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  • Paul Kenny, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne
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Book description

The rise to power of populists like Donald Trump is usually attributed to the shifting values and policy preferences of voters-the demand side. Why Populism shifts the public debate on populism and examines the other half of the equation-the supply side. Kenny argues that to understand the rise of populism is to understand the cost of different strategies for winning and keeping power. For the aspiring leader, populism-appealing directly to the people through mass communication-can be a quicker, cheaper, and more effective strategy than working through a political party. Probing the long history of populism in the West from its Ancient Greek roots to the present, this highly readable book shows that the 'economic laws of populism are constant.' 'Forget ideology. Forget resentment. Forget racism or sexism.' Populism, the author writes, is the result of a hidden strategic calculus.


‘Understanding the lure of populism is vital for anyone who cares about the strength of democracy. Applying an economic lens to two millennia of evidence, Paul Kenny shows how factors such as communications technologies, crises, and party factions have shaped the rise of populists. A bold book on a big topic.'

Andrew Leigh - MP and author of What's the Worst That Could Happen? Existential Risk and Extreme Politics

‘A true tour-de-force! Kenny marshals vast historical knowledge to show how populist politics has flourished through the ages, from Ancient Greek democracy to the French Revolution, the rise of Hitler, and the irruption of Trump. Drawing on transaction cost economics, this impressive book demonstrates why charismatic authority often has huge political payoffs and how mass support can vault ambitious outsiders to supreme leadership. Crucial for understanding the present age of populism!'

Kurt Weyland - University of Texas at Austin

‘This compelling book argues that populism is a particularly efficient political strategy, directly mobilizing popular support without heavy investments in organization or ideology. Drawing on historical analyses ranging from ancient Athens and Rome to revolutionary France to modern America, this is a rich and fascinating argument.'

Anna Grzymala-Busse - Stanford University

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