Donald Trump, Silvio Berlusconi, Marine Le Pen, Hugo Chávez—populists are on the rise across the globe. But what exactly is populism? Should everyone who criticizes Wall Street or Washington be called a populist? What precisely is the difference between right-wing and left-wing populism? Does populism bring government closer to the people or is it a threat to democracy? Who are "the people" anyway and who can speak in their name? These questions have never been more pressing.
In this groundbreaking volume, Jan-Werner Müller 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. Müller 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."
Analytical, accessible, and provocative, What Is Populism? is grounded in history and draws on examples from Latin America, Europe, and the United States to define the characteristics of populism and the deeper causes of its electoral successes in our time.
Introduction: Is Everyone a Populist? 1
1. What Populists Say 7 2. What Populists Do, or Populism in Power 41 3. How to Deal with Populists 75 Conclusion: Seven Theses on Populism 101
Notes 105 Acknowledgments 121
Jan-Werner Muller is Professor of Politics at Princeton University. He is author of several books, most recently Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth Century Europe. He contributes regularly to London Review of Books, the Guardian, and the New York Review of Books.
"This is an exceptionally intelligent book about a notoriously slippery, yet essential, political concept. Jan-Werner Müller's sweeping critique of populism will both instruct and challenge anyone who seeks to understand the roots and nature of the political conflicts that are roiling Europe and the United States."—Michael Kazin, author of The Populist Persuasion: An American History
"Populism is not just antiliberal, it is antidemocratic-the permanent shadow of representative politics. That's Jan-Werner Müller's argument in this brilliant book. There is no better guide to the populist passions of the present."—Ivan Krastev, International New York Times
"No one has written more insightfully and knowledgeably about Europe's recent democratic decay than Jan-Werner Müller. Here Müller confronts head on the key questions raised by the resurgence of populism globally. How is it different from other kinds of politics, why is it so dangerous, and how can it be overcome? Müller's depiction of populism as democracy's antipluralist, moralistic shadow is masterful."—Dani Rodrik, Harvard University
"The most useful work to comprehend Trump's appeal is What Is Populism? (2016) by Princeton University political scientist Jan-Werner Müller. In this essential book, Müller defines populism's most salient characteristics-antielitism, antipluralism, exclusivity-and explains Trump and other populists through that framework. It is a quick read, and worth every page."—The Washington Post
"What Is Populism? stands out from other analyses of populism in its dual methodology, combining political theory with political science. From the vantage of political philosophy, Müller argues that populism comes with a distinctive set of incentives and priorities, which do not necessarily overlap with those of traditional political actors. Yet his model also attempts to make causal arguments relating to the actions often taken by populists, which he illustrates through empirical examples."—Boston Review