An echo from the past: 21th century -- The Age of Populism?

Work in progress...

INTRODUCTION -- The echo from the past: The unstable systems of social, cultural and political currents in the interwar period (1919-38), -- and its economic depression; played out as the world newly had started to recover from its vast human losses and material devastations, after World War I (1914-18). The interwar or interbellum's great upheaval revealed and nurtured the growth of a violent populism and nationalism in the world; which ultimately triggered World War II (1939-45). This war constituted an enormous tragedy and disaster for humanity. Though; different historical epochs and contexts might have different systemic outcomes: As a result contemporary populism might take another path, than the violent populistic nationalism that swept across the world in the interwar period. To analyze these systems closer, the core of this essay will be a social, cultural, political and economic comparisan of our contemporary populism with the populistic nationalism that took root during the interwar period. I will also argue for this statement: For a violent populism to emerge and become dominant in the world, it has to be socially, culturally, politically and economically embedded in ongoing historical conflicts; which has relevance to the contemporary conflict situation in the world. Formulated more outspoken; for a populistic wave; which draws on nationalism, to become challenging or even dangerous; and change the whole system, it needs to be deeply historically rooted in an unsolved social, economic, cultural, and political conflict. The growth of populism is typically nutrued by periods of great upheavals or unstable systems; such as vast flows of immigrants, cultural differences, hot conflicts in the world, economic crisis, social inequality, and political unrest. The interbellum is an example of such a period of upheaval or unstability, which was solidely historically anchored in a vast economic, cultural, politic and social unrest.

The unstable systems of the interwar period forecasted World War II: What will our contemporary populism forecast? What can we learn from the echo of the past? And ultimately; how challenging or even dangerous might todays populism be for the conflict situation in our world? The answers to these questions; might be partly revealed as the results from upcoming political elections (Rovella 2016), and contemporary social, cultural, political and economic events, unfolds. As we have stepped into the 21th century -- we need to be aware of the potential dangers of the reoccuring populism; which according to Rovella (2016), is about to take over the world:

"As a form of horizontal political power, populism has been instrumental to legal, agrarian, and social reforms through the years. But it’s also played a starring role in the rise of demagogues and therefore some of the ugliest episodes in human history." (Rovella 2016: 1).

We have stepped into a new historical epoch: Will the 21th century be the start of the age of populism? Will this new age be characterized by a renewed model of populism or a nostalgic societal order or system; a step back in form of a populistic model from the past? To prevent nostalgia to win over renewal; and agression to win over conciliation; this should be of our concern; hot conflicts situations, unstable political systems, economic crisis, social inequality and cultural divisions in the world, accompanied with a violent growth of historically rooted populism has; in some cases, proved to have catastrophic outcomes for humanity. These are highly challenging societal problems to solve! To build a foundation for this task there is a need to start scrutionizing populism in a neutral and objective manner with no bias. The assertions, questions and hypothesis in this introduction also needs to be analyzed more deeply, by discussing the common features and the differences of the two ereas of populism and the relevance of this comparisan. This will be followed by a clearifying conclusion, and a rather uplifting epilogue and encouragement to humanity. To accheive this the concept of populism; its theoretical foundations; and its evident links to nationalism, must be clarified first.


THEORY: Populism and nationalism:

Müller's theories on populism -- What is it?

Populism which draws on civic nationalism and/or ethnic nationalism -- "Positive" populism and " negative" populism:

"Nationalism is a slippery concept, which is why politicians find it so easy to manipulate. At its best, it unites the country around common values to accomplish things that people could never manage alone. This “civic nationalism” is conciliatory and forward-looking—the nationalism of the Peace Corps, say, or Canada’s inclusive patriotism or German support for the home team as hosts of the 2006 World Cup. Civic nationalism appeals to universal values, such as freedom and equality. It contrasts with “ethnic nationalism”, which is zero-sum, aggressive and nostalgic and which draws on race or history to set the nation apart. In its darkest hour in the first half of the 20th century ethnic nationalism led to war." (The Economist 2016: 1).


EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS: Two areas of populism -- A comparisan:

Interbellum populism:

Our contemporary populism:

"Western societies were experiencing a populist, racist reaction to the fact that they had become both more pluralistic and more segmented by education.". (Wallace-Wells 2016: 1).

"Since the Arab Spring, nationalism and authoritarianism have been on the rise in both the largest and the freest countries, some of which have voted for more-autocratic leaders, and also in less democratic countries, where strongmen have strengthened their grips: in Egypt, the United Kingdom, Russia, India, Turkey, the Philippines, and China." (Wallace-Wells 2016: 1).

A comparisan of two areas of populism -- Differences and common features:


CONCLUSION: Populism nutured by unstable social, cultural, economic and political systems of upheavals:

Repeat main argument, statement and hypothesis

How does this essay answer the questions, claims and hypothesis stated in the introduction? What are the counterarguments?

Why is it relevant to compare our contemporary populism with the interbellum populism?

Will today's populism empower the people or the elites? That's up to time to reveal.

Is today's populism nutured by nationalistic conciliation or Agression?


EPILOGUE -- We are all human beings: The sitation from Rovella's article in the introduction should inspire and encourage all citizens; and particularly politicians of the world, to be cautious and act wisely. If peace is our ultimate urge; we should rather open up our mindsetts and hearts to integrative conflict solving diplomatic discussions; rather than hostility. We should not be carried away by complex conflicts which separates; the people; "us" against; "them"; the elites or a counterparty in a conflict: We should go easy on how we define people as either "us" or "them", and strive to be more tolerant. All humans should act, think and feel as one unit: If we can learn to act, think and feel as one humankind - world peace is within reach; and not ultimately; World War III. Take a good look when approaching the source of the crisis and conflict; focus on what we have in common rather than the differences that distinguish us: We are all human beings.


Copyright. All rights reserved IART Ingrid Katrine Amundsen 2007-2016. (Do not reprint without premission).



Albertazzi, D., McDonnell, D. (2008): "Twenty-First Century Populism -- The Spectre of Western European Democracy". Palgrave Macmillan: UK.

Morgenbladet (2016): ???

Müller, J-W., (2016): "What is populism?". University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia.

Rovella, D., (2016): "Populism takes over the world". (15.11.2016).

Strasser, T., (1981): "The Wave". Dell: New York.

The Economist (2016): "Trump’s world -- The new nationalism". (20.11.2016).

Wallace-Wells, B., (2016): "Trump’s Populism Is Not Just a Western Phenomenon". (17.11.2016).