The Encyclopedia of Democracy

Authors: Lipset
Summary: In about 2200 words, this entry defines populism, discusses its 19th century origins, explores populism in developing nations, and offers historical and comparative evidence to illustrate and support the analysis.
The entry defines populism as a political movement of the common people rather than the privileged elite. Such movements spring from common interests, feelings and cultural traits, and generally disregard accountability and minority rights.
The term populism was first used in late 19th century Russia to designate a heterogeneous group who shared a common disdain for foreign ideologies in democratic or socialist struggles. Aleksandr Herzen's theories pioneered this vein of thought, and were followed by those of Mikhail Bakunin. Simultaneously, but without reference to its Russian meaning, the term populism was applied to an American political movement comprised of farmers and entrepreneurs hurt by the flourishing capitalist expansion. The entry provides a few examples and some comparisons with the Canadian experience.
Next the focus shifts to populism in developing nations. In this context, populism has a third meaning and refers to political parties based upon common support and hostile to dominant elites. Such movements differ greatly from the American example because they are not based on autonomous self-organization. Rather, they are motivated by a charismatic leader. Four kinds of populist parties emerge from such conditions: multiclass integrative parties, middle-class populist parties, working-class populist parties, and social revolutionary parties. Each of these are detailed in turn.
Finally, the entry offers historical and comparative evidence to support the foregoing analysis. Particular emphasis is on Louis Napoleon's populist movement and Marxist interpretations, but fascism and Nazism are also briefly explored. Populism is distinguished from other kinds of popular parties.