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The populist right is forging an unholy alliance with religion

4 268 0
11.06.2019

Why are so many religious citizens drawn to the rhetoric of authoritarian leaders such as Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orbán, Jair Bolsonaro and Narendra Modi? Even in countries with a strong secular tradition, such as France and the Netherlands, rightwing populists like Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders are quick to resort to language that presents “Judeo-Christianity” as the pillar of western European civilisation.

In Belgium, the Flemish nationalist party N-VA has made a name for itself defending institutions “abandoned” by the Christian-Democrats, such as the Catholic schooling system and church services. In Italy, Salvini ostentatiously brandished a Catholic rosary as results from the European elections came in. In Hungary, Orbán has turned a defence of “Christian civilisation” into official state doctrine. Making a speech in Warsaw, where the ruling Law and Justice party has presented itself as the political wing of conservative Catholicism, Donald Trump echoed John Paul II’s old invocation: “We want God.”

Clearly there is a key link between populism and religion. But there seems to have been relatively little academic interest in the connection. Jan-Werner Müller’s What is Populism? (2016), for example, spends no time discussing the relationship at all. This is all the stranger, given that the movement that launched the term “populism” – the original “big P” Populists in the late 19th-century US – was fiercely churchgoing. As a coalition of anti-capitalist radical agrarians and workers, the Populists drew on previous Methodist networks (mainly in the........

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