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The rise of modern populism - Takis S. Pappas

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In many democratic countries, charismatic leaders vilify political opponents, disparage institutions, and claim to be for the people. Some critics label this approach as authoritarian or fascist, while others argue that these leaders are manipulating voters. This style of politics goes by the name of populism. Takis S. Pappas explores the phenomenon and the lasting impact it can have on a country.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Takis S Pappas
  • Director Patrick Smith
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Art Director Patrick Smith
  • Animator Patrick Smith
  • Compositor Patrick Smith
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
“Populism” is a word commonly used but little understood. It represents a novel political and democratic ideal that puts specific popular interests first, even at the expense of impersonal political institutions. Although all-pervasive in modern politics, populism grows especially strong when utilized by charismatic leaders.

“Populism” has been associated with a bewildering variety of historical phenomena and political leaders ranging from the demagogues of ancient Greece and the Gracchi brothers in the late Roman Republic (509 BC–27 BC) to the Levellers during the English Civil War (1642–1651) to the Chartists, the Luddites and the agrarian US Populists in the 19th century to the Narodniks in pre-revolutionary Russia and from there to such diverse more contemporary figures as Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi and Julius Nyerere.

Pre-modern populism should not be confused with modern populism. The latter signifies a type of democracy that prioritizes the interests of the ordinary people over the generally applied institutions of the postwar liberal state. Moreover, modern populism would not be confused with authoritarianism, which is non-democratic, or with nativism, a term that is used to describe anti-immigration parties, especially in Europe.

Andreas Papandreou (1919-1996) was the first populist leader to win power in a European country, Greece. Populism grew strong in Greece and was the most important causal factor for this country’s more recent financial and political crisis that also rocked Europe.

Other important populist leaders have been Argentina’s Juan Perón (1895-1974) and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez (1954-2013), while in postwar Europe the most significant populist leaders besides Papandreou have been Hungary’s Viktor Orbán (born 1963) and Poland’s Jarosław Kaczyński (born 1949). Donald Trump also classifies as populist.

A full-blown study of populism is to be found in your educator’s Populism and Liberal Democracy: A Comparative and Theoretical Analysis. Takis Pappas also maintains a blog dedicated to discussing topics related to populism and contemporary democratic politics: www.pappaspopulism.com.

Interested in learning how populism works in current democracies? Check out this journal by the educator ofthis lesson, Takis, detailing the modern features of a populist leader!

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Takis S Pappas
  • Director Patrick Smith
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Art Director Patrick Smith
  • Animator Patrick Smith
  • Compositor Patrick Smith
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more