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(Anti-)Pluralism as Analytical Tool: Comparing Populism and Political Religion across “East” and “West”
Populism is often defined as anti-pluralism: glorification of the organically conceived “people” vis-a-vis inauthentic elites and minorities. Recently, anti-pluralist populists employing the idiom of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu, among other, nationalism(s) have gained power around the world. Right-wing/religious populist ascendance thus challenges the analytical categories around which much comparative political inquiry is organized. A longstanding assumption, after all, has been that pluralist democracy is to be found in the global West/North whereas Eastern/Southern states are more likely to be home to “illiberal” or “authoritarian” leaders and regimes. This paper argues that the cross-cutting salience of right-wing, populist anti-pluralism thus presents a productive site for cross-case and cross-regional analysis which, in addition to elucidating an outstanding real-world challenge, can help us to dismantle latent Eurocentrism/Orientalism in our analytical categories. Towards this end, the paper first proposes an analytical-descriptive framework to map populist anti-pluralism in party programs, electoral campaigns, public statements and policies. It next shows how the same heuristic can be used to capture pluralistic, counter-frames articulated by rival leaders and parties in any given state. Third, the framework is applied to comparatively study critical junctures in the careers of Erdogan in Turkey and Trump in the United States. Using process-tracing to reconstruct key inflection points when populist anti-pluralism has prevailed (or failed), the paper identifies necessary and sufficient causal mechanisms which drive populist ascendance (or defeat). The empirical insight to emerge from the analysis is that right-wing populists' ability to consolidate power depends on their capacity to thwart pluralist oppositional coalitions which draw moderates from across political camps in resistance to populist provocations. Theoretically, moreover, the paper's framework supports this panel’s timely call for a research program on global right-wing populisms which transcends—-like the phenomenon of populism itself—-the Eurocentric/Orientalist assumptions that have long inflected key concepts in comparative politics like pluralism, democracy, and authoritarianism.
Political Science
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