Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Populism – a Factory of Myths

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Populism – a Factory of Myths

Article excerpt

POPULISM – A FACTORY OF MYTHS

Abstract: Review of Mihnea S. Stoica, Populismul în Europa. Dezvoltare istorică, discurs politic şi susţinători ai dreptei radicale (Populism in Europe. Historical development, political discourse and supporters of the radical right) (Cluj-Napoca: Presa Universitară Clujeană, 2017).

Key Words: political myths, Populism in Europe, populist discourse, new mythologies, ideology, strategy, Mihnea S. Stoica.

The political sphere can be perceived as a playground where different actors operate with myths to gain supporters. Perhaps the very idea of the possibility of a human community is one of the most powerful of these myths. Nonetheless, the ongoing international crises put into question the traditional political myths, yielding a need for new mythologies and symbols for people to believe in. In the aftermath of phenomena as terrorism and immigration, the political discourses have become providers of certainties and reassurances for people that can no longer believe in the establishments, as they problematize the current issues as an affidavit of the failure of the standard way of doing politics. The political phenomenon (since it cannot be called an ideology) that seems to have all the answers to the concerns of the masses is populism, which operates with a violent rhetoric that leaves no question unanswered. The populist leaders have given themselves an imperative mandate to save the people from the evil elites, operating on a clear friend-enemy distinction that Carl Schmitt has identified to be the basis of politics: the good, common people are the friends, whereas the elites are the enemies that promote evil.

In the context of a Europe which has become a fertile ground for populist parties not merely at national level but also at Union level, as the 2014 European Parliament elections have proved, there is a pressing need of a thorough analysis of the way populism succeeds in gaining increasing numbers of supporters. In the wake of this call, Mihnea Stoica's book Populismul în Europa. Dezvoltare istorică, discurs politic şi susţinători ai dreptei radicale (Populism in Europe. Historical development, political discourse and supporters of the radical right) comes as an analysis that does not limit itself to assessing populism from an interdisciplinary point of view, but identifies the causes that lead to the success of populist strategies relying on the profiles of the electorate of the successful parties. The book embarks on a theoretical and empirical analysis structured in six chapters which first explains the evolution of the concept of populism and its main themes and then provides an insight into "populism in action" in seven European countries (France, Austria, Italy, Romania, The Netherlands, Finland and UK). After the theoretical foundations are laid down, the author portrays the stereotypical opinions of the populist enthusiasts using statistics gathered from the 2014 European Parliament elections. Stoica puts forward the thesis that populism is not a political ideology, but also rather a super-strategy (Stoica 2017, 67), hence the populist parties are defined by ideological inconsistencies and display a high degree of clientelism. Relying on the contradictory policies of several European populist parties, he proves that these parties cannot be placed on either side of the political spectrum, showing that populism does not imply an established political agenda. The question that poses itself is how can political organisations that fail to run on an agenda obtain considerable support, taking into account that the traditional parties run on clearly defined policies. The empirical analysis placed after the theoretical considerations reveals that the supporters of the populists share some common traits: they come from areas which are affected by unemployment, immigration and criminality and, as a consequence of their basic education, they feel underrepresented in the political process. …

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