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  • The Observatory of Populism

    INITIATIVE - October 2021

Populism is more than just the political leaders who embody it. At a time when our democracies are being directly challenged by economic, health and climate crises, it becomes all the more important to break down and fully grasp populism as a movement, as a political approach and even as a new kind of regime.

The Observatory of Populism is an ongoing research project that aims to decipher, debate and analyze the various facets of populism.

Created in the summer of 2021, the Observatory of Populism is a space for research and discussion within Institut Montaigne. This ongoing project is spearheaded by Dr. Christophe Jaffrelot, Senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, and Marc Lazar, Director of the History Center of Sciences Po, and a President of the LUISS school of government in Rome. 

Each month, both experts conduct a discussion with international speakers and focus on  a specific dimension or case study of populism. These discussions seek to delve into the multiple facets of the phenomenon, such as the personalization of power, electoral processes, surveillance regimes, the differences between authoritarianism and crony capitalism, etc. 

Based on each of these discussions, our team of editors prepares the interviews and opinion pieces that you can find on this page. 

  • "New forms of authoritarianism around the world : Spin dictators, the changing face of tyranny in the 21st century" Sergei Guriev, Scientific Director of Sciences Po's Master's and PhD programmes in economics.
  • "Hungary : from populism to post-populist authoritarianism", Peter Krekó, Executive Director of Political Capital
  • "Defiance : Populism and Public Policy", Yann Algan, Associate Dean of the Pre-Experience Programs and Professor of Economics at HEC
  • "Populist Christianity : between secular identity and religious norms", with Olivier Roy, Professor at the University Institute Florence
  • "Le Pen Versus Zemmour : The Populist Electoral Right On The Eve Of The 2022 Presidential Election", with Nonna Mayer, Director of Research Emerita at the CNRS
  • "The peculiar case of Italian populisms", with Alberto Martinelli, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Sociology and former Dean of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Milan
  •  "Modi’s India : from national populism to electoral authoritarianism", with Christophe Jaffrelot, Senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS
  • "Russian interferences with European democracies", with Maria Snegovaya, Postdoctoral Fellow in Political Science and a Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic and Trans-European Space Studies at Virginia Tech University
  • "The Autumn of the "Reis", with Soli Özel, Senior Fellow at Institut Montaigne
  • "Shifting Tides : Radical Right Populism and Immigration Policy in Europe and the United States", with Martin Schain, Professor of Politics, Emeritus, at New York University (NYU)
  • "The Methodology of the Study of Populism", with Marlène Laruelle Research associate at Ifri’s Russia/NEI Center, and Alberto Martinelli, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Sociology and former Dean of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Milan
  • "The Case of Hungary", with Péter Krekó, Executive Director of Political Capital

Our Analysis

What is Populism?

Populism relies on the dichotomy between a corrupt elite and the people as victims of the establishment, wherein the populist leader becomes a beacon of democratic revival. The following is a list of terms and concepts that help define populism and how it interacts with other political models and regimes. Click on each term for a complete explanation.

 

Populism is a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel ignored by the elite. As such, it tends to pit people against the latter. A populist leader uses demagogy and seeks to become the sole representative of the people.

A style of government in which the rulers demand unquestioning obedience from the population. In practice, it translates into a restriction of political freedoms, but without having the ideological transformation of society as an end goal.

Illiberalism is both an ideology and a type of political regime that dismisses the notion of liberal politics. Though elections are a common practice in this regime, civil liberties are not ensured and citizens do not have full information about their leaders’ intentions and practices.

Nationalism is a political ideology based on the premise that the citizens’ loyalty and devotion to the nation-state surpass any other individual or group interests. There are different versions of this ideology, ranging from universalism to ethnicity.

Liberalism in politics refers to a democratic regime based on the freedom of citizens, the rule of law (as agreed on by a Constitution), and the separation of powers. Citizens' will is expressed through popular vote. According to this type of regime, State intervention must be limited.

Sultanism is an authoritarian and patrimonial form of regime characterized by the extreme personal presence of the ruler in every governing aspect, and where all institutions are permanently subject to the ruler’s intervention. Violence can be used to sustain the sultanistic regime.

Ethnic democracy is a political system that combines a structured ethnic dominance with democratic, political, and individual citizenship rights. Israel is a de jure example of an ethnic democracy.

Electoral authoritarianism refers to regimes that practice authoritarianism behind the institutional facades of representative democracy. Such regimes hold multiparty elections, yet deprive them of their democratic substance in various ways.

Fascism is a form of extreme, authoritarian ultranationalism marked by absolute state power and forcible suppression of opposition, which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe, notably with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

Totalitarianism is a form of government with a nationalist ideology that prohibits all opposition parties, outlaws individual opposition, and exercises total control over citizens’ public and private lives. It is regarded as the most extreme and complete form of authoritarianism.

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