Pop­ulisms: A Quick Im­mer­sion

Car­los de la Torre

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction - BEN­JAMIN WELTON

Tibid­abo Pub­lish­ing (MARCH) Soft­cover $12 (190pp) 978-1-949845-01-3

Pop­ulism has be­come one of the defin­ing po­lit­i­cal move­ments of the twenty-first cen­tury, and Car­los de la Torre’s Pop­ulisms: A Quick Im­mer­sion works to de­mys­tify it.

Tak­ing on, and tak­ing down, some of the big­gest mis­con­cep­tions about pop­ulism, de la Torre notes that, de­spite what an­tipop­ulists say, there is noth­ing proto­fas­cist about pop­ulism, even right-wing pop­ulism. Pop­ulists past and present rarely seek to do away with democ­racy, and in fact ag­i­tate for greater democ­racy for the masses.

Though Don­ald Trump and the late Hugo Chávez could not be more dis­sim­i­lar (de la Torre says Trump’s brand of pop­ulism “aims to recre­ate a nos­tal­gic white, pa­tri­ar­chal and het­ero­sex­ual Amer­ica,” while Chávez worked to “trans­form so­ci­ety” in Venezuela), both are shown share a sim­i­lar logic—be­cause pop­ulism, no mat­ter the color, is pred­i­cated upon politi­ciz­ing griev­ances and see­ing en­e­mies in op­pos­ing par­ties.

Em­i­nently ap­proach­able—both schol­arly and ac­ces­si­ble—the book’s chap­ters are brief and fo­cused, with aca­demic jar­gon kept to a bliss­ful min­i­mum. This quick im­mer­sive study walks its au­di­ence through what pop­ulism looks like in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions, in­clud­ing in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and time pe­ri­ods. While it is not ex­haus­tive nor in­ter­ested in his­tory be­fore the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, it is a work­able blue­print for how pop­ulist move­ments at­tain and hold power.

The text is con­ver­sant with Amer­i­can his­to­rian Richard Hof­s­tadter’s work on pop­ulism from the 1940s and 1950s, and Hof­s­tadter’s views on the low ed­u­ca­tion lev­els of pop­ulists in­flu­ence de la Torre’s find­ings, per­haps to their detri­ment. The book also shows a clear pref­er­ence for left-wing pop­ulists over their right-wing peers.

Pop­ulisms ex­plains and ex­pands upon the def­i­ni­tion of pop­ulism. Few books touch a con­tem­po­rary nerve quite like this one.

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