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Mudde, Cas. “The populist zeitgeist.” Government and opposition 39, no. 4 (2004): 541-563.


Since the 1980s the rise of so-called ‘populist parties’ has given rise to thousands of books, articles, columns and editorials. This article aims to make a threefold contribution to the current debate on populism in liberal democracies. First, a clear and new definition of populism is presented. Second, the normal-pathology thesis is rejected; instead it is argued that today populist discourse has become mainstream in the politics of western democracies. Indeed, one can even speak of a populist Zeitgeist. Third, it is argued that the explanations of and reactions to the current populist Zeitgeist are seriously flawed and might actually strengthen rather than weaken it.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.