Populism: Man and his Symbols


Have you ever wondered why television shows like the Teletubbies have been so popular amongst young children? I asked myself this and I realized that almost everything in those shows is very basic and simple. The shapes are big and smooth. The colors are bright and shiny. And the storylines are straightforward and uncomplicated. In other words, those types of programs accommodate the undeveloped and simplistic mind of a young child.

Not long after I realized this, I wondered why some people are attracted to the simplistic and one–sided ideas (like nationalism and racist views) of populist politicians. And I saw a connection in the sense that those people may very well be lacking the mental or emotional or spiritual development needed to appreciate more mature, nuanced and balanced ways of viewing the world. So part of their mind is still stuck at the childish level of needing immature ways of looking at life.

Considering this phenomenon from another perspective, one could say that the degree to which people need archetypical clichés is indicative of their development. On one side of the spectrum we have the childish level. The mind of a child needs games and fairy tales in order to understand reality. In other words, it needs a lot of symbolism. On the other opposite of the spectrum we have the developed, mature, more enlightened perspective, which can deal with reality as it is, in all its complexity and paradoxes, without having to use stereotypes and simplistic one–sided points of view.

The essence of populism can be defined as the construction of a central opposition between the ordinary people and culprit others (e.g., Taggart, 2000). The culprits here being the developed elite, of course. So populist leaders always claim to speak for the common people and their simplistic views of the world. The common people are always good and the elite is always bad. Ironically, a lot of populist leaders are themselves part of the elite, but they conveniently forget about that.

But history has shown that ultimately these leaders fail to deliver. This is because their shallow reactionary conservatism is no match for the fact that a positive and constructive future for their country lies in nuanced views, development and internationalist policies.

United we stand, divided we fall.