Paolo Segatti

On populism, a few considerations

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This paper deals with three issues one may find in the populism literature. First is the question on what is populism. Populisms is famously a hard to define concept. Too many connotations, too few denotations. This paper says populism is what studies on populism observe. So far, most of them observe what populist leaders say. Many of them look at leaders of populist radical right. Just a few look at mass level populist attitudes. On this ground, I argue that better is to talk of populism as a rhetoric. The content of this rhetoric is more about the democratic process-making than about the policy making. Following Rovira Kaltwasser, I argue that a populist rhetoric deals with the Dahl's shadow assumptions of a democratic theory. The second and the third issue is about what are the contexts that make fruitful a populist rhetoric by party leaders. I argue that a populist rhetoric resonates positively with the change of civic culture from allegiant to assertive and critical. To be sure an assertive civic culture is a democratic culture. Yet critical and assertive attitudes towards electoral representation may also be a venue for a populist rhetoric too. The way many Europeans think currently of their national identity make them a sympathetic audience of a populist rhetoric. Thirdly, the political and social change that made the political space bidimensional and the blurring of distinctiveness between the mainstream parties plus the Crisis has created a favourable environment for radical populist parties, most of them on the right side and a few of them on the left. It has been also a venue for the populist rhetoric. The evidence that this translates into a mass populist attitudes is still too little to nail the argument that populism is something more than a rhetoric.


  • Political Processes
  • Elections
  • and Voting Behavior
  • Populism


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