What is populism?

by Jan-Werner Müller

Hardcover, 2016




Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, [2016]


This work argues that at populism's core is a rejection of pluralism. Populists will always claim that they and they alone represent the people and their true interests. Mčuller also shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, populists can govern on the basis of their claim to exclusive moral representation of the people: if populists have enough power, they will end up creating an authoritarian state that excludes all those not considered part of the proper "people." The book proposes a number of concrete strategies for how liberal democrats should best deal with populists and, in particular, how to counter their claims to speak exclusively for "the silent majority" or "the real people." - Provided by the publisher.

User reviews

LibraryThing member maneekuhi
Days after the US elections of 2016, while still in shock at the presidential result, I started to wonder what all this "populist" talk might portend. I had heard the term quite a bit in the previous months but felt I still didn't have a good grasp either of its meaning nor its history as a party, movement, whatever. There were a number of books out and I chose Muller's because of some good reviews and its brevity - about 90 pages, and perhaps 20 of those were notes. After reading the first dozen pages or so I knew I had made a mistake. It's in what I would call academic-speak and I detest academic speak. I checked a brief bio - sure enough, Muller was listed as a politics professor at a major Ivy League uni.

Reading this book reminded me of college courses I took to complete some last semester requirements - you know the ones, word of mouth had it that there was no paper to write, no midterm, an easy A, only a one question essay final exam, but lots of boring lectures and you HAD to go.

I only wanted to learn some basic stuff - how come populism doesn't seem to last very long?, was Hitler a populist? what can we expect from our new administration? is our new President a real populist or a FAKE populist? Instead I got words like pluralism, antipluralist, liberalism, individualism, materialism, atheism, majoritarinaism, constitutionalism,elitism, and ochlocracy. Yes, "ochlocracy", I hadn't heard that word for at least a week.
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LibraryThing member RajivC
This may be called an excellent primer to populism.

For many of us, who call leaders populist, in our daily speech, there has never been a clear definition, or guideline, to defining what it is. This book provides this. It is a short book, and this makes it even more valuable, in my eyes, as there is very little space wasted. Too often, people will write a long book because it seems to be a good thing to do, and this then creates a lot of matter that obscures the subject.

Jan-Werner Muller avoids this trap, and goes to the heart of the subject.

Could he have analysed more? I would say yes. For instance, what sort of populist would Bernie Sanders make, versus Trump. However, I assume that this was not the subject of the book.

So, all in all, an excellent book.
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