‘In all matters of importance, style and not content
important thing’: Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest.
Populism is a concept which, despite repeated critiques, refuses to
disappear from Latin American studies. This article reviews some of the
literature, suggesting that populism is best defined in terms of a
political style, characteristically involving a proclaimed
rapport with ‘the people’,
a ‘them-and-us’ mentality, and (often, though not necessarily)
a period of crisis
and mobilisation; none of which makes it exceptional, abnormal, ‘unmediated’
or irrational. Mexican – among other – examples are invoked.
questions some received opinions: that populism is typically urban, relates
particular historical stages of development, or distinctively derives from
multi-class alliances or elite manipulation. It also queries the fashionable
of ‘economic populism’. Finally, the article notes the recent
‘neo-populism’, embodied by Salinas, Menem, Fujimori, etc.,
which a suitably
loose (‘stylistic’) definition can usefully accommodate,
thus suggesting the
continued, if limited, utility of the concept.