Non-fiction – society, biography, and literary and cultural history

Jan-Werner Müller
Was ist Populismus?

© Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin, 2016 Jan-Werner Müller: Was ist Populismus? © Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin, 2016Populists and populist parties are gaining ground, not only in most European countries, but all around the world. In some countries of South America and Eastern Europe, populists are in government; in the United States, Donald Trump is fighting for the presidency, and the right-wing extremist Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) is agitating here. These developments raise questions. When are politicians populists? What effect do their actions have on democratic societies? How should one deal with populists “in a democratic way”? Jan-Werner Müller endeavours to give answers to these three questions in a pointed and fluently written essay. (…)
In practice, populist politics involves three strategies for action: to polarise, moralise and identify enemies. When populists have come to power, according to Müller, the result is a “very idiosyncratic style of government” with certain techniques for ruling that amount to “real practised antipluralism”. They take over the entire state, cultivate the “acquisition of loyalty by mass clientelism” and discredit opposition of any kind. This leads to Müller’s answer to the second question: while populist politics does not necessarily destroy democratic communities, it does do long-term damage to the functioning of any representative democracy.

Marian Nebelin: „Gute Wir gegen böse Andere“
© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 15 October 2016

Jan-Werner Müller
Was ist Populismus?
Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin, 2016
ISBN 978-3-518-07522-7
160 pages


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