Among the larger political predicaments that modern political systems have “ambiguously” or “unambiguously” led to, populism’s rise on the canvas of politics is disturbingly almost everywhere. Of late, researchers and journalists have attempted to engage with the underpinnings of the populist forces and the larger context behind them. This volume not only provides a broader picture of populism but also explores various features of a recent wave of populism, particularly in countries like the United States (U.S.), where it originated, the United Kingdom (UK), and Western European countries – where populism is consolidating its roots. Apart from a comparative study of populism in the U.S., UK, and Western European countries, this book attempts to locate populism in the discursive tradition of theory.
Largely relying on Cas Mudde’s conceptual framework and definition of populism, the authors have identified both populistic discourses and rhetoric. Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser explain populism as a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic camps, “the pure people” versus “the corrupt elite,” and that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people. The Faces of Contemporary Populism in Western Europe and the US also investigates nativism, authoritarianism, and populism derived from Mudde’s model of contemporary radical right-wing parties (p. 133).
Karine Tournier-Sor, in Chapter 1, underlines factors responsible for the prodigious rise and success of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) – a right-wing populist party. The favorable political environment and the political shift taking place between the political parties have benefited the party to some extent. It argues that the populist forces remain the main drivers behind the Brexit vote. Based on previous data, in the subsequent chapter, Charles Dick and Chris Gifford identify three core elements of populism, people centrism and popular sovereignty, anti-elitism, and nativism. It ascertains that Eurosceptic populism has worked as a catalyst for the transformation of British politics between the years 2010 to 2016.
Pertinently, Emma Bell in the 3rd chapter of the book, delves into populistic politics and explains how the term “populism” is being used as a political gimmick. According to Bell, the term populism is used as a slur to disparage one’s opponents. She offers an indepth debate on populism to understand the current political trends. Despite being used as a popular tool to understand contemporary political trends, the term “populism” is misused as a tool that delegitimizes popular grievances about the political system, which leaves them disempowered.
In chapter 4, Mathieu Petithomme explains the political discourse of the left-wing populist Podemos party, which according to the author is a political strategy used to appeal to people and the trend is generally adopted during a political crisis, such as the one seen in 2014-2015 in Spain. Throughout this chapter, the author attempts to differentiate between traditional radical left parties and Podemos. In chapter 7, Rucella explores the political discourse and rhetorical strategies of Italians from across the political spectrum, showing that the sign “populism” is systematically present and trying to reconstruct its meaning.
Chapter 10 by Marion Douzou presents a detailed analysis of the Tea Party and its functioning based on her fieldwork. Dauzou finds that populist rhetoric is the glue that holds together an otherwise very diverse conservative movement by giving it a common language, common frame, and a common agenda. She argues that the rhetoric Tea Party activists use, the very nature of the movement, and the tactics they put in place aim to change the Republican party from within, taking power away from politicians and giving it back to the people (p. 205).
The Faces of Contemporary Populism in Western Europe and the US explores the role of populism in international politics based on many faces of it, which vary according to the individual interests and views of the leaders across the globe. It highlights two important aspects of contemporary populism, one being economic populism (chapter 8) and another being religious populism (chapter 11). Ivaldi and Mazzoleni in chapter 8 use empirical and comparative analysis to study the manifestation of economic populism and its dimensions in the domestic politics of the U.S. and Western European countries. They observe that the economic aspect is not detachable but rather inherent in the contemporary populistic notion. Marie Gayte finds that the new wave of religion has become a vehicle in the recent populistic frame. For instance, former U.S. President Donald Trump managed to garner huge electoral support from White Christians by successfully mobilizing them as his religious voters despite his being an arrogant irreligious person. However, religious populism is not limited to the U.S. The same model is replicated in several European countries.
Maya Kandel, in the succeeding chapter, investigates the populist dimensions of Trump’s foreign policy and how the recent trends like “America First” shaped by his policies challenge the rule-based liberal international order and functioning of various international organizations. She argues that contemporary populism promotes an alternative vision of international relations.
Underscoring various facets of populism in Western Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere, the authors of this insightful volume argue that populism remains deeply ingrained in the political landscape. It also makes a clear contrast between right-wing populism and left-wing populism. Moreover, the authors also look into how the right-wing populist forces are gaining considerable ground with more impact on politics, whereas the impact of leftwing populism is limited. According to them, ethnonationalism is not the core ideological component of the party but instead the main propellent of electoral support for right-wing populist parties as in the case of America.
Making a remarkable contribution to understanding various degrees of contemporary populism, it helps to understand how populism as an ideology is tarnished by competing approaches in the U.S. and Western European countries. This book will surely act as a pathway for further research in the domain of populism and is certainly a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand trends in modern politics where far-right populism has increasingly led to the degeneration of welfare systems and also the deregulation of economies.