• What is populism and what are its defining elements?

• Why are moments of populism so spectacular and yet movements of populism so difficult to sustain?

• What are the connections between democracy, populism and representative politics?

Populism is a widely used concept but it is rarely fully understood. For a term which appears so frequently in both popular and specialist writing, the social sciences have given it remarkably little attention. In this lively and engaging book, Paul Taggart surveys the field and concludes that populism has suffered from being considered usually in relation to particular contexts and has therefore become a rather fractured and elusive concept in general terms. To remedy this, the author introduces several themes which illuminate populism across different historical and contemporary cases. He provides a new definition of populism, a survey of other definitions and perspectives, and a guide to populist politics around the world, including the United States, Russia, Latin America, Western Europe and Canada. The second part of the book focuses on the problems of populism and how it relates to democracy, particularly to representative politics. Written in an accessible style, this book is essential reading for those with an interest in politics and sociology who are studying political ideas, ideologies and social movements.


Populism is an unusual concept. Look at anything closely enough for a period of time and it will begin to seem unusual, but even the most cursory of glances at populism shows it to be out of the ordinary. Populism has many of the attributes of an ideology, but not all of them. At times, it has had great resonance across the world, and yet at other times it has been inconsequential. It has an essential impalpability, an awkward conceptual slipperiness. For different sets of people it veers between having great meaning and fundamental vacuousness. For elites it is both an object of fascination and a phenomenon of great distaste and danger. To be catalysed into a political force it sometimes relies on great leaders and sometimes on great masses. Where it relies on leaders, it requires the most extraordinary individuals to lead the most ordinary of people. Appearing to be revolutionary, populism draws great support at times of crisis but, in practice, it is invariably reformist and incapable of offering fundamental 'root and branch' reform. It is episodic, appearing at times with great force and offering the potential to radically transform politics. But it soon dissipates. It is not without effect; when at its height, it invariably structures the content and tone of politics. Wherever there is representative politics, it is omnipresent as a potential movement or set of ideas to be drawn on by movements.

In short, the phenomena which observers and participants describe as populist are unlike movements which form parties, develop programmes and policies and lead relatively stable and patterned political lives. Populist movements have systems of belief which are diffuse; they are inherently difficult to control and organize; they lack consistency; and their activity waxes and wanes with . . .

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