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Political Science Fascism & Totalitarianism

Has Populism Won?

The War on Liberal Democracy

by (author) Daniel Drache & Marc D. Froese

ECW Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2022
Fascism & Totalitarianism, Political, History & Theory, Nationalism
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    Publish Date
    Oct 2022
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Has populism won? Two experts show us how and why this disturbing global political trend has taken root and what it will take to turn the tide

From Trump’s America to Putin’s Russia, and from Poland to the Philippines, rapid change and rising inequality have fueled a retreat into tribalist nationalism fed by a fear of being left behind. Populist leaders tap into this fear, with empty promises of looking out for the little guy and promising a return to national greatness. This is happening in countries across the globe and the political spectrum, arising in the right and the left alike. So why are we so susceptible to this pernicious political style at this moment? How did we get here? Will we get back to more even-handed governments? And more importantly, how has the global insurgency captured high offices across the globe, winning election after election? And more importantly, if Putin is defeated in his unprovoked war on Ukraine, will vociferous publics turn against the insurgency? Liberal democracy is at a turning point, as system smashers aren’t about to go quietly into the night, and there are few viable alternatives in the wings.

Political scientists Drache and Froese have turned original research into a compelling analysis of the rise of populism and reveal what it will take to douse the flames. This is an essential read for anyone concerned about the encroachments on freedom and the rule of law around the world.


About the authors

Daniel Drache is a leading expert on global trade governance and North American integration. He is the author of Borders Matter: Homeland Security and the Search for North America (2004), a revised edition of which was published in Spanish in 2007. The editor of a special edition of Canada Watch—“Deep Integration: North America Post-Bush”—he is also a member of the Centre for International Governance Innovations (CIGI) North American Portal advisory committee.

Daniel Drache's profile page

Marc D. Froese is an assistant professor in the Department of History and Political Science at Canadian University College in Lacombe, Alberta.

Marc D. Froese's profile page

Excerpt: Has Populism Won?: The War on Liberal Democracy (by (author) Daniel Drache & Marc D. Froese)


When Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman opened on Broadway in 1949, the titular salesman, Willy Loman, was instantly recognizable as the archetypal everyman of the postwar period. The character was so appealing to the theater-going public because he represented the ordinary individual beaten down by a capitalist system that treated him like an expendable cog in the profit machine. Today, the same is true of Walter White in TV’s Breaking Bad, another loser at rock bottom. Like Willy Loman, he was bullied and betrayed by the liberal order. He can’t catch a break. But where Willy accepted defeat, Walter fought back, taking his piece of the American dream by hook or by crook. Today, the people who have been knocked around won’t be denied. If they have to break the system to get what they believe they’re owed, then so be it.

The ethos of populist politics is one in which flawed characters have the moxie to beat the system and the drive to win the affection of the rest of us. We weep for Willy and cheer for Walter because we fear the same impersonal economic forces that drove them to such lengths will also steamroll us. Voters cheer for Bernie Sanders or Evo Morales because they represent the average person going up against the system, like Sarah Connor in Terminator or Frank Castle in The Punisher. The goal is to beat the rigged system or die trying, like Thelma and Louise or Bonnie and Clyde. Of course, the fact that all of these tragic figures are brought down by their own flaws tells you a lot about the narcissistic logic of identity politics in which populist strong men masquerade as competent leaders because appearance matters more than substance and character.

We need to ask one very essential question: If these leaders are so flawed, incapable, and corrupt, how have populist movements convinced so many people to rally around their cause? Populist activists tell a good story about how the system has been brought low by the unscrupulous elite. The populist leader responds by portraying himself as the opposite of those supposedly corrupt leaders. He wears the guise of the everyman, who is reviled by his betters but loved by underdogs everywhere. The thing about a good lie is that it contains a kernel of truth. And this is particularly true of the everyman persona. Most populist leaders are the sort of people who really believe themselves to have the common touch, like India’s Narendra Modi or Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and for the most part they do. Like-minded voters are seduced by their charisma and charm. Those who like them idolize them, and those who dislike them revile them. But there is no such thing as bad publicity. Even hatred has its uses in identity politics.


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