The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Science

Authors: Bogdanor
Summary: This entry, in just under 1800 words, describes populism's conceptual origins, explains the mentality associated with populism as well as its socioeconomic causes, and concludes with an analysis of populism's changing face.
According to the entry, populism is not a philosophy or an ideology, but rather a political mentality that has rarely formed political parties. During periods of modernization and beginning in the nineteenth century, populism has emerged across political cultures and governmental systems.
The populist mentality's roots are historical, psychological and socioeconomic. Historically speaking, the populist mentality is a reaction against changes in traditional relationships and ways of life. Psychologically, this mentality is characterized, both individually and collectively, by a deep inferiority complex as well as a persecution mania sublimated into yearning for peace, justice and community. The populist mentality's socioeconomic causes arise from the industrial revolutions and their many chain reactions.
Over time and due to changing circumstances, populism transforms into a few different forms. Some populist incarnations are absorbed into already existing socialist or communist parties. Other populist movments are absorbed into democratic parties and regimes. Finally, since the 1968 student revolts, populism has transformed gradually into plebianism. This most recent transformation arises from an abandonment of the peasant in favor of the skilled worker needed by new technologies, and also from a newly reinvigorated anti-elitist mentality.