Democratic Promise: Why We Can Still Find Hope in American Populist Traditions

We must, therefore, be careful not to miss the continuing democratic promise of past populisms even while acknowledging the ways in which current authoritarianism feeds off of anti-elitist rhetoric.

Lecture Description

The onslaught against populism among mainstream opinion is stronger than it has been since Richard Hofstadter more than a half century ago condemned the naïve—and dangerous—impulses of late nineteenth-century agrarianism. The anti-elitist rhetoric associated with the rise of authoritarianism in the United States and abroad has recently led to the scholarly (and popular) conceptualization of such anti-democratic movements as “populism.” Yet it is a grand analytical, and political, mistake to sweep up all past populisms in a condemnatory dragnet. Johnston surveys populist movements from artisanal radicalism in the Revolutionary Era to radical Progressivism a century ago to multicultural movements for popular empowerment closer to the present which brings fruitful opportunities to broaden our ideas about what populism is and to re-evaluate the democratic promise of such traditions for today.


Populism Social Movements

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Robert Douglas Johnston

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