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What causes populism? (Michael Ignatieff)

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What are the main causes of populism? Michael Ignatieff, President and Rector of the Central European University, talks about the global rise of populism, its causes and consequences.


Michael Ignatieff: Populism is a movement in which you use democracy against democracy. The populists say: “We the people want to take back control from the elites who have corrupted the political system.” So it is a democratic argument used against the democratic system.

Sometimes it can enrich a democratic system to have a populist challenge. I don’t think populism is always a negative phenomenon. There is nothing wrong with the defence of your culture, your language and your identity. The problem comes when you want to use that defence to exclude others, to create an identity that shuts other people out.

But why do people turn to nationalism and populism? They do so to defend themselves, their families, their interests, these things that they hold to be important. I have never been someone who thought that populism was necessarily negative. It only becomes negative when it excludes, when it denies the rights of others. That’s when the question becomes serious.



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