Commentators have affixed the “populist” label to the wave of demagogic politics sweeping Europe (and much of the rest of the world). But, beyond the raucous style common to populists, what do these movements share?
Rage against the political establishment has become a global phenomenon. Chinese bloggers, American Tea Party activists, British Europhobes, Egyptian Islamists, Dutch populists, Greek ultra-rightists, and Thai “red shirts” all have one thing in common: hatred of the status quo and contempt for their countries’ elites. We are living in an age of populism. The authority of conventional politicians and traditional media is slipping away fast.
The stand-up comedianBeppe Grillo, like the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini before him, has a craving to take over the piazza and mesmerise the crowd. Where once young Italians chanted the mantra ‘Du-ce! Du-ce!’ now they chant ‘Bep-pe! Bep-pe!’. But it is not just a shared need to rant and rave at large numbers of complete strangers that hirsute Beppe and bald Benito have in common. Worryingly, for Italy and also for Europe (where democracy seems incapable of solving the existential crisis), there is a lot more to it than that.