Power to the people?

It is great to see people seeking political solutions to their very real concerns, but populist movements also seem to be eminently vulnerable to the manipulation

Is populism good or bad? Despite its largely negative overtones, it must have something going for it to attract increasingly large numbers of voters all over Europe and the world. While today's populist movements provide a natural home for many xenophobes, Islamaphobes and others with extreme attitudes most of us would not identify with, I find it hard to believe the many thousands attracted to these movements are all racist scum who want to resurrect the gulag system. By definition, populism appeals to the people, and deals with issues that concern the public in a general sense, especially when that public has lost faith in a political system that has either been unable to address these concerns effectively or even actively works against their most basic interests.

As the professor of EU and international law, Maria Mut, points out in an interview on pages 22 and 23 of this issue of the magazine, populism can put a spotlight on, for example, important issues that traditional parties would rather ignore. It is also a way of putting legitimate democratic pressure on parties wallowing in a political comfort zone. To explore some of these aspects of a political tendency that appears to be gathering steam right now, this month we bring you a 10-page feature on the phenomenon. Apart from laying out the views of experts in the matter, the report focuses on some of the most recent examples of populist movements around the world, from Brexit to Trump, in an effort to, at the very least, get us thinking about the matter. If you haven't done so already, check it out and don't forget to let us know your thoughts.

For myself, I am as probably undecided about what the rise in populism means as you are. On the one hand, it is great to see people of all stripes participating and seeking political solutions to their very real concerns. The radical in me also responds to the idea of sweeping away outmoded and ineffective political systems inherited from a world that is quickly disappearing with the rise of such things as globalisation and the Internet.

However, at the same time, populism is more than a bit scary. While it does a good job in highlighting what needs to change, it's a bit sketchy on providing convincing solutions. Populist movements also seem to be eminently vulnerable to the manipulation and control of unscrupulous extremists more than willing to ride a wave of popular discontent in order to achieve enough power to implement their own agendas that are simply going to make matters worse in the long run.

The rise of populism Pages 20-29
While Podemos may not have lived up to expectations in the recent round of Spanish elections, Brexit and the Trump showed that populism is very much alive and well. In fact, the political landscape across Europe and the world is increasingly populated by these movements and it has become clear that they can no longer be dismissed out of hand. The report on populism in this issue provides a round-up of some of the most important in recent times, while also providing some insight into their appeal. That people everywhere have become disillusioned with the traditional political system is clear. The question is whether these populist movements can provide the answers and solutions that many of us are looking for.
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