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Paradoxes of Populism

Paradoxes of Populism

Troubles of the West and Nationalism's Second Coming

By Ulf Hedetoft

“Paradoxes of Populism” discusses the fantasies, promises and contradictions of populism as also its backgrounds and causes. While demonstrating the many varieties of populism, the book explains its rising popularity and steers the reader through the many myths and misconceptions surrounding it.

PDF, 250 Pages


February 2020

£25.00, $40.00

EPUB, 250 Pages


February 2020

£25.00, $40.00

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
  • Series
  • Table of Contents

About This Book

Populism may come across as little more than an extreme form of national belonging––nationalism run wild so to speak––a case for national psychologists or a kind of collective pathology. However, as so often, appearances are deceptive. “Paradoxes of Populism” argues, from the vantage point of cultural history and political philosophy, that the far-from-random similarities with ordinary manifestations of nationalism should be approached not as a venture into the classical structures of nation-states and identities, but as a disruptive and destabilizing consequence of some of the constituent elements of sovereign nation-states becoming eroded and prised apart by contextual global processes and their agents. Hence, populism in all its varieties––and there are many, as the book demonstrates––is riddled with even more paradoxes and inconsistencies than mainstream nationalism itself––confusing causes and appearances, realities and fantasies, and turning the world inside-out. The age of populism is truly the Second Coming of nationalism. Its advent, however, happens in the background of real problems for millions of ordinary people in liberal-democratic states.

Contrary to its self-image, populism does not represent a return to a peaceful, well-ordered and secure place of identity, progress and belonging, but, first, the introduction of irreconcilable division into the domestic arena; second, the breakdown of trust and civilized communication between governors and governed elites and people; and third, the exposure of the increasing powerlessness of the international order.

These partial failures are creating a demand for new kinds of regime, autocratic and charismatic, tough and moralistic at the same time, and they necessarily tend to transform run-of-the-mill national identities into something that has a closer resemblance to national creeds and quasi-religious ritualism. There would seem to be no generally acceptable middle ground anymore, but only battlegrounds full of ideological fanatics, self-serving egoists, power-seeking idealists, moralizing martyrs and obedient victims: an odd assortment of dramatis personae, struggling between defending perceived national interests and standing up for the sacrality of their national identity.

Thus, “Paradoxes of Populism” is a book about the fantasies, promises and contradictions of populism, as also about its backgrounds and causes in liberal democracies. While demonstrating its many varieties, the books explains populism’s rising popularity and steers the reader through the many myths and misconceptions surrounding it.


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Author Information

Ulf Hedetoft is professor of international studies, Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen, and director, Center for the Study of Nationalism.


Anthem Series in Citizenship and National Identities

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments; Preface; 1. Introduction; 2. What Is the Problem?; 3. The People and Popular Sovereignty: Back to Basics, and Onward…; 4. The Nationalization of the People; 5. Fantasies and Paradoxes of Populism; 6. Myths and Misconceptions; 7. Sweden––Intransigent Moralities at War in the People’s Home; 8. Catalonia––toward a State Truly Our Own!; 9. Hungary––Righteous Revenge for Historic Humiliations; 10. Brexit––between Despair and Delusion; 11. USA––Normalizing a Superpower by Abnormal Means; 12. Extractions and Perspectives; References; Index.

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