Notes from What is Populism by Jan-Werner Muller

p. 21 “This is the core claim of populism: only some of the people are really the people. Think of Nigel Farage celebrating the Brexit vote by claiming that it been a ‘victory for real people’ (thus making the 48% of the British electorate who had opposed taking the UK out of the European Union somehow less than real – or put more directly, questioning their status as proper members of the political community. Or consider a remark by Donald Trump … at a campaign rally in May, Trump announced that ‘the only important thing is the unification of the people – because the other people don’t mean anything’.”

p. 23 “some observers … associate populism with a distinct ideology of ‘producerism’. Populists pit the pure, innocent, always hardworking people against a corrupt elite who do not really work (other than to further their self-interest) and, in rightwing populism, also against the very bottom of society (those who also do not really work and live like parasites off the work of others.) .. claim to discern a symbiotic relationship between an elite that does not truly belong and marginal groups that are also distinct from the people. In the 20th-century United States these groups were usually liberal elites on one hand and racial minorities on the other.”

p. 27 “a notion of ‘the people’ beyond all political forms and formation was influentially theorized by the rightwing legal theorist Carl Schmitt during the interwar period. His work, together with that of fascist philosopher Giovanni Gentile, served as a conceptual bridge from democracy to nondemocracy, when they claimed that fascism could more faithfully realize and instantiate democratic ideals than democracy itself.”

p. 44 “Populists tend to colonize or ‘occupy’ the state. Think of Hungary and Poland as recent examples. One of the first fundamental changes Viktor Orban and his Fidesz Party sought was a transformation of the civil service so as to enable the party to place loyalists in what should have been non-partisan bureaucratic positions. .. such a strategy is not the exclusive preserve of populists … they can undertake such colonization openly and with the support of their core claim to moral representation of the people.”

p. 46 “state colonization, mass clientism and discriminatory legalism are phenomena that can be found in many historical situations. Yet in populist regimes, they are practised openly and, one might suspect, with a clean moral conscience. Hence also the curious phenomenon that revelations about what can only be called corruption simply do not seem to damage the reputation of populist leaders as much as one would expect.. for supporters of populists, .. corruption and cronyism are not genuine problems as long as they look like measures pursued for the sake of a moral, hardworking us, and not for the immoral or foreign “them”.

p. 60 “As David Ost has put it starkly in an analysis of the 2015 PiS victory, “The problem… is not that people are not committed to democracy. Yes, plenty of people today aren’t committed to democracy, but they’re not committed to it because they feel that democracy, packed in neoliberal wrapping, is not committed to them.”

p. 73 “What about the shouts heard in Tahrir Square – or going back roughly a quarter century, the emphatic chanting of ‘We are the People” on the streets of East Germany in the fall on 1989? This slogan is entirely legitimate in the face of a regime that claims exclusively to represent the people but in fact shuts large parts of the people out politically.. in nondemocracies, ‘We Are the People’ s a justified revolutionary claim: it is precisely not a populist one.”

p. 79 “Parties … offered two or more competing conceptions of peoplehood, dramatized the differences between them, but also recognised the other side as legitimate. This approach was particularly attractive in countries that had undergone a civil war … parties represented diversity; party systems symbolised unity. .. neither parties nor party system fulfil their respective functions any longer. .. slow disintregation of parties and party systems .. affects the viability of democracy … including whatever remains of an ideal of democracy as providing political communities with a sense of unity and collective agency.”

p. 94 “The whole direction of political development in postwar Europe has been towards fragmenting political power (in the sense of checks and balances, or even a mixed constitution) as well as empowering unelected institutions or institutions beyond electoral accountability, such as constitutional courts, all in the name of strengthening democracy itself …

p. 96 “…always particularly vulnerable to political actors speaking in the name of the people as a whole against a system that appears designed to minimize popular participation. .. technocracy is crucial for understanding the present-day rise of populism. The two mirror each other. Technocracy holds theire is only one correct policy solution; populism claims there is only one authentic will of the people.”

p/ 99 “What is the alternative? An approach that seeks to bring in those currently excluded – what some sociologists sometimes call ‘the superfluous’ – while keeping the very wealthy and powerful from opting out of the system. This is really just another way of saying that some sort of new social contract is needed… a grand coalition actually empowered at election time. Alternatively, societies could officially renegotiate their very constitutional settlements.”

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