It seems to me that there are really only three paths to political power. You can listen to your voters, and honestly try to represent their interests; you can convince your voters that you will look after them, but serve your own (or your parties!) interests first; or you can disregard the will of the public and the ideals of democracy and seize power by force. Given the definition of a populist then, which is “a member or adherent of a political party seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people,” it would follow that there are only three types of political leaders: populists, those who appear to be populists, and dictators. And yet populism is usually considered a negative characteristic. Surely a true populist would be infinitely preferable to either a two faced politician or a dictator. I think the problem with populism arises from the fact that a populist tries to make everyone happy all the time- something not even the smoothest political representative can pull off. Take Peron, for example, who promised far too much to far too many, and delivered far too little- resulting in his eventual downfall. My father always says that a perfect compromise is one that leaves everybody a little unhappy, but a populist promises to make everyone happy, something I believe to be both very idealistic and, in its own right, unachievable. You could, as a leader, attempt to make everyone in your constituency agree on every topic, but I think that would be a Sisyphean task. The more popular (haha) route seems to be to promise different things to different people, always avoid conflict whenever possible. Compromise is like poison to a populist. Of course, the only way to ensure that you never anger anybody through your actions is to never take action, which results in no change, or real representation, for your people or your country. To use Peron again, during his exile from Argentina, he made many conflicting promises to polarized groups, like communists and right wing members. At the time, this was an okay strategy, as, being out of office, he had no power to act on his promises, and could thus be excused for not taking action. However, when he did return to office, in 1971, his various assurances came back to bite him. Populism may get you to power, but it doesn’t seem to be very good at keeping you there. Politics, even when perfect, will never be able to make everyone happy.
I really liked reading your blog! I found your take on populism very interesting to read. I would agree with you when you said that Peron promised more than he could deliver to the people. I found that populism may sound good in theory, but in reality is not as idealistic.
In many ways I think that being a leader is like being a business, the main aim is to churn out the most popular results. Although populism led to the downfall of leaders like Peron, Peronism continued long after his rule. Why do you think this is?