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Replacement Theories

In 2004, Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde published The Populist Zeitgeist, an attempt to define the growingly important but haphazardly applied concept of “populism.”  He had an emotional as well as an academic interest, because “far-right” nationalism had enmeshed his own brother.  His influential conclusion was that populism was an unlikable “thin ideology,” almost infinitely flexible because focused on a binary division between a good, put-upon “people” and a corrupt, out-of-touch “elite,” and the conviction that the “general will” should always prevail.  His definition helped birth an academic subfield of “populist studies” and a billion editorials denouncing Brexiters, Trump voters, Italy’s Lega Nord, Geert Wilders, Germany’s AfD, Viktor Orbán, and all kinds of others—while mainstream politicians strove to adapt his “general will” to their narrower purposes.  While the word is still sometimes applied to Bernie Sanders or Spain’s Podemos, it is now usually associated with nationalist, “right-wing” movements, because parties like the Sweden Democrats or Spain’s Vox are more interesting/terrifying to the talking classes than Occupy Wall Street or Greece’s Syriza.

Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin, long-time monitors of the radical right, prefix populist with “national”...

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