I read in the New York Times of 8th September 2010 that President Obama opposes any extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy “adding a populist twist” to an election season economic package. I became alerted to the use of the term “populism” about a year ago when an old friend of mine, a sociologist (Alpár Losoncz), noted during a conversation that “populism” has become a term (and label) used about as frequently and with such a vague content as the term/label “anarcho-liberalism” in communist times. At those times, it remained quite foggy and indistinct what anarcho-liberalism was, and who anarcho-liberals were, but it was clear that the term was intended to underline something considered to be on the wrong side. The person using the label also got as a bonus the flair of a connoisseur of more subtle aberrations.
Prompted by the parallel, I started to store notes about various usages of the term “populism” – particularly in the press – and I would like to share with the reader some of the examples that came to my attention. For instance, Népszabadság on 2 May 2009, cites the Slovak SME comparing the Czech and Hungarian government crisis, and concludes that “What is common to both countries is that both have a strong populist opposition that took advantage of the fact that people do not want to abandon the illusion to work the socialist way and to live the capitalist way.” (Endeavoring, I guess, to portray a desire to work as workers did under socialism, and to live as capitalists – rather than workers – do under capitalism.)
On 13 April 2009, the Wall Street Journal criticized the populism of Viktor Orbán, submitting that Orbán proposes to lower taxes for both the employers and the employees. On 9 April 2009, the Belgrade weekly Vreme wrote about Obama’s “populist vision” of a nuclear free world. A month later (on 15 May, 2009), the Belgrade daily Danas pointed out on its front page the populism of European countries. The focus of the article was mostly on West European countries whose citizens are not happy with Muslim, Roma, or Albanian migrants, and this is supported by populist politicians in the election campaign for the European parliament. (According to Danas such populism is one of the reasons behind the – then existing – tough visa restrictions with regard to Serbia.) It is quite clear that by labeling something as “populism” or qualifying someone as “populist”, the speaker or writer tends to expose an attitude, to debunk something that may look appealing, but which is actually negative. To cite another random example, in an interview given to Népszabadság on 9 April 2009, Mr. Steinmeier, (then) German Minister for Foreign Affairs, stated that the disappointment with the economic situation “strengthens nationalist and populist sentiments, and the voice of the street gets stronger”. Steinmeier adds that it is important to overcome the causes of the crisis, and to create a more just society in which a top executive will not earn as much as 500 nurses. Two months earlier (on 5th February 2009), the New York Times wrote about executive pay, and commented that Obama “[n]eeds to deflect a populist outrage over sky-high pay”; on 17th March 2009, the Washington Post wrote about a “populist anger at executives”.1 So where exactly is Steinmeier now? Is he in the group of ardent critiques of populism, or is he in the camp of the populists who are taking executive pay as a target?
I often read that populists are trying to please nationalist sentiments, since they are offering generous welfare measures, but they are neglecting what is most important – the creation of jobs. But sometimes (less often) I read that promising jobs, or arguing for the creation of jobs, is also populism. Again in Népszabadság (26 March 2009), Mr. Palugyai states that in his opinion, defending investments around Lake Velence with the argument of creating jobs is a “populist argument appealing to the heart”, which neglects the needs of a sustainable environment. This line of thinking is not without support. To cite an example, at about the same time that Palugyai’s opinion was published in Népszabadság, an article in the Guardian began with this sentence: “There is no nonsense so gross that it cannot be justified by the creation of jobs.”2 The author submits – relying on a sampling exercise – that if one were to accept at face value announcements about the creation of jobs “there would be 218 million workers in the UK”. (Quite an impressive number, considering a population of about 61 million.)
As a matter of fact, the creation of jobs is an obvious priority, but also a common rhetorical argument. The more often you mention the “creation of jobs”, the more protected you are.
References to “socialist democracy”, the “fight for peace” or “worker’s self-management” had about the same role several decades ago. Each time you utter “I will create more jobs”, or “I will fight for peace and socialist democracy”, you added a piece of garlic to the string around your neck, which protects you against the vampires in the opposition, or rivals within your own team or party.
The term “populism” clearly has a most considerable attraction in our days. The way it is commonly perceived, it not only hints at intellectual flair, it also contains an elegant condemnation of a person (or of a phenomenon). But what does the term cover? Let me add to the examples taken from newspaper articles just one more illustration from a conversation in which I participated about a year ago. Two friends of mine in Budapest had a heated discussion. One of them argued that giving too much space to the issue of gay marriages is “populism” (notwithstanding whether you are for or against), because this means riding on an issue which has gained popular interest, and thereby pushing into the background less popular but more important topics, like the problem of the homeless. The other friend argued that on the contrary, bringing up homelessness is “populism”, because this constitutes an insistence on an insoluble problem, neglecting soluble problems (like the legalization of gay marriages).
So what is populism? The question is not whether we do or do not have excessive demagogy in our times (sometimes comparable with rhetorical patterns in communist times), the question is not whether politicians do or do not tend to make popular and unrealistic promises. The issue is whether the label “populism” is a relevant label, which also provides some degree of explanation. In other words, it is clear that there are (and there have always been) slogans and attitudes prompting the need for de-masking; the question is whether the more and more frequently used term “populism” is fit for the task.


If one moves the focus from public discourse to the scene of social sciences (and political sciences in particular), the answer to the question “what is populism” is still far from obvious, but it is situated within some cognizable frame of reference. It is common knowledge that the concept of populism has been the subject of controversies within the political sciences, and it has acquired various connotations. In a collection of studies about populism, the editors (Yves Mény and Yves Surel) introduce the question by referring to Isaiah Berlin’s well known adage: “[t]here is a shoe – in the shape of populism – but no foot to fit in.”3 Mény and Surel also point out that this „Cinderella complex” has not yet been resolved. One may add that, the „shoe” has been reshaped by the efforts of the craftsmen of political opinions and campaigns – and this only made it even more difficult to fit. It is simply not possible to find an uncontroversial scholarly definition of populism. But there is a dependable point of reliance, and this is the juxtaposition between populism and elitism. There is a broad agreement on this, but it is also a fact that this juxtaposition was more evident (and more relevant) in earlier times. Speaking about the history of populism, John Lukács states that there were populist leaders and populist uprisings before Protestantism. He adds that these populist movements left some mark on the whole history of Europe, and were “Almost always directed against the aristocracy, but were not always leftist.”4 Mény and Surel state that the juxtaposition of populism with elitism is common ground, and they submit that the rhetoric that permeates populist discourse is „[b]ased on the celebration of the good, wise, and simple people and the rejection of the corrupt, incompetent interlocking elites.”5 In his book on populism, Paul Taggart offers a long survey of various definitions of populism, which shows that the juxtaposition with elitism is the most reliable characteristic.6Citing Edward Shils he adds that “[t]he key to understanding populism lies in the relationship between elites and masses.”7 The juxtaposition with elitism has also been accepted as uncontroversial by Hungarian political scientists as well. I shall mention as an example an article of Gáspár Miklós Tamás entitled “Populism and Elitism”.8 In our days, the general criticism addressed to populism often ignores the basic juxtaposition. This may be to some extent due to the fact that it is getting more difficult to identify and distinguish the “populus” and the elite. Social classes have become less distinct, although social differences are still huge and excruciating. The nobility versus plebs distinction was formalized. Today, the position of the elite is not the result of a formal royal deed. It is still possible, of course, to identify an elite whose position is comparable to that of the nobility in medieval times. In his article “Machiavellian Democracy: Controlling Elites with Ferocious Populism”, J. McCormick from Yale University lists as “agents who do the domination”, the “[R]oman nobility in the past, corporate magnates, entrenched bureaucrats, and government officials….”9 Yet, present-day assertions often do not view populism as an opponent of “corporate magnates”, “entrenched bureaucrats” or of some other representatives of the elite of our times.
There is also another point where one may note a departure of the now dominant public discourse from the original concept (or, at least, from the original controversies). Nowadays, characterizing someone as a populist is not just an observation, it is a condemnation. Such a condemnation is not excluded by the original concept, but it does not necessarily follow from it either. “Populism” used to have some content as well, it was not just a stigma. At this point, the rift has been widening between the original concept and perceptions in social sciences on the one hand, and present-day public discourse on the other. In the social sciences, the negative connotation is present, but it does not have a monopolistic position. It has been stated, for example, that in line with its anti-elitist character, populism tends to combine representative-electoral control with more direct forms of elite control.10 Different views have been expressed regarding the question whether populism or elitism is more helpful (or more damaging). To cite an opinion among those that give more credit to populism, Michael Kazin submits that the true enemy of democracy is not populism but elitism, the platonic idea that the experts should play the game and keep the incompetent citizens out.11 Many authors have also pointed out that the rise of populism is a sign that there are problems with the functioning of democracy. The big question is, of course, what alternative will be yielded by populism. Hitler was labeled a populist – but so was de Gaulle; Peron and Senator McCarthy were called populists, but so was Jimmy Carter.12 It appears that Obama has not escaped this label either. There are persuasive reasons to worry about an aggressive version of populism combined with nationalism, but this worry is not a clear guidance in itself. According to Margaret Canovan, the endeavor to mark populism as either rightist or leftist, is a “lost cause”.13
Following controversies regarding populism, I would also like to focus on a specific domain, the realm of legal practice. Of course, it is not for the courts to tell what populism actually is, or which connotation is right and which is wrong. At the same time, it is interesting to take note of the use of the terms “populism” and “populist” within a formalized procedure, and within a discourse which is – at least in principle – prudent and fastidious in bringing into play notions and labels. I found some particularly interesting examples in the American judicial practice.
I would first like to mention some cases in which populism has a predominantly positive connotation, and in which the juxtaposition with some form of elitism is alive. In an interesting case, the Supreme Court of Washington faced the issue whether the Constitution of Washington State allows employment of convicts in private companies. In its statement of reasons, the Supreme Court of Washington devoted considerable space to “historical context”, including a scrutiny of populism.14 The key issue was whether a statute authorizing contracts between the Department of Corrections and private companies, did or did not violate the constitutional provision which stated that starting convicts “shall not be let out by contract to any person, partnership or corporation”, but which added that legislation shall “provide for the working of convicts for the benefit of the state”. Seeking an answer to the question as to whether working for private companies may be considered to be within the exception of working “for the benefit of the state”, the Court investigated the historical background, and established that “In the years preceding Washington’s constitutional convention the political life of our emerging state was dominated by the populist movement, which strongly influenced Washington’s constitution.” The Court added that “Populism sprang primarily from agrarian roots and emphasized a philosophy of protection for small business and the working citizen. Central among the populist ideas was the protection of the individual from unfair advantages created by coalitions between big government and politically connected big businesses.”15 In the light of this historical background, the Supreme Court of Washington came to the conclusion that “[W]ashington populists must have meant ‘for the benefit of the state’ to mean that prison labor could not be used to benefit private industry.”16 Relying on this assumption the Court declared that the statute allowing contracts between the Department of Correction and private companies represented a violation of the Constitution of Washington State (and consequently, the contracts themselves were concluded in violation of the Constitution).
To mention another example, a 1985 decision of the Supreme Court of the United States mentions populism in connection with racial discrimination.17The issue is again, constitutionality. The US Supreme Court scrutinized the constitutionality of a provision of the 1901 Alabama Constitution, which disenfrenchised a person convicted of crimes involving “moral turpitude”. Section 182 of the Alabama Constitution gave a long list of grounds for disqualifying persons both from registering and from voting. Those who were deprived from voting included “all idiots and insane persons”, those who shall be convicted of treason, murder, arson, but also of “malfeasance in office”, “obtaining property or money under false pretenses”, bigamists, persons guilty of miscegenation, or “living in adultery”. “Moral turpitude” gained a special weight after a 1916 judgment of the Alabama Supreme Court, which declared that this designation can be extended to an act that is not punishable by law, but which is immoral in itself.18 Again, we find in the judgment a historical analysis that extends to populism as well. The US Supreme Court came to the conclusion that discriminating intent was a motivating factor behind Section 182 of the Alabama Constitution. An expert estimate was relied upon that showed that Section 182 disenfrenchised approximately ten times as many blacks as whites. The Supreme Court gave credit to the expert opinion of Dr. J. Mills Thornton, who stated that Southern Democrats sought to stem the resurgence of populism which threatened their power. According to the Supreme Court, the aim of Section 182 was to prevent the resurgence of populism, by disenfrenchising practically all blacks and a large number of whites. The decision was reached that Section 182 of the Alabama Constitution violates the (federal) constitutional principle of equal treatment.
In the above two cases populism appears in a positive and – if this term still means anything – leftist connotation. Populists are perceived as those who are protecting the individual from unfair advantages created by coalitions between big government and politically connected big businesses; and as the opponents of those who want to disenfranchise black voters. One can also find, however, US court decisions in which populism has a negative connotation. In a 27 February 2009 decision of the Supreme Court of Nebraska, populism is again contemplated in a historical context, and in connection with racial discrimination. This time, however, populism is not perceived as an opponent, but as an ally of racism. The court also added the qualification “reactionary”. It is not quite clear from the context whether this is a qualification of populism in general, or whether this hints that there are various kinds of populism, including “reactionary populism”. In this case, an action was brought to annul an arbitral award which had held that a state trooper’s joining of a group affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan was not a just cause for termination under the collective bargaining agreement. The Supreme Court of Nebraska annuled the arbitral award.19 The case is about Mr. Henderson, a Nebraska state trooper whose wife left him in favour of a Hispanic man. This led Mr. Henderson to joint the Knights Party, an affiliate of the Ku Klux Klan, “working toward White Christian Renewal”. In his application form he made the following attestation: “I am white and not of racially mixed descent. I am not married to a nonwhite, I do not date nonwhites, nor have I nonwhite dependents.” After Mr. Henderson was fired, the case went to arbitration, and the arbitrators held that the firing was without sufficient ground. The Nebraska State Patrol sought an annulment of the award on the ground of violation of public policy. The Nebraska Supreme Court held that the award did, indeed, violate public policy (which leads essentially to the conclusion that a member of the state police cannot join an organization affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan). In its historic analysis the Court takes note that during its heyday in the 1920’s, the rhetoric of the Ku Klux Klan “was fueled by fear of Catholic European immigrants.” Later on “The Ku Klux Klan was vigorous in its campaign against blacks, Jews, foreigners, Catholics, and women suffragists.”20This led to the observation about the “reactionary populism” of the Ku Klux Klan; and in this context, populism (or, at least, “reactionary populism”) does not appear to be a movement challenging some sort of elitism.
The juxtaposition with elitism left more trace in the arguments advanced in another case, in which a flight attendant filed a suit against tobacco companies. The case was started in 1991 and it reached the District Court of Appeal of Florida in 2005.21 The plaintiff, Ms French sued tobacco companies, and she was awarded 5,5 million US dollars in damages for injuries she incurred as a result of second-hand smoke. On appeal, one of the arguments of the tobacco companies was that “Ms French’s counsel willfully and repeatedly injected quasi populist rhetoric and anti-business prejudice into this trial.”22 The court rejected this argument, without scrutinizing what “quasi-populist rhetoric” actually is. One may note that the linking of populism with anti-business attitude (and thus, positing the big business as the elite) is not rare or new. Polányi writes about the 19th century quarrels between the populists and Wall Street.23
Staying with court cases, I would also like to mention two judgments which give emphasis to the term populism, but in the context of which it is difficult to discern any frame of reference. In a 1988 New York decision24 we have the story of a child prodigy from Florida (Stephen Baccus), who was 14 when he graduated from the University of Miami, and started legal studies. He got his JD when he was 17, and he also passed the Florida Bar. The problem emerged when he moved to New York, and submitted an application for the February 1987 New York bar examination. The Board rejected his application, because Mr. Baccus had not yet reached 21 years of age, and had entered law school before reaching the age of 18. Mr. Baccus argued that these requirements violate the constitutional principle of equal protection. Just as in the majority of the cases mentioned before, the court undertook a historical analysis, focusing in particular on the circumstances of the enactment of the New York Constitution (in 1846), which set the age requirement. In the concluding paragraph of the judgment – referring to the origin of the 1846 rules – the New York District Court (Southern District) underlined: “Thus, in a marriage between populism and general disdain for the legal profession was the 21-year-old requirement born.” (Let me add that as far as the main issue was concerned, the court held that the requirement that one could only commence legal studies after one’s 18th birthday violates the equal protection clause, and it is unconstitutional. The court also held that the requirement that one has to be over 21 years of age before taking the bar exam was “reasonably tailored”. Thus, Baccus was allowed to take the bar, but he had to wait until his 21st birthday.) In a case decided in 2008, a Texas court considered a dispute between an entrepreneur called Lavon Evans, and the Haliburton Energy Services Inc. (The Haliburton company is also known for its deals in Iraq, and for its links with Secretary of Defense D. Rumsfeld.) The subject-matter of the dispute was the interpretation of a guarantee agreement.25One of the arguments of Mr. Evans was that the draft was submitted by Haliburton, and this circumstance supported an interpretation against, rather than in favor of Haliburton. This is actually, a principle of interpretation dating back to Roman law (the contra proferentem principle), which has a rather wide acceptance (particularly if the term of the contract was not individually negotiated).26 The court stated, however, that “Relying on who the draftsman was as a means of interpretation is populist nonsense.”27In this case, the negative connotation of the term “populist” is obvious, although the anchor point of this connotation is less than clear. One could, of course, cite many more examples from various fields showing various understandings of the term “populism”. Some examples might be in line with perceptions (or lack of perception) noted above. One could also find examples reflecting different perceptions. It is difficult, however, to find a dependable point of reliance. Reaching after historic roots is helpful, but, there have been too many twists made on historic parallels. The juxtaposition between populism and elitism still offers some guidance, but it is fading, and it has not established recognizable borders and limits to the use of the notion. There are also conflicting connotations. As further illustration, let me cite two more examples which I found today (3 October 2010) as I try to conclude this manuscript. On 30 September 2010, the New York Times writes about the departure of Mr. Luzhkov, mayor of Moscow.28 It notes that “For developers, Mr. Luzhkov was more of a dream. They made a fortune in the post-Soviet capital in what will surely be remembered as one of the world’s great real estate gold rushes, fed in its final phase by capital from Arab sheikhs and Wall Street investors.” It adds that Ms Baturina, the wife of mayor Luzhkov who owns a large development company, amassed a personal fortune of $2.9 billion according to Forbes magazine. Then it adds that “As mayor of Moscow, Mr. Luzhkov blended populism and arm-twisting of business to contribute to pension funds, public works and church restorations.” On 2 October 2010, also in the New York Times, Frank Rich writes about Christine O’Donnell,29 remembering that she was “taking a fearless stand against masturbation, the one national pastime with more fans than baseball”. Frank Rich adds, however, that “She gives a populist cover to billionaires and corporate interests that have been steadily annexing the Tea Party movement and busily plotting to cash in their chips if the GOP prevails.”
Behind various uses of the term “populism” one can often trace a similar impulse or the instinct of following some pattern, but the notion itself is getting more and more elusive. Besides, there are no warning signals that would discourage inconsistent use. One could say that the Cinderella problem has been solved by way of not heeding it. The shoe is being pushed on every foot, even if it covers only one toe.


Trying to identify some common impulse behind various uses of the terms “populism” and “populist”, one could get close to the mark by pointing out the drive for unmasking. The typical (and justified) target are politicians and political speech. And there is a growing need for unmasking. Promises made by politicians are usually not guided by an urge to spell out what should be done, but rather by a wish to say what is desirable to be said. It is also not a revelation anymore if one points out that typically not politicians themselves, but communication experts are those who decide what it is opportune to say. The competing values are not truthfulness versus deception, but embellishment versus convenient platitudes. Blandness has become one of the dominant recipes for success. On 9 October 2010 the New York Times selected as quotation of the day the words of Christopher Lehane, a consultant of the Democratic Party, who describes a candidate who does not fit customary standards, because “He is most definitely not the blow-dry-haired, antiseptic, focus-group-tested candidate that most are used to in this day and age in politics.” Staying with the issue of blandness and platitudes, let me mention that during a visit to Rome about a year ago, I noted the slogans on posters for the elections for the European Parliament (7 June 2009). Here are some examples:

La nostra Europa
Piu forte noi – piu forte Europa
In Europa per l’Italia

The presence of these posters is obviously more important than their message. It is pretty unlikely that someone would vote for Berlusconi, because his poster says “Our Europe” (La nostra Europa). What is more effective is the fact that Italy was full of these posters. The graphic design of such posters is also rather trivial. Several decades ago, Andy Warhol produced similar designs with the aim of exposure, and parody. Nowadays, political posters are serving rather than exposing banality. The irony was stolen. One cannot distinguish anymore promises from caricatures of promises. What these posters actually mirror is the assumption of an entitlement to meaninglessness.

So, let me repeat, unmasking, laying things bare, is needed more than ever. There is a need to expose the emptiness of emptiness. There is also a need to debunk irresponsible promises aiming at cheap popularity. But this is not easy. Both the economy and the political environment are getting less and less transparent, and more and more difficult to grasp. Good intentions are not always sufficient guidance to endeavors aiming to reveal the truth behind slogans. The question is whether the terms “populism” and “populist” offer help to these endeavors.
In political discourse it has always been an everyday practice to point out that the other side is making false promises – or is simply lying. The use of the term “populism” hints at, however, a stand above such squabbles. According to the accepted codes, a criticism using the term “populism” is not just an assertion that someone is lying, it is an observation of an educated spectator. This is certainly an added value. Of course, the maintenance of this flair is only possible if the goal remains the explanation (or maybe exposure) of a phenomenon, rather than just the condemnation of a political party or of a political leader. It is difficult to maintain an analytical distance with an anchor in social sciences, if populism is not juxtaposed to elitism, but populist guys are simply juxtaposed to good guys. A rational and methodical approach is based on the assumption that connotations are not predetermined. If a connotation grows stiff, this makes it difficult to maintain an analytical attitude (and flair).
Another characteristic feature of present-day public discourse is an inordinate extension of the usage of the term “populism”. There is hardly any (real or perceived) deficiency or blemish left that was not called “populism” by the opponents. But if every promise that is pleasing to wide social strata is called “populism”, what remains as a basis for comparison? Can the term “populism” maintain any distinct meaning if we qualify as “populism” all demagogy, and every promise with a questionable basis? The overuse of the term leads to a faltering of the frame of reference behind the notion – and of the notion itself as well. Our consumer society is also marked by consumption of notions. As a further development – just as on financial markets – derivates have appeared. For example: “Hitler was a populist. Thus, if Mr. X. is a populist, he is a Hitler-type politician.” The point is that, although Hitler may have been a populist, this label does not really grasp and cover Hitler’s monstrosity. De Gaulle was also a populist.
So who is really a populist? A demagogue? A nationalist? Someone who is promising short term recovery in the present economic situation? A person who wants to reduce executive pay? Anyone who promises the creation of jobs? Someone who used to promise goulashcommunism instead of real tough communism? Someone who is promising goulashliberalism? Someone who is taking the position that a candidate who is only 18 years old should be able to take the bar exam? Someone using tough rhetoric in order to get damages from tobacco companies?
The stiffening of the connotation – referred to earlier – is causing additional problems. It creates difficulties to those who would in some context simply like to describe (rather than to condemn), an antipode of elitism. Normally they would reach after the term “populism”, but this has become toxic and it may contaminate the message. At the same time, exactly because it is becoming entrenched that “populist” is necessarily deceitful and wrong, it hurts one’s sense of justice if someone for whom we feel no antipathy is called a populist; the same applies even if the qualification as “populist” is perfectly appropriate according to the original frame of reference. Let me quote an illustrative example from a daily newspaper from Serbia – the country where I spent most of my life. In Danas on 9 April 2009, Ms Ruža Ćirković (a journalist with good reputation) expresses her revolt and indignation about the contention that the request to lower daily allowances of members of the parliament is a “populist request”. Ms Ćirković says with irony that if members of parliament would be deprived of daily allowances which amount to 2,000 dinars “for Serbia this would only mean populism, but if one would take 3,000 dinars from my monthly salary, this would save Serbia…” If one perceives “populism” within its original frame of reference, the request to lower daily allowances of members of the parliament may very well be perceived as a populist request targeting the political elite. Yet, in the present political discourse “populism” is becoming a synonym for falsehearted deception, and therefore it has become a non-starter to argue that a request which is “populist” may nevertheless be a fair and sensible one. One is forced to another track of argument – and Ms Ćirković protests that a proposal that she deems sensible is labeled as “populist”.
What has happened is that the term “populism” has failed to establish itself as a point of reliance for discernment. It has also failed to exert an impact on an imperfect reality – instead, it got adjusted to it. In the meantime it became for a while a rather successful instrument of denouncement. It has been used both by those who wanted to unmask a problem, and also by those who wanted to posit the actions of the opponents as a problem. The avalanche of references to populism guided by the desire to denounce, or by a desire to suit a fashion, has also tainted instances of adequate and purposeful use. We have reached a point where the denotational content has become completely volatile. What is laid bare through the use of the term “populism” is not the problem that may deserve denouncement, but the intention to denounce. The cause of revealing and unmasking has got lost.


1 S. Labaton, V. Bajaj, Obama Calls for “Common Sense” on Executive Pay, New York Times, 5.II. 2009; M. Shear, P. Kane, Anger Over Firm Depletes Obama’s Political Capital, The Washington Post, 15.III.2009.

2 George Monbiot, “Jobs are used to justify anything, but the numbers don’t add up”, The Guardian, 1 April 2008.

3 Yves Mény – Yves Surel, The Constitutive Ambiguity of Populism, in Mény-Surel: “Democracies and the Populist Change”, Palgrave Publ. 2002, 1, at p. 3.

4 John Lukács, Demokrácia és Populizmus, Európa Kiadó 2008. 59.

5 Y. Mény – Y. Surel, op. cit. 12.

6 Paul Taggart, Populism, Open University Press, Philadelphia, 2000, particularly pp.10-22.

7 Taggart, op. cit. 11.

8 Tamás Gáspár Miklós, Populizmus és elitizmus, Élet és Irodalom, December 23, 2005.

9 John. P. McCormick, Machiavellian Democracy: Controlling Elites with Ferocious Populism, 95 American Political Science Review, June 2001, 297, at p. 303.

10 According to J. McCormick such an observation can be led back to Machiavelli – McCormick. op. cit, 311.

11 Michael Kazin, The Populist Passion: An American History, New York 1995 – cited in Nadia Urbanati, Democracy and Populism, 5 Constellations, No. 1, 1998 110, at 111.

12 See e.g. Margaret Canovan, Populism, 1981, pp. 289–301. (Conclusions)

13 M. Canovan, op. cit. 294.

14 Washington Water Jet Workers Association (and other appellants) v. Howard Yarborough (and other respondents), 151 Wash 2d. 470, 90 P 3d 42 – the judgment was rendered on 13 May 2004, and it was modified on 27 May 2004.

15 Westlaw, 90 P 3d 42, at p. 11.

16 Westlaw, 90P 3d 42 at p. 11.

17 Nell Hunter et al v. Victor Underwood, 471 US 222 (16 April 1985).

18 Pippin v. State, 197 Ala 613, 616.

19 State of Nebraska v. Robert Henderson, Supreme Court of Nebraska, 277 Neb. 240, (27 February 2009.) 277 Neb 240 , – Westlaw, 762 N.W. 2D 1.

20 Westlaw, 762 N.W. 2D 1 at p. 15; In support of these conclusions, the Court cites M.W. Schuyler, The Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska 1920-1930, 66 Nebraska History 234 (1985).

21 Philip Morris Inc. et al v. Lynn French District Court of Appeal of Florida, Third District. 897 So. 2d 480 (the judgment was rendered on December 22, 2004, rehearing was denied on 13 April 2005)

22 897 So.2d 480 at p.490 .

23 Polányi Károly, A nagy átalakulás – Korunk gazdasági és politikai gyökerei, Napvilág kiadó 2004, p 285. (Polányi wrote this book originally in English in 1946, under the title “The Great Transformation. The Political and Economic Origins of Our Times”.)

24 Stephen Baccus v. Arthur Karger et al., S.D.N.Y. 692 F. Supp. 290. (17 August 1988)

25 Haliburton Energy Services v. Lavon Evans, United States District Court, S.D. Texas, 2008 Westlaw 5525602. (29 April 2008)

26 This principle was also adopted in Section 5:103 of the European Contract Principles stating that: “Where there is doubt about the meaning of a contract not individually negotiated, an interpretation of the term against the party which supplied it is to be preferred.”

27 2008 WL 5525602 (S.D. Tex.), page 2.

28 Andrew E. Kramer, Mayor’s Departure Could Slow Moscow’s Growth, New York Times, 30 September 2010.

29 Frank Rich, The Very Useful Idiocy of Christine O’Donnell, New York Times, 2 October 2010.

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