Populism is on the rise not because it's desirable, but because liberalism has lost its way. We must help it find a new, open pathby Jan Zielonka / February 2, 2018 / Leave a comment
Populists are winning voters across the entire western world and we are at pain trying to understand why. Why was a vast body of statistical evidence showing the costs of leaving the EU ignored? How could seemingly pragmatic Brits refuse to trust them: the academics, the journalists, the experts?
Why does an overwhelming majority of Poles support the nationalist Law and Justice Party, and not the conservative liberals who made Poland an economic champion? Why is a chaotic movement led by a capricious comedian more popular among voters than the centre-left party which led Italy out of the recession? Why is the party of the late Jörg Haider part of the new coalition government in Austria?
Even in prosperous and stable Germany, the right-wing nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered the Bundestag with nearly a hundred seats. That’s without even mentioning the baffling rise to power of Donald Trump.
For the majority reading the Prospect, including myself, liberalism is a force for good, which populist insurgents are determined to destroy. We (liberals) are rational, they (populists) are illogical, if not crazy. We tell the truth, they tell lies; we offer progress, they offer destruction; we are open-minded, they are intolerant; we enhance freedom, they seek domination; we believe in laws and institutions, they are trying to get rid of them. If people support populists, we think, they must be either brained-washed or mad.
We are, I fear, too biased. Liberals from centre-left and centre-right parties have been in power in Europe for at least three decades, and their recor…