On Populism, Again

Jason Frank writes:

“Debating whether we should call such movements “populist” is a semantic distraction: it too often mires us in unproductive verbal disputes or obfuscates ideological differences that should be engaged on their own terms.”

But this is odd. The forum (and the wider project it represents) seeks to rescue the concept of populism from its detractors. Indeed, the whole enterprise is premised on the idea that those who attack populism are really attacking its radical democratic potential. Which in turn means that the authoritarian and xenophobic manifestations in question are not deviations but themselves harbor a link to that potential. Otherwise, there would be nothing at stake in the term.

Yet there is clearly something crucial at stake. So why hedge by pretending that the term’s meaning is merely semantic? If it is, drop the term entirely and make the case for radically egalitarian participatory democracy. Maybe even directly oppose the latter to populism! The refusal to do so indicates that something far more than “semantics” is at the heart of the matter.