Capitalism, populism & crisis of liberalism

Jipson John and Jitheesh P.M. interview Akeel Bilgrami in Frontline:

How do you engage with the term populism, its emergence and its philosophical and political connotations?

There is so much punditry on this subject that it is tempting to say that one should just put a moratorium on the term populism. But that would be an evasion. One can’t ignore the important issues underlying the obsessive interest in the subject. Yet, it’s not obvious what the best way to characterise those issues is. By “best way” I mean one that does not either trivialise them or distort them.

Dictionaries characterise populism as “the political effort of ordinary people to resist elites”. This is also our intuitive understanding of the term. If that is so, a question arises. Populism in its widespread usage today has become a pejorative term (and I don’t just mean that the elites use the term pejoratively, which they are bound to; many others do so as well). But how can it be a bad thing for ordinary people to resist domination by elites? Another closely related question is: in effect, democracy too amounts to the resistance by ordinary people of the elites, so then what is the difference between populism and democracy? These are both good questions. I’ll come back to them at the end.

The first and most obvious thing we notice is how variously the term populism is used. And worse, as your own question points out, it is used to describe or denote quite contradictory things: Trump, [Bernie] Sanders, [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, Modi, Brexiteers, [Jeremy] Corbyn, [Marine] Le Pen,… not to mention, Peronism in Argentina, the Narodniks in Russia, the agrarian movements of the late 19th century in the United States. If all these get counted as populist, then can there be said to be any common property or properties possessed by this disparate array of movements and ideologies that can be identified and analysed and explained? Well, if by common properties we mean common contents in their political commitments, the answer will simply have to be “No”.

More here.