I suppose no one will challenge the observation that the best account of populism was given by the most eloquent of presidents. Lincoln’s famous elegy at Gettysburg, which every high school student should learn by heart, contains in its concluding sentence the unforgettable prepositional triplet of “government of the people, for the people, by the people.”
Was Lincoln a populist? I do not think, from these words or the record of his life, it can be argued otherwise.
An ancient maxim houses the same wisdom. “Vox populi, Vox dei” remains as a reminder of the primacy of the people’s voice. The maxim and Lincoln’s words are there to remind us that it is only lately that populism carries such a harsh cast in people’s minds. Which is a curious development in our modern democracies, since by definition and etymology both, democracies are, as Lincoln had it, rule of, for, and by the people.
In our own country there are stagy rhetorical questions being posed almost daily hinged on whether tranquil middle-ground Canada is vulnerable or susceptible to the winds of populism blowing through Europe and America. Is Canada the site of the next populist fever?, is the always nervous inquiry.
Worry on this point is either trivial or contrived.