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ECPR Journals Virtual Special Issue

Towards a Populist Foreign Policy Theory? Tracing the Impact of Right-Wing Grassroots Groups

Foreign Policy
Political Sociology
Ioannis Galariotis
European University Institute
Ioannis Galariotis
European University Institute

Populism is an old new ‘virus’ that has penetrated in all aspects of political and social life and the boundaries that separate it from nationalism are blurred. While a large body of literature has focused on the effect of populism on national politics, less is known about the impact of populism on foreign policy of a state, especially of populism ‘from the right’, from (ultra)nationalist and far right groups and individuals. In essence, the boundaries between the formulation of national policies and foreign policies are less clear nowadays given the complexities of the interplay between the international politics and the domestic political agenda. Coupled with that, the emergence of the populist phenomenon around the globe rings the bell that we need new theoretical tools to study it. Populists around the world have managed to play the ‘national level’ card quite successfully in order to influence the external foreign policy environment (see, for example, how Trump is using a xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric to formulate the foreign policy agenda with respect to Latin America).
The goal of this paper is to provide a theoretical framework of populist foreign policy that is shaped by right-wing actors. The crucial problem about populism is that there is not a common definition on which researchers and policy-makers can be based to study this social phenomenon. Some analysts go even further arguing that populism is fundamentally undefinable. Other scholars believe that a theory of populism is not necessary since we have a theory of democracy. Given, though, the different material, conceptual and ideational conditions in world societies, it would be useful to have a theoretical framework about populism that highlights and interprets the commonalities or disparities of diverse populisms around the globe. In this respect, it would be important to identify the different types of populism and their manifestations. For instance, which are the common elements of populist political formations in the world? Does the US case share similar characteristics with the European one? Are the populist far right movements in Eastern Europe different from the US and EU cases and to what extent? The identification of common populist elements will give us a theoretical base to examine the influence of those elements on the formulation of a nation’s foreign policy agenda. Is nationalism articulated by populists a strong predictor of the evolution of foreign policy of a state? What about the shared populist norms about the economy and the immigration and what are their effects on the foreign policy agenda? The focus of this analysis is on the far right social movements and how the ideology and perceptions of those grassroots political formations have an effect on the foreign policy agenda of a state.
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