THE POPULIST PERSUASION by Michael Kazin

THE POPULIST PERSUASION

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A timely history of the American politicians and publicists who have appealed to ``the people.'' Kazin (History/American Univ.; Barons of Labor, not reviewed) shows how populist language has a complicated history, full of irony, paradox, and at times menace. As an academic historian, Kazin shares the disquiet that many of his colleagues have felt in defining populism. On the one hand, there is sympathy for the liberal and inclusive attack on corporate interests and closed government that characterized the great People's Party of the 1890s, the most sustained attack on the two-party system since the Civil War. On the other hand, Kazin recognizes that populist rhetoric, whether liberal or conservative, has often constructed ``the people'' as a group of white males, leaving out women, new immigrants, and African-Americans. Furthermore, there has been a tendency for populists of both the right and the left to engage in conspiracy theories that victimize vulnerable minorities. After setting out the broad emergence of a populist style based on a 19th-century reading of Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln, Kazin shows how this subtle and flexible language was appropriated by one political movement after another: the People's Party, the Anti- Saloon League, the American Federation of Labor, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the Communist Party, and Father Coughlin. Finally, he chronicles the capture of populist language by conservatives, whether Cold Warriors and segregationists like George Wallace, or the Republican right of Goldwater and, later, Reagan and his would-be heirs. Kazin laments the elitism of postNew Deal liberalism, which opened the way, he believes, for a conservative appropriation of populist argument. A solid historical view, slightly deflated by Kazin's muddled speculation on the need for new, inclusive social movements that incorporate the historic language of populism.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1995
ISBN: 0-465-03793-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994




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