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How Democracies Fall Apart

Why Populism Is a Pathway to Autocracy

Voting booths in New Hampshire, United States. Jim Bourg / Reuters

Populism is gaining ground. Around the world, economic hardship and growing unease with globalization, immigration, and the established elite have propelled such movements into power, leading to a groundswell of public support for parties and leaders viewed as capable of holding the forces of cultural and social change at bay. In Europe, populist parties dominate parliaments in Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, and Switzerland and are part of governing coalitions in Finland, Norway, and Lithuania. In Southeast Asia, the Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte is pursuing a populist agenda. And in the United States, Donald Trump has been elected president.

The objectives of contemporary populists are not new. Like most of their historical predecessors in Latin America and Europe, today’s populist parties extol the virtues of strong and decisive leadership, share a disdain for established institutions, and express deep distrust of perceived experts and elites. But the tactics that today’

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