Understanding the rise of the populist establishment, by Z. Enyedi

Studies of populism have traditionally focused on the politics of opposition, such as protest movements and the campaigns of smaller parties. But as Zsolt Enyedi notes, recent election results have demonstrated that populist parties cannot only win power, but also show a surprising level of resilience when they enter government. He argues that populism can no longer be regarded simply as a symptom of the dysfunction of institutions: populists need to be appreciated as institution builders.

Populism – whether conceived as ideology, organisational strategy, a form of mobilisation, or discourse – is typically analysed in the context of protest movements and minor parties. Populist government receives less attention, and if it does, the discussion tends to be based on ideal-types or on the extrapolation of trends observed within the opposition circles of liberal democracies.

Now that we can see populists in power in an increasing number of countries, we need to reconsider the anti-establishment nature of populism. The two expressions, that is ‘populist’ and ‘anti-establishment’, are often used as synonyms, even in the context of those Latin American countries in which presidents frequently campaign on an anti-establishment ticket. The association between the two concepts is even stronger in Europe and in the US, where populist forces used to be marginal and oppositional. Well, they are no more. From Italy to Hungary, or from Poland to the United States, we now see how populists in government translate their ideas into policies.