The Age of Pure Populism: Are We There Yet?

In all its diluted forms, the concept of populism has risen and fallen at different times way, way back in the history of human governance. But pure populism is having a hard time making it beyond the minds and communities of pure populists.

The Age of Pure Populism: Are We There Yet?

By every standard, populism is the perfect political paradigm for governance in any community. But that may depend on how one defines it.

One political wing defines it mainly as a political doctrine that seeks to pit the people against a set of elites, the other sees it in terms of people-centric goals, programs and policies. Meanwhile, at the center of both wings lies the central (pure) concept of populism: that governance should be absolutely driven by the will of the people, with no exclusion.

So, I should rather say pure populism is the perfect political paradigm.

In all its diluted forms, populism has risen and fallen at different times way, way back in the history of human governance. But pure populism is having a hard time making it beyond the minds and communities of pure populists.

Will the age of pure populism ever come?

The present day democracy practiced in many countries of the world, what is technically known as representative democracy, embodies elements of populism. It is the closest political doctrine to populism that is widely adopted for governance across many countries today.

Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist wrote in his article 'The populist zeitgeist' published in the international comparative politics journal 'Government and Opposition' that, 'Many observers have noted that populism is inherent to representative democracy.' Of course, this acknowledges the relatedness of democracy and populism. But representative democracy is particularly a diluted form of democracy which can be likened to a partial sort of populism, not the pure sort.

So, clearly, many nations are yet to enter the age of pure populism. But most of them have some enduring elements of populism at a time when citizen intelligence and technology infrastructure is rapidly growing. Except in Switzerland where a couple of cantons or administrative divisions already practice pure (direct) democracy (a sort of pure populism), namely: canton of Appenzell Inner-Rhodes and canton of Glarus.

I believe now is a perfect time for pure populism to find its ground in governance around the world. Although, several other factors bar populism from sprouting in its purest form.

What factors are holding back the age of pure populism?

Prejudice. There are people spreading bad opinions and impressions of pure populism which soil the reputation of the concept and influence how the public reacts to it. Most of these opinions and impressions are either based on misinformation and misrepresentation, or ill will and conflict of interest. For example, political parties and politicians use the term 'populism' and 'populist' to taint the reputation of their opponents in the sense that their political messages or actions are purely demagogy, mainly appearing to have empathy for the public through rhetoric or unrealistic proposals in other to increase political appeal among a wider population.

Limitations. The limitations associated with pure populism contribute heavily to the setback of the principle. For example, a pure populist government will require every eligible citizen to vote directly on policies and prescribe policy intitiatives. But the cost of collecting votes from an entire population and the time taken to reach consensus will tend to make governance unnecessarily expensive and decision-making time much longer.

Non-populist propaganda. In modern day politics, the concept of populism is said to have become a strategic tool in the hands of every political party, 'either out of a sense of conviction or out of pure necessity', says Antonio Argandoña, Emeritus Professor of Economics and Business Ethics at IESE Business School, University of Navarra.

The idea is to leverage on public synergy to claim power and end it there.

A typical case is that of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and his regional allies who were noted to have used populism to achieve their dominance and later established authoritarian regimes by the time they grabbed power.

Another case is that of Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari and his political party, All Progessives Congress (APC), who used the public-appealing mantra of 'change' in 2015 to claim power at a time when a huge bunch of the common Nigerian masses were agitating for the leave of the underperforming and corrupt incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan, but have scantily delivered the promises they made before election after getting power.'


Pure populism will never be adopted as a form of governance anywhere in the world, if pure populists and their supporters do not rise to the occasion by engaging the public with their own positive narratives, developing and promoting innovative and efficient ways to implement populist governance (e.g. e-governance), and sensitising the common masses about the true behaviours and attributes of pure populists so as to curb the success of non-populist propaganda that use the concept of populism in a deceptive way to win the hearts of the public.

Of course, pure populism is a perfect political paradigm for governance, because, practically, the more representative a government is, the better it can rule fairly and equally over a diverse and dynamic populace. Likewise, the less representative it is, the higher the chances it cannot rule fairly and equally over such populace.

I will be happy to hear your thoughts on this subject too. Click here to find and chat me on Twitter.
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The Age of Pure Populism: Are We There Yet?
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