Populism And Populists, Three Non-Definitions!

Shahab Riazi
5 min readAug 19, 2023

How does one define Populism!? It maybe easier to eliminate some of the common phrases, images and tropes that come to mind when the word is invoked.

So, here is what it is NOT:

  1. It is NOT a particular political or governing philosophy
  2. It is NOT fascist, dictatorial or non-democratic
  3. It is NOT exclusively left or right wing oriented

We can expand on each of these attempts to outline what it is not and at the end, it would be sensible to explore what makes populism less scary a prospect in a democratic setup than most people believe.

Populism is not a particular political or governing philosophy however it can pave the road for someone with ambitions to traverse the political landscape as a political leader. The origin of populism is tied to the People’s Party in the late 19th century in the US and while it is probably sensible to put the origin of politics by means of populism to the rise of the people’s party in the 1890s, the struggle was not unique to that time in America.

The conflict between the high-handed wealthy (both in the British monarchy and colonies) and the “powerless” who nonetheless had control of their lives and the lives of their charges (dependents and slaves) with the considerable yet sole encumbrance of taxation without representation to the crown continues to run through the American life beyond independence from the British. (The Populist Persuasion — Michael Kazin)

This political strain kept resurfacing throughout the 19th century following American independence, even as early as Jefferson with his ideals about a weak central government, moving onto Andrew Jackson and then Abraham Lincoln. Andrew Jackson’s words of protest to the US Senate formulate the best argument showing that populism is not a particular political or governing philosophy. He said in a letter dated, April 15th 1834, “…to persuade my countrymen, so far as I may, that it is not in a…government supported by powerful monopolies…that they will find happiness…but in a plain system, void of pomp, protecting all and granting favors to none, dispensing its blessings, like the dews of Heaven.” (URL Reference) It is evident that there is no alternative philosophy here to control the artificial beasts of industry created by the open marketplace fused with what was considered artificial money back then, which included paper, stocks and bonds. Andrew…

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Shahab Riazi

Shahab Riazi is a resident of silicon valley with a love-hate relationship with tech! He is married to a loving indulgent wife and spoils 3 kids at her expense!