Populism usually explained as causally related to the Great

Populism and state failure in GreeceThe surge of populism around the world in the past decade is usually explained as causally related to the Great Recession and the international economic crisis.  Conventional wisdom says that economic crises breed popular dissatisfaction which in turn constitutes fertile ground for the rise of populism .   This paper argues that in the case of Greece, populism did not rise with its sovereign debt crisis but that it existed for over four decades as a dominant feature of the political system, hindering the development of strong liberal institutions which could withstand political and economic crises, and ultimately becoming the greatest cause for the country’s inability to handle its severe economic crisis.Any analysis of populism must rely on a good definition of the term.  Many scholars have struggled to construct a useful definition, but no consensus exists.  In the 1970s, Gino Germani studied populism in Latin American countries and understood it to be related to underdevelopment and modernization.  (Germani, 1978)  As underdeveloped countries modernized, however, it became evident that populism remained on the scene and Germani’s definition was not useful.  In addition, populism made its appearance in advanced industrial societies of western Europe, so there was no correlation with modernization.  At about the same time, Margaret Canovan attempted to develop a framework of analysis but ultimately concluded that no unified theory could exist to explain populism.  Instead, we must analyze it on a case by case basis.  (Canovan, 1981).  Some economists then proposed the “populist economic cycle theory”, under which populists gain power by promising generous hand-outs to “the people.”  Upon coming to power, they must fulfill those promises which require protectionist trade policies, raising taxes, and practically raiding their economy.  (Edwards, 2010; Mudde , 2004, 2007) proposed that populism is a “thin-centered ideology” that reduces ideological cleavages to two homogeneous and competing groups, the “people” and the corrupt elite.  Hawkins, on the other hand, proposed that populism is merely a form of political rhetoric, and lacks the characteristics of an ideology.  (Hawkins, 2009)   Similarly, Weyland and Betz view populism as a political tool, a strategy to maximize vote gains.  (Weyland, 1996, 2001; Betz 2002).Some political analysts, such as those at the Essex School of Discourse Analysis, reject the notion that right-wing parties, such as the French National Front or the Dutch Freedom Party, are populist.  These parties are categorized as nationalist, regardless of their similarities with parties of the left which also foster polarization and an all-encompassing cleavage of “us” against “them.”  Similarly, some value-laden studies distinguish between good (leftist) populists, considering them to be inclusionary, and bad (rightist) populists, who are deemed exclusionary.  This approach, of course, looks at the content of the populist carrier rather than the process, something that most scholars would disagree with. According to Laclau, for example, a phenomenon is considered populism because of its form, not because of its content.  The distinguishing feature is “the logic of articulation,” regardless of the content. (Laclau, 2005: 33, 44)Clearly, as these efforts show, it is difficult to define populism.  Nonetheless, there are enough common features in all populist movements to enable us to construct a useful definition.  Giovanni Sartori, the pioneering political scientist, states that definitions must be simple, cohesive, and tell us both what the term is and what it is not.  Takis Pappas has, perhaps, developed such a simple, minimalist and cohesive definition when he describes it as merely “democratic illiberalism.”  (Pappas, 2014:7)  This definition contrasts populism with its polar opposite, liberalism, but also with the type of populism experienced in non-democratic states, such as Peron’s Argentina, where democratic institutions were virtually non-existent.In democratic regimes, populist parties are radical and extremist, and typically assail the “establishment” and reduce the complex spectrum of ideological cleavages to a simple image of “us” against “them.”  They rarely propose responsible governing policies, but nearly always attack norms and institutions which are simplistically portrayed as the cause of all evil.  Upon coming to power, populist parties may move to the center and assume the characteristics of responsible governing parties, or they may truly seek to transform the political system in order to preserve their power.Post-authoritarian Greece as a “populist democracy”Although Greece is considered to be the birthplace of democracy, it has, in modern times, struggled to develop a stable political system that adheres to liberal democratic norms.  After gaining its independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s, the country has gone through a turbulent history of political instability involving the institution and rejection of monarchy, coups and counter-coups, and foreign intervention.  After an atrocious Civil War in the late 1940s that saw the defeat of a communist insurgency, Greece was at the epicenter of Cold War fault lines.  The Truman Doctrine ensured that Greece remained in the camp of western liberal democracies as the country struggled to develop its liberal democratic institutions.Despite its homogeneous population, in terms of nationality, religion, history and culture, post-war Greece developed a mixed political order that was both democratic and exclusionary.  Although the post-war reconstruction was successful and turned into an economic miracle in the 1950s, Greece’s political system remained unstable.  With strong ideological cleavages related to the Cold War, the country always seemed to be divided.  In 1967, a military coup by junior officers established a dictatorship allegedly to save the country from a communist threat.  That regime stayed in power until 1974 when, faced with a catastrophic inability to handle the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey, it handed power to civilians.The post-authoritarian political order that began in 1974, which came to be known as metapolitefsi, is Greece’s longest period of stability and development into a liberal democracy.  Nonetheless, by 1981, when Andreas Papandreou and his PASOK party were elected into power, populism became the greatest challenge for the frail liberal institutions that were put in place, as the country quickly institutionalized its populism and became what Pappas calls a “populist democracy.”Papandreou was a charismatic leader who aimed for a radical transformation of the established institutional order.  (Pappas: 2011, 2012).  He developed a narrative of “the people” struggling against “the establishment.”  He systematized the patronage system by creating a mechanism for handing out rents to supporters via the party apparatus.  State institutions were either bent or ignored, and individual benefits were distributed in place of the common good.  This fostered an economy where the public debt fed private consumption by party supporters, a system that was unsustainable in the long term.A major feature of populism is its collision with and its de-legitimization of established institutions.  When populism clashed with Greek institutions, populism always seemed to win.  It seemed that laws were meant to be violated so long as the patronage system delivered results.  The ultimate example of this occurred in March 1985, when Parliament was called upon to elect the new president of the republic.  The constitution mandated a secret vote, but Papandreou conducted the vote with colored ballots, installed cameras in the chambers on the eve of the vote to monitor his MPs, and ordered assigned seating so those he did not trust could be watched.  This clear violation of the constitution was largely overlooked by the electorate as an acceptable, and even ingenious, political ploy.  Populism clearly won over the institutions.Another feature of populism is political polarization.  The charismatic Papandreou was fond of relegating his opponents to the “dustbin of history.”  He called the leader of the opposition the “aborted fetus” of politics, as his supporters performed mock funerals of the opposition party.  Villages around the country typically had two cafeterias where locals hung out, one for PASOK supporters and one for the opposition.Politicians who called for reforms and for strengthening liberal democratic institutions, or who refused to participate in the patronage system, were punished at the polls.  When the New Democracy party was elected to power in1990 to 1993, its feeble attempts to reinstitute liberalism failed. It learned that is the only vote-catching strategy and proceeded to engage in the same populist policies that PASOK did.  After 1993, Greece became irretrievably what Pappas calls a “populist democracy” where the two dominant parties that alternated in power, PASOK and New Democracy, both engaged in patronage politics.  The state thus distributed real incomes, such as salaries and pensions, as rents to its supporters.  It offered protections and guarantees against market forces in the ostensibly state-capitalist economy, and provided widespread immunity from the law.  (Pappas, 2014:chapter 6)  With weak and ineffective institutions in place, the system tolerated widespread corruption.  According to the 2010 Corruption Perception Index, Greece rates as the most corrupt country in Europe.  The public sector grew cite statistics, as the government engaged in irresponsible public spending.  Government functioned to protect special interests at the expense of the common good and passed laws to shield numerous professions from competition.  The country’s highly unionized labor became inflexible and could not respond to real economic needs.  This “populist democracy” could not be sustained forever.Utility of PolarizationA useful framework of analysis to understand Greece’s polarization, which contributed to populist goals, is Lijphart’s distinction of majoritarian versus consensual governments.  According to Lijphart, democratic political systems can be categorized into either majoritarian or consensual democracies, depending on whether decision making is assigned to a majority or to the consensus of as many people as possible in a coalition setting.  Although Greece has a multi-party system, its election laws have favored the majoritarian model by rewarding as many as 50 extra seats in the 300-seat parliament to the party that is first out of the gate.  This “reinforced proportional representation” system, which punishes smaller parties, has rewarded the two establishment parties, PASOK and New Democracy, which have alternately governed alone for the bulk of the post-authoritarian Greek republic.  Under Lijphart’s analysis, this majoritarian system encourages centrifugal trends and politicians’ taking extreme positions.  Polarization thus benefits the parties who stand ready to take power.In Greece, the centrifugal trend led to the creation of what Sartori calls extreme and polarized pluralism.  (Sartori 1976:131-73).  Sartori defines polarized pluralism as having certain core features.  The first one is the presence of anti-system parties which do not share the values of the political system they operate in and actively seek to undermine it.  In Greece, this is found in the Communist Party, the Golden Dawn fascist party, and even in the proclamations of Syriza, the Marxist party that ultimately came to power.  The second feature is the center placement of one party or group of parties.  Because the center is already occupied, it remains out of competition.  The center in Greece is occupied by the two establishment parties, PASOK and New Democracy, which came under attack from both the left and right, questioning the legitimacy of political liberalism, open markets, and Greece’s integration in the European Union.Sartori also postulates a third feature, the presence of bilateral and mutually exclusive opposition, e.g., ideologically incompatible left-wing and right-wing oppositions.  This is not present in Greece, where the ideologically incompatible SYRIZA found a governing partner in the right-wing ANEL party.  However, Greece exhibits Sartori’s other features, including strong polarization, the predominance of centrifugal forces rather than centripetal, irresponsible oppositions, and the politics of polarization and outbidding.  These factors, combined, led to a crisis of legitimacy of Greece’s democratic institutions.  As the two major parties alternated coming to power but followed identical populist policies, the country amassed high levels of public debt, large trade deficits, and developed militant trade unions and an overextended public sector.Populism thus defeated liberalism in the ideological battle of post-authoritarian Greece.  The social contract between the governed and the ruling elite had consisted of a collusion to attack state institutions via the commonly accepted and legitimized patronage system.  However, as Sartori pointed out, such a system of polarized multipartism cannot go on in perpetuity.  “What are the chances of survival of polarized politics.  Surely, this variety of multipartism is an unhealthy state of affairs for a body politic.  A political system characterized by centrifugal drives, irresponsible opposition, and unfair competition is hardly a viable system.”  (Sartori, Parties and Party Systems).Acemoglu and Robinson write that liberal democratic states that have strong institutions will withstand political and economic crises, while states with weak institutions will not. (Acemoglu & Robinson, 2012:__)  In Greece’s populist democracy, state institutions were indeed too weak in both the distribution of government benefits and the collection of revenue.  Governing elites paid out rents generously, but they were also unable to collect taxes evenly from their client electorate.  When Greece adopted the euro as its currency, it did so based on inaccurate data and with ineffective governing institutions.  In addition, by transferring its monetary policy power to the European Central Bank in Berlin, Greece gave up its power to dilute its currency in the event of an economic crisis.  Neither Greece nor its European partners heeded the lessons of Argentina a decade earlier which, having pegged its currency to the U.S. dollar, no longer enjoyed monetary policy power to diffuse its severe recession and trade imbalance.  For Greece, the euro became an overvalued currency that ultimately caused consumers’ standard of living to drop.  When the patronage system failed to maintain their standard of living, it did not take long for the parties to lose their legitimacy in the eyes of their clients.  It’s as if the social contract between the government and the governed was breached.In 2012, facing the risk of involuntary default on its sovereign debt, Greece’s political system did not have the political strength to accept the inevitable but extremely unpopular rescue plan from the country’s creditors.  Politicians yielded power to an outsider, European Central Bank vice chairman Lucas Papademos, who served as temporary prime minister.  His job was to do what no politician could do: sign an unpopular rescue plan with Greece’s creditors that would keep the country afloat.  Populist rhetoric across the political spectrum was at its zenith.  The two main parties that alternated power during the previous 37 years were assailed, and the party system was falling apart.  A coalition of radical leftist parties, SYRIZA, had already risen from __ per cent in the ___ elections, to leader of the opposition with ___ percent of the vote in the ___ 2012 elections.   In the 2015 elections, SYRIZA received __%, enough to form a coalition government with a small right wing ANEL.  PASOK, which had enjoyed a ___% electoral return only __ years earlier, was now reduced to only __%.CONCLUSIONIn Greece, we may conclude that populism contributed to the economic crisis of 2010, which in turn exacerbated and fostered more populism.  For nearly four decades, the distribution of rents, coupled with the inability to collect taxes, caused the country to literally run out of money when external subsidies ended.  When the Greek electorate perceived its loss of privileges, it blamed the populist parties for not holding their part of the agreement that worked so well for three decades.  The old populist parties, PASOK and New Democracy, thus lost their legitimacy as their utility in the patronage system ended.  They became the new “establishment” which voters blamed for yielding to such nemeses as foreign banks, the E.U., and the demonized Angela Merkel.  New populist parties quickly took hold, more radical than the old ones.  The polarized bipartism that survived for over three decades collapsed, and a new brand of populism emerged with pronouncements of more radical agendas. BIBLIOGRAPHYAcemoglu, Daron & Robinson, James A. 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