh, who, you know, will precisely insist that, Oh, the world is very complex, but who at the same time, you know, we’ll be very happy if we had, you know, a 280 character characterization of all populous at all times, plus even better, 140 character characterization of, you know, the kind of macro cause of the rise of populism everywhere. Right. Uh, around around the world. So in other words, we shouldn’t also make it too easy for ourselves. By assuming that whatever they say is bound to be simplistic or whatever they say is somehow a lie. What is a lie? I might, I might add is this idea of a completely homogeneous people. There’s no such thing.
And there’s also no such thing as claiming that you and only you are the authentic representative of that people it’s a profoundly and empty democratic kind of, kind of move to make you basically are denying. That there could ever be anything like legitimate opposition, that there could be any legitimate debate about, you know, who we want to be as a people about, as you said about, you know, the internal diversity of the demos and so on and so and so forth. But again, I would, I would underline that this does not mean. That therefore, anything that populous say about let’s say policy is therefore also necessarily completely based on lies or necessarily completely simplistic, such that in a more or less technocratic fashion, one could simply dismiss it.
Turi: No, you make the case very strongly in your book that many of the non populist responses to populism liberals, positive populism look remarkably like it, exclusion, um, demonization, et cetera, et cetera, which is obviously not the way to go. But now going back to this notion of the people that sort of, you, you describe it in the book as, um, You, you call it a corpus mystic. There’s something mystical about this creation of the people, the popular sir, involved with, and it, this, this talks, it seems to me precisely to the danger that you’s first started off with in a way I keep on hearing, um, through, through, through, through the examples in your book.
I don’t know if you have who says, l’état c’est moi the state is me, populists say le peuple c’est nous the people is us. We are the people, everything beyond that boundary that we identify doesn’t count anymore. And the, and to precisely to the point that you make, um, the reason that that’s so dangerous is that populism only functions within representative democracy. It needs representative democracy to, uh, to flourish because it needs that validation of speaking for the people. You talk about a shadow of democracy, populism as the shadow of democracy. What do you mean by that?
Jan: So I disagree with some of our colleagues who think that populism is inevitably associated with a desire for direct democracy or a completely different form of democracy than we know it today.
Um, I think that populists are actually quite okay with the notion of representative democracy. They just think that as long as they aren’t in power, we have the wrong representatives, namely corrupt ones, inauthentic ones, people who don’t truly represent, represent the people. Now, if you find this at all, a plausible idea, then that also means that as long as we have representative democracy, somebody can come along. And say, look, I, and only I, or my party and only my party represents the people. So therefore it’s a permanent possibility. And if you like a permanent shadow that we could not somehow magically get, get rid of. Now, that doesn’t mean that, you know, they will always be exactly the same sort of level or amount of populism. Obviously there are sort of, you know, complicated historical factors as to why you sometimes might see more of it. And sometimes you might see, might see less. But my, my attempt was to say, let’s, let’s understand that this is very strongly tied to representative democracy. That yes, it’s true. That very often, very often populace will say, let’s have a referendum about something, uh, that sort of let the people themselves speak.
I mean, we can all very easily think of, think of examples of this kind of, kind of rhetoric, but note that a referendum has a very particular meaning for populists. They don’t really see a referendum as a forum to start a kind of open-ended conversation about what citizens actually want. They don’t see this as a process where people might exchange views and where, you know, you never quite know what’s going to come out of it essentially for populist. The people’s authentic will is always already known. Because it’s deduced from their symbolic understanding of the people. So the people’s role is not really to participate continuously in politics. It’s rather to kind of tick the right box in the referendum that populists have suggested. And I would add that it’s not an accident, that if you look at countries where. Especially right-wing populists have come to power. They have not transformed systems in, in such a way that one could now say, Oh, now there’s much more involvement by the people. More continuous participation, uh, more real consultation. I mean, there are sort of fake consultation exercises in Viktor Orban in Hungary, for instance, with a highly manipulated, uh, processes, highly misleading questions and, and so on.
Um, but there’s no, no sort of attempt. To make good on the promise, which some observers attribute to populace, namely, to sort of truly open up our political processes to citizens on a more continuous basis.
Turi: I remember Gaddafi is claimed that Libya was the most democratic country on earth because he’d instituted a network of people’s councils at almost the village level across the country. Which of course, if you weren’t a member of the party you weren’t invited to. So, um, yes, there’s co-option of the corruption of the state that you describe this kind of corruption and clientelism that you also describe as core features of the practice of populism when they, the populists, when they come to power and the suppression of civil society, that those three key features that you describe in detail, the reason in a sense that they’re, so that populism is so pernicious is that they can claim.
In that destruction of democracy or the features of democracy that, that those things represent. They can, they can be destroyed in the name of the people. They can be destroyed because everything needs to feed back to this mythical, mystical, whatever it is, understanding of the people that they serve.
Jan: Yes. And I think this, this also explains why. Over the last couple of years, I think we’ve seen the emergence of something that you might call a sort of populist art of governance, which includes the elements that you, that you just described. Um, these practices are not exclusive to populace, so other parties, you know, also engage in clientelism corruption and so on. Um, what is in deep peculiar to populace is that they can do a lot of what they do with what, from their point of view is a kind of moral argument. So when they replaced, what at least in theory should be neutral, civil servants. With basically cronyism and Pontiacs in part as an actress, um, they will essentially suggest, look, you know, who’s the state for while the state is there for the people and we, and only we represent the people.
So if the party takes over the state, That’s the same as the people appropriating the state. I mean, it’s not really, but that’s the claim. Or if you take this element of mass, clientelism again, plenty of other parties do this. Uh, in other words, they reward supporters. They do them bureaucratic favors. They, you know, give them, you know, financial advantages and, and so on. Um, but populace do it in a particular way. And maybe from their point of view with a kind of clean conscience, because remember that from the get-go not all people are the people. So if you essentially leave out whoever doesn’t really support you in terms of, you know, let’s say welfare benefits, et cetera, um, there’s nothing wrong here. That’s actually how things should be because you know, the other ones are essentially non belonging and hence undeserving and the point about civil society. It’s essentially that in the populous imagination, it can’t really be true that the people themselves would ever protest against their only authentic representatives. So what we very often see. Is a strategy, which probably was pioneered by blood Mapuche in an hour days where immediately one is told that whatever you see out there by way of, you know, demonstrations, uh, civil society, activism, and so on and so forth, um, isn’t really. Civil society at all. It’s not really authentic people slash the real people.
Uh, it’s all manipulated. Uh, it’s fake people you might say. And then very predictably, the usual suspects are trotted out. So we’re told that, you know, the CIA might be financing it or John Shaw, you know, all the, all the usual suspects that are, that are deployed in those, in those contexts. But having said that there are no limits to, to, you know, conspiracy theorizing in this, in this, in this area. So if you think back, for instance, to the, to the Gacy park protest in 2013, eventually, you know, represented essentially, essentially a skeptic started to suggest. That you know, this was not proper Turkish citizens protesting the destruction of this park, uh, in, in central, in central, um, stumbled and attacks him.
Um, no, uh, this was all organized by Lufthansa, the German airline, which was getting scared of competition from Turkey because remember Adam Duwan was building this fantastic new airport outside Istanbul and Turkish airlines was now going to have more destinations than anybody else and, and Swan. So. All I’m saying is that, that, uh, the, the practices themselves, the, the elements, if you like of this populous out of governance are not exclusive to populous. You can find it elsewhere as well. What is peculiar is the way they fit together and the justifications. Which are sometimes quite openly invoked for them. And if you allow me to add one more sentence, um, one of the things that I think we’ve also seen more clearly in recent years is that if you look at some of the regimes where basically right-wing populist on power, so Modi in India, in Turkey or in Hungary, et cetera, um, you see really significant similarities. And occasionally observers then conclude, ah, this means that the rise of these figures can always be explained by the same factors or causes. But that doesn’t necessarily follow at all. Um, I think individual national differences still matter a great deal.
Turi: What are the, what would be the common strands that you’d tease out between the political circumstances and Modi? Jan: Well, just exactly, exactly the kind of strategies that I was just talking about, but in terms of the waters people due to the state, how they treat civil society, how they, uh, basically, uh, maligned. Well, my mother was the media and so on. Um, my, my point is that that the similarities might be partly explained by the fact that these actors can also learn from each other. So once somebody works out a law that is facially neutral, but the fact of serves to intimidate NGOs, which might be too critical, others can look at that and say, Oh great. You know, there’s a way that we could do this too. And you know, to give you a more concrete example, If you look at what, uh, Poland has been doing in recent years on the Kaczynski, I think it’s, it’s not conspiracy theorizing to assume that they basically learned one-to-one from all bonds hungry of how you basically mislead the EU, how you play for time, how you engage in a certain kind of rhetoric of, you know, we are being victimized.
Our sovereignty is taking away, it’s taken away and so on and so forth. So I’m just stressing these transnational learning effects. Um, Because I think in general, we might not have been paying enough attention to them. And secondly, and maybe more important it, I think it undermines the comfortable idea that only democracies can learn. And that anything that’s more authoritarian sort of has a come of cognitive disadvantage or, uh, is somehow not as, as capable of looking around and looking at models and so on and so forth. I think that’s not the case and we should not underestimate these figures accordingly.
Turi: That’s fascinating and, um, chilling. Um, but while we look at therefore the practice of politics across these populous regions, um, and done in a rational constructed, learnt way, um, I, I want to ask you a question that to many liberals seems obvious, but I think as we wake up the wrong onset, which is from the outside, just as you’ve described, these populous seem profoundly cynical.
I feel I can see what Erdogan’s up to and all he wants his power. I feel I can see the same thing in Cushing skew all by NoMo Modi, this deep anti-democratic drive in them. This drive to power. It seems cynical, but the way you describe it and I think is, it feels intuitively, right? There’s something else here. There is a real political desires. There is a real understanding of the people, the tools that they then use to, um, in trying that power irrationally learned, et cetera, et cetera, but the instinct. Is in a sense authentic,
Jan: I would say slightly disagree with that. So first of all, I don’t claim to know, you know, what the real motivations are and what goes on in their minds. And is it cynical or do they really believe what they say and so on and so forth? Um, on the one hand, it is true that at least in some cases you can certainly make the argument that they picked up on real issues. And that not everything they ever said when I was trying to make earlier, they’re not everything they ever said is necessarily a lie or a is simplistic and so on. So when, for instance, Erdogan, you know, said that, look, there are parts of the Turkish population, which don’t seem to be properly recognized by. To put it in a very simplistic, but I think not incorrect way as sort of old star Kemalists establishment, that wasn’t a completely crazy idea. Or if let’s say Chavez in Venezuela said, look, you know, this is a highly problematic system. Uh, we need to do something that points us in the more egalitarian direction. This was not, you know, obviously an illegitimate, uh, crazy thing to a crazy thing to, to argue. Um, Whether they had sort of the grand plan to become authoritarians all along. I don’t claim to, I don’t claim to know. Um, clearly there’s always an element of path dependency. There’s always a dynamism. There’s always a question of how then other actors react or don’t, don’t react to them.
But one thing that maybe has also become clearer in recent, in recent years is that what all of these people also have in common. Is an ability to really polarized society, to essentially divide a society of two and four citizens to make a sort of choice of you’re either with us or you’re against us. And if the other side wins the non-popular side, this somehow should be understood as an existential. Harold danger to our way of life, maybe to people personally in certain ways. So that has been a very, very effective strategy in some, in some circumstances. And that’s also, I think an area where liberals have had a hard time to think of strategies of how to counter, uh, that particular art of, of dividing, of dividing a society.
And. This is even more disturbing for many of us and find a response to the fact that if some of our colleagues who study these things empirically are right, then it’s the case that at least some citizens are well aware that some of these leaders are clearly damaging democracy, but they are basically willing to put up with it. And that might be because of economic benefits. It might be because they really believe that let’s say a white Christian way of life in America is, you know, existentially threatened by dangerous minorities. You know, it could be different, could be different things. Um, but that’s something that I think gets us out of thinking.
As sometimes people do that. Oh no, everybody is just diluted and people don’t understand that democracy is being destroyed. I think at some cases, people may well be aware of it, but in a highly polarized environment, in an environment where populous leaders have succeeded in convincing people that it’s really us or them. It’s a much harder thing to, to, to get out of this kind of this kind of mindset.
Turi: Well, polarization itself seems like an element of, of populism. And as we polarize all over the European union and all over the U S that process of polarization is one of dehumanizing. The other side of, one of refusing to accept that the other side is intellectually or morally uninterrupted and including them in the political process, we do this more and more. There may even be a feature of specially two-party democracy that we do radicalize and sort into these buckets more generally though. Um, what do you think are the, I want to ask what the causes of populism are, but perhaps the better question is what the kind of what’s the fertile ground upon which it grows.
Jan: So I’m going to disappoint you in, in not committing to universal universal answer. I mean, as, as mentioned earlier, this is of course what we’re all we want all love. You know, we would all love to know the answer, ideally in just 140 characters or even less, if, if possible and the very pedantic, uh, remark I’m going to make is that. National context and historical paths matter a great deal. Yes. Some of the constellations are similar. Yes. You, you need to kind of constituency where a certain talk of grievances, you know, will resonate. Uh, you need poker systems where if you complain about them as unrepresentative as somehow. Featuring systemic problems where that sort of thing sound, you know, it seems to resonate and seems to have some plausibility. So I’m not saying, Oh, it’s completely arbitrary or we can never say anything, but the kind of identification of a single macro cost. Oh, it’s all culture. Oh no, it’s all the economy I think ultimately is very, it’s very plausible and. If you think of just a specific example. So to suggest for instance, that the, the causes or the, the factors that led to the rise of Jorma, you look them in the eighties are some are identical to, you know, the, the factors that helped, um, someone like Erdogan in, in, in Turkey or Kaczynski in Poland and so on, uh, just strikes me as deeply, deeply implausible.
Um, so in that sense, I think, I think there is no kind of, uh, easy policy fix in the way that again, liberal sometimes desire. Uh, it’s a mistake in general to think that the best answer to the rise of populism is a sort of technocratic mindset where we constantly lecture people on how irrational they are and how simplistic and irrational some of these policy suggestions by populace happen happen to be because ultimately that, that amounts to. Responding to one anti pluralism, populism with another entrepreneurial-ism of a different kind to be sure, but still one where you basically then tell people there’s only one rational solution to a particular policy challenge. And if you happen to disagree with it, you basically reveal yourself to be irrational. Just as much as those who disagree with the populace, reveal themselves as traitors to the country, people who don’t truly belong and so on and so forth.
Turi: You flag three things in, um, in, in your discussion, in the book, uh, of some of the causes or perhaps not the causes, but in a bit sort of ideas behind them. Um, one is the demise of the political party. Um, another is this idea that, um, there are some fundamental promises that democracy hasn’t really delivered upon. Um, and, and the third is this idea of the boundary problem that we’ve got in political science, generally, this problem of identifying who the people are are anyway. Um, but, um, just to pick up on your last point here, the technocratic sort of universalism versus the populist universalism, um, there is, uh, certainly across the European union, you described the European union being founded very much with a fear of purely popular will because of course it emerges after the, uh, after the end of the second world war, there is almost a tussle there between anti-democratic, if you want technocrats and, um, an overly democratic populous who take from the ballot box and mandate to do anything they want with the, uh, the, the mediators of the States, the law. The media, um, and civil society around it is that, uh, do you think that’s a feature of European populism alone, you think is a feature of American populism?
Jan: So let me give you a very clear answer. Yes and no. Um, so what is true is this historical trajectory where after the second world war there was. Fear of the people themselves often based on the view that somehow the people themselves had brought fascists to power, which in and of itself you might say is historically highly dubious. I mean, remember that, that, you know, most Eleni didn’t really March on Rome. He came by sleep account because traditional elites had invited him to take over. And a somewhat similar story can actually be told about talking about Hitler. So I’m not saying this is necessarily an accurate reflection of history, but it was one. That did lead in a, if you like somewhat elitist direction in Europe after the war, where there was a particular concern about constraining the popular will. So I would stick with that, with that characterization. What I would not say. Is that, Oh, and therefore we should sort of take populists at the world and, and really concede to them.
But yes, they really, truly want to empower the people. As I was trying to say earlier, that’s actually not really what they, what they, what they want to do, but of course they can benefit. From an impression that in Europe, the people aren’t as powerful as they should be. That’s what I mean by sort of systemic weaknesses or a sort of sense that yes, maybe there is something problematic or flawed about democratic systems as, as we, as we have them. So again, I’m not saying that, Oh, everything is completely random and arbitrary and this would be one factor, but I think we should not, you know, therefore conclude that the people that the populist really are. The authentic representatives of the, of the people of the people themselves and Verna.
Turi: Can I end with asking you where you think populism is today? Both in the U S and across Latin America and in the West, and perhaps more broadly, are we, are we moving into a populist phase of history is at the end with the demise of Donald Trump.
Jan: So I don’t really do predictions, especially not about the future, but. I think, I think that, um, what we now days sometimes here, namely that, Oh, the pandemic will somehow spell the end of populism. I think it’s far too simplistic. It’s true. That leading populists like Trump and Baltz Denaro have. Uh, horrendously failed in dealing in dealing with this, dealing with this emergency. But I would be reluctant to say that they are unnecessarily typical of populism as such. I mean, this goes back to a point we talked about before. If you think that populism yes. Is about distrusting science, hating experts, always having super simplistic solutions then. Yeah. That that’s maybe a plausible story.
But that’s not the position I’ve been trying to advocate. And yes, there’s a reason why Trump in both scenario, for instance, immediately went down the path of cultural war. This goes back to the point of, you know, trying to reduce both the questions to questions of belonging. You know, real men will not wear masks, et cetera, et cetera. Um, so yeah, there is somewhat of a connection, but other populists, um, have tried. To take the pandemic more seriously. Uh, it wasn’t a sort of inevitable outcome that people went down. This particular went down this particular path. So I’m somewhat reluctant to, to now commit to the view that, Oh yes. You know, now it’s necessarily necessarily over, but neither is it the case that this will now.
So it’ll be with us, uh, through, throughout the century in the way that some of our colleagues have already declared the 21st century to, to be the, the, the century of, of populism somehow I’m, I would be reluctant to, to endorse that, um, as well, because again, going back to the very pedantic point, um, the, the different national situations really are two different it’s it’s certainly worrying. That this kind of populist art of governments is spreading. It doesn’t mean that these rules are some are invincible or that nothing can be done. Uh, but it’s still a danger that we might sometimes underestimate them. But I would be reluctant to say that there’s something in our political moment as such, which necessarily. Favors populist outcomes. So I’m sorry if this is very unsatisfying, you know, obviously it’s, it’s, you know, much more satisfying to have, you know, a, a super snappy slogan that, you know, the future will be X or Y, but here we are.
Turi: this has been. Fascinating. Um, we’ll have very detailed notes in the, uh, in the, in the show notes of, uh, of the book with links to the, to the, to the book itself. I’m tremendously grateful that you’ve taken the time to talk to us. Thanks so much for being with us.
Jan: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.