Stay strong and resilient against populism: Developing a new positive narrative
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Community building: Unite not divide

Cas Mudde – a prominent scholar in the study of populism – suggests that populism’s ideological core is the dismissal of pluralism, which is the foundation of liberal democracy (Mudde and Kaltwasser, 2019). According to Mudde, populism ideologies separate society in two distinct groups: the “pure people” and the “corrupt elite” whereas at the same time it thrives on the perception that the political establishment is out of touch with the concerns and interests of ordinary citizens.  In this sense, according to Mudde (2018) populists claim to represent the “real people,” who are homogeneous and united in their beliefs, while according to this, “corrupt elite” are presented to be out of touch with the people and are responsible for all the problems in society (Brubaker, 2017).

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This restrictive understanding of ‘the people’ is perceived to be a main threat to the vital ideals of the pluralist ideology, which values diversity, tolerance, and the inclusion of different perspectives in the democratic process (Galston, 2018).

The value of pluralism

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Pluralism distinguishes that society is made up of numerous and diverse groups and interests, and that democracy requires a process of negotiation and compromise between these groups in order to reach decisions that are beneficial for all. Populism’s rejection of pluralism undermines this process and fosters an environment of division and intolerance. Specifically, this exclusionary populism’s definition of ‘the people’ can have numerous consequences. It became apparent that populist leaders frequently scapegoat minority groups including immigrants and other marginalised communities by blaming them for issues of contemporary societies and thereby threatening their rights and safety (Merkel et al., 2019).

Furthermore, populist movements also have a tendency to challenge democratic institutions. Through this, it becomes apparent that the rejection of pluralism is a defining feature of populism that poses a threat to the values of democratic pluralism (Mudde, 2004).

Thus, recognising and contradicting this exclusionary definition of ‘the people’ is significant for conserving a democratic society that values diversity, tolerance, and inclusion.

An inclusive vision in response

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Mudde (2018) suggests that in order for mainstream political parties to tackle populism, it is important for them to offer an inclusive vision that responds to the contemporary needs of all citizens. This raises the need for mainstream political parties to develop procedures that prioritise economic and social justice, while at the same time caress the concerns of marginalised communities. Moreover, this indicates that political parties should promote a message of unity and shared values in order to counter the divisive rhetoric and scapegoating of minorities that populists often employ.

Similarly, Mudde and Kaltwaser (2019) highlight the significance of developing coalitions with other political actors, including civil society organisations and social movements. Through this, they can offer a united front against the divisive and exclusionary politics of populism (Lironi et al., 2021). In this sense, according to Mudde, countering the appeal of populism requires the development of an inclusive political vision and an implementation of policies that are beneficial to all citizens. This underlines the need to prioritise economic and social justice, avoiding divisive rhetoric and scapegoating, and building coalitions and alliances with other political actors (Greven, 2016).

The power of community building

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An essential part of tackling the divisiveness and polarisation caused by populism is community building.  Specifically, by fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose, a resilient community built upon democratic values that is better equipped to resist the appeal of populist movements can be developed. The development of this community can be achieved through the promotion of ideologies of unity which can happen through the following practices (Greven, 2016; Lironi et al, 2021; Lee and Johnstone, 2021; Pease, 2020):

  1. Practices which encourage dialogue and mutual understanding: Populism often thrives on stereotypes and oversimplifications of complex issues. Encouraging dialogue and mutual understanding between people from different backgrounds can help to tackle these barriers and build a sense of common purpose.
  2. Through the promotion of social inclusion: Populist movements often target and attract people who feel ‘left out’ by society. Promoting social inclusion and ensuring that everyone feels included can help to reduce the appeal of populist narratives.
  3. Through ‘building bridges’ between diverse communities: Populist movements often seek to divide people along ethnic, religious, or cultural lines. Building bridges between communities and promoting cross-cultural understanding can help to counteract these divisions.
  4. Through nurturing a sense of shared responsibility: Populist movements often endorse a sense of victimhood. Fostering a sense of shared responsibility for addressing society’s challenges can help to counteract this narrative and promote a sense of unity.
  5. Through the encouragement of civic engagement: Populist movements often seek to undermine democratic institutions and norms. Encouraging civic engagement and participation can help to strengthen these institutions and promote a sense of shared ownership of the democratic process.

Communicate and discuss your concerns regarding populism, and identify ways of tackling populism together.

Community building: Unite not divide
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