A Quick Word: Populist

How is it that ‘populist’ is a derogative word? What does it mean, anyway?

It appears to me that it currently is often used to describe a “view that is held by a large number of people but is however wrong”. (This is my middle-class, middle of the road, moderately well-educated understanding of the current situation; and please note that I am still sitting so resolutely on the fence as regards matters like Brexit that I have, as MSC would no doubt agree, got splinters embedded in my rear.)

My admittedly old print dictionaries (Collins and Oxford) do not have it. My Kindle dictionary (Oxford) gives the noun as a “person who supports or seeks to appeal to the concerns of ordinary people”. Hence the adjective. This is hardly derogatory and hardly my received impression from the 2017 media. So I went online to find out more.

Wikipedia says that populism mobilises “a large alienated element of a population against a government which is seen as controlled by an out-of-touch closed elite that acts on behalf of its own interests” and that it is often used pejoratively. (Wikipedia populist)

Other websites (there were over 12 million hits for populist) see populism as alarming (300 000 hits for populist & alarming) or a danger (500 000 hits for populist & danger).So it has presumably become a pejorative word. In what way?

Jeremy Corbyn, quoted on Sky News, criticises the populist right. (Sky News article) I found 615 000 hits for populist & left wing, with only 50 000 more for populist & right wing. Not a huge difference. Mr Corbyn, according to the Independent, is to be relaunched as a left wing populist. (Independent article) So it seems to be used for either left or right wing views, often in a negative way.

Obviously there is some confusion about a definition and, perhaps sadly, some misappropriation by left and right of the word “populist”, on its own, as a derogatory term to suit particular agendas. I find the definition of “supporting or seeking to appeal to the concerns of ordinary people” to be clear and useful; it would be nice if it were always to be used this way, if necessary linked to either “right wing” or “left wing” for clarity.

However, I don’t control the media……

Couldn’t think of a picture…..

2 thoughts on “A Quick Word: Populist

  1. Interesting that! I found this explanation: In general, ideology or political movement that mobilizes the population (often, but not always, the lower classes) against an institution or government, usually in the defense of the underdog or the wronged. Whether of left, right, or middle political persuasion, it seeks to unite the uncorrupt and the unsophisticated (the ‘little man’) against the corrupt dominant elites (usually the orthodox politicians) and their camp followers (usually the rich and the intellectuals). It is guided by the belief that political and social goals are best achieved by the direct actions of the masses. Although it comes into being where mainstream political institutions fail to deliver, there is no identifiable economic or social set of conditions that give rise to it, and it is not confined to any particular social class.
    Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/populism.html

    Liked by 1 person

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