Nationalism in the Age of Populism

Nationalism in the Age of Populism

Nationalism is the idea that a group of people should be defined by their own historical, cultural, and social identity and have access to representative institutions.

However, nationalist and populist frames often use this notion to exclude the members of subordinate groups, such as minorities or immigrants. This has important political implications for the policymaking process and the well-being of subordinate groups.

Defining Populism

The term “populism” is increasingly used as a broad definition of political parties and movements that claim to represent the people. Populism focuses on simplifying complex social issues, often using highly emotional rhetoric to build support.

Populists stir up fear and insecurity by focusing on negative stories about different groups of the population. They also fuel distrust in democratic organisations by telling supporters that elections are not reliable and elites are acting against the will of the people.

Nationalism, on the other hand, is usually defined as a boundary that separates “true” citizens from an antagonistic underclass. This distinction may include economic or cultural categories that depending on specific historical, geographical, and demographic characteristics are seen as having subordinate status to prototypical citizens.

In 2004, Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist, published The Populist Zeitgeist in which he defined populism as a thin ideology that sets up society into two homogenous and antagonistic camps – the “pure people” and the “corrupt elite”. He contrasts it with pluralism, which accepts the legitimacy of many different groups.

Defining Nationalism

Nationalism is a political movement that supports the interests of a specific country. It is based on the idea that people who share a common language, history, and culture should form a nation free from foreign influence.

In modern times, conservative nationalism has been popular in the United States and the United Kingdom. It is also present in many other nations around the world.

During the 19th century, nationalism spread to central and eastern Europe. Its success led to the emergence of new national-states such as Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.

Several social psychological studies have shown that members of a nation feel more secure and secure when they are considered part of their national group. This sense of belonging enables them to have a positive attitude toward fellow nationals and contributes to their self-worth. It has also been found to motivate their political emancipation through their inclusion in the nationalist leadership.

Populism and Nationalism

Across the world, from Brazil to India to the United States, there has been a growing wave of populist leaders that fuse anti-elite rhetoric with nationalism. In some cases, this has led to xenophobia, racism, and discrimination against ethnic minorities and other groups.

Populism has also been a powerful vehicle for providing subordinate groups within a nation a sense of security and self-worth. Especially in a socio-economic context very different from welfare states of Western Europe, nationalist populists have often funded anti-poverty programs through the nationalization of natural resources.

The underlying political logics of both nationalism and populism are much more pervasive in modern society and politics than is usually recognised. These logics, however, do not provide a substantive blueprint for organising and governing society.

Populism and Democracy

In the Age of Populism, democratic institutions are under attack.

Liberal democracy is fragile, constantly threatened and always in need of repair.

It is also vulnerable to backsliding, especially when it is eroded by the emergence of populist parties and leaders with authoritarian tendencies.

The most important negative aspect of populism is the threat it poses to democratic institutions. It does this by twisting and exploiting democracy’s institutional frameworks, such as the rule of law, freedoms, checks and balances, tolerance, autonomous social institutions, individual and group rights or pluralism.

Moreover, populist movements may undermine the civility of political debate. They stoke suspicion among political opponents and marginalised groups, undermining the respect for individual and group dignity that is part of liberal democracy’s culture.

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