Populism in Austria

Populism – what kind of populism?

The term populism is highly contested in international scholarship. In a general sense populism is understood as a political programme that ‘claims to champion the common person, usually by favourable contrast with a real or perceived elite or establishment’.[1] This understanding, however, creates only a superficial grasp of the concept of populism. While it is not possible to deal with the complex questions of the concept of populism in this article, certain clarifications will be made, and the underlying understanding of populism regarding the following analysis will be presented.

It is important to consider the different understandings of the term populism in the English and the German language. Populism in German is understood as ‘opportunistic, popular, often demagogic politics, which aims to gain the favor of the masses (with regard to elections) by dramatizing the political situation’. The German understanding, thus, is much more general and more vague. It includes a much broader group of political movements. The English discussion refers to a much more elaborate concept of populism, which - as mentioned previously - claims to represent the people against an elite in an undemocratic manner. Furthermore, this rhetoric might lead to measures against the ideas of constitutionalism.

A famous discussion on the term populism is presented by Jan-Werner Müller. He argues that populism relates mainly to a claim to be the sole representatives of the people. Other groups (political parties) arc understood as illegitimate. Populists claim to represent the (true) people. For him the clement of the elite is not crucial; the core clement is the anti-pluralist approach of populists. Andres Arato criticizes Miillcr’s perspective because it lacks the clement of the ‘embodiment of leadership’. According to Arato, populism also includes a ‘name and will and even body of a single leader’, who identifies the will of the people with the will of the group and avoids the possibility of division.

In this chapter the following elements are used to identify populism, although it does not seem that all elements have to be represented with the same intensity. The first element of populism is the claim to represent ‘the People’; this includes an exclusionary second element against ‘the Others’, which can refer to different groups, especially minorities. The third element is a combination of the first and second elements, referring to the claim to be protecting the traditional population from the others (especially foreigners). The role and embodiment of a single leader serves as a fourth clement. Further elements, which seem to be less essential, concern a form of nationalism, which opposes international cooperation, shows a preference for direct democratic approaches and the narrative of conducting a fight against the elite.

When it comes to populism in Austria, the focus lies on the rises and falls of the Austrian Freedom Party since 1986 (sec the next sub-section). Beyond this familiar right-wing-populist narrative, the realignment of the conservative party by Sebastian Kurz (since 2017) also has to be analysed from a populist perspective.

  • [1] https://www.britannica.com/topic/populism accessed 10 January 2021. 2 See https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Populismus accessed 10 January 2021: ‘von Opportunismus geprägte, volksnahe, oft demagogische Politik, die das Ziel hat, durch Dramatisierung der politischen Lage die Gunst der Massen (im Hinblick auf Wahlen) zu gewinnen’. 3 See Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, Populism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press 2017) 9: ‘Populism has three core concepts: the people, the elite, and the general will’. 4 Jan-Werner Müller, What Is Populism? (Penguin 2017). 5 Ibid. 6 Andrew Arato, ‘Populism, Constitutional Courts, and Civil Society’, in Christine Landfried (ed.), Judicial Power: How Constitutional Courts Affect Political Transformations (Cambridge University Press 2019) 318, 326.
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >