Written by Peregrinus
In libertarian and right wing circles populism has once again become a topic of discussion – do you dare ally with people who don’t share your view, or do you remain a hard purist and remain a small ideological niche? Here we will examine the forms of populism and their pros and cons respectively.
When people refer to “bi-partisan support” or “left-right alliances” they are usually referring to horizontal populism. This form of populism operates on the idea that with the current issue, all that matters is the amount of government interference (see figure 1).
This form of populism is incredibly unstable as typically cultural positions may vary wildly, and tension leads to the temporary alliances dissolving. The key words to look for to identify such a populist are phrases like “we need to bring people together” or “we need to put our differences aside for this.” Typically, horizontal populists become disappointed in the end when their alliances fall apart due to internal strife.
Vertical populism is much more stable and successful in the long run than horizontal populism. This form of populism operates on the idea that given shared cultural and economic ideas the particular style of government at play can be set aside for a common goal (see figure 2).
This form of populism is often reactionary or revolutionary in nature, usually in reaction to some unwanted political or cultural shift. Usually people of these groups stay relatively tied to their populist identity until the movement itself collapses from neglect.
The most common form of populism is actually a mix of the first two (many of the movements used above were simplified for explanatory purpose and are actually hybrid in nature). Incorporating the struggles and benefits of both, the strength of the group is heavily tied to how polarized the group is. (See figure 3.)
The flexibly of this hybrid populism means that instead of dissolving, often movements will simply transform into another form (International Labor into Progressivism for example). While die hard purists will insist on conformity, in this environment the group will simply leave them behind, or if centralized control exists, the purist will purge members and collapse the group into either a vertical or horizontal form.
Populism is a powerful tool for political action, whether through the political system or simply through ground roots action. This doesn’t mean that one must lose their principles or beliefs, but it does mean one can’t regress into semantics and petty arguments over small issues. For those who can do this, powerful movements can be created. For those who cannot, they will always remain an obscure corner of the internet or a small club of LARP bros.