Our discussion on populism opens with a warning against complacency. As we look ahead to the German election later this year, and Macron’s success in France, it is possible to get a bit complacent about ebbing the tide of populism, at least in Western Europe, for the time being.
But it nonetheless remains a threat. It is not easy to know why it’s come back with venom at the present time, but we must ask how people who are not particularly involved in politics gain and develop their political views.
Although political preferences have been historically determined in large part by class and/or religion, industrial societies have come a long way since the populism of the 1930s and 40s. What has perhaps been one factor in determining opinion that has exerted influence consistently, throughout these times to the present day, is the idea of nationhood.
In the twentieth century, and particularly during the post-war years, the left has been part of the narrative of nation. All welfare states are national projects and that allowed the left to get in on representing this sentiment.
In recent years though, the rapid and unprecedented expansion of globalisation has fostered societies that have allowed some constituencies to feel left behind. And often those who have answered to this mood have been populists on the right.
But there is yet cause for optimism. Young voters, with an apparent desire for universalism and social justice, do derive their views from a similar sentiment of nation: but with the aim of progressive outcomes, just as those who created welfare states did before them.