The Social Science Encyclopedia

Authors: Kuper & Kuper
Summary: This entry distinguishes between two broad understandings of populism: populism as a radical movement based on or oriented towards rural grievances, and populism as a style of politics.
In the first sense, the entry cites several radical agrarian movements: the Populist Party in 1890s America; the 19th-century Narodnichestvo, a loose group of Russian intellectuals committed to agrarian socialism and romanticization of the peasantry; and the Mexican Zapatistas, a spontaneous grassroots peasant movement active during the Mexican Revolution, which sought land reform and freedom from elite domination.
Populism as a political style includes a variety of diverse phenomena. Populist dictatorship includes cases in which a charismatic leader appeals beyond conventional politicians to the masses; populist democracy is hostile to representation and seeks to keep as much power as possible in the hands of the people; politicians' populism is the style of politicians who avoid ideological commitments and claim to speak for the whole people rather than for any faction.