Populism defies easy definition. Though populism in some form or another has existed since ancient Greece was a thriving country, the term as it is currently employed hails from the nineteenth century.
Strongmen are oftentimes the source of populist power. They capitalize on a long-standing sentiment of exclusion—the “sovereign people” against duly elected government officials and the so-called elite. Some populists make this concept sound laudable, however they rarely deliver on the promises they made. The vow of returning control to “the people” is generally little more than a stump pitch.
Other populist leaders attempt—and sometimes succeed—in deconstructing democracies, forming a new power structure based on paranoid authoritarianism. In another model, a populist takes power and rules with an iron fist—no returning of power to the people here—yet he or she may improve economic conditions for many. In this case, the leader’s popularity remains high despite the broken promise by offering the people bread and circuses in exchange for unfettered control.
The differences in populist leadership strategies are so vast that some scholars argue that the word “populist” no longer accurately applies. However, I believe some explanations, especially from a psychoanalytic standpoint, are worthy of further exploration. Resurgence of Global Populism is an attempt to do just that.