Reinterpreting Authoritarian Populisms: The Elitist Plebeian Vision of State

Daniel Paget* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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3 Citations (Scopus)
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Authoritarian populists offer a vision of state. This ideologically fixed imaginary provides an electoral-authoritarian template for how to shape states once in power. Yet not all those called populists are populist. Some are elitist plebeians. They construct themselves as ‘the moral elite’ above which fights for ‘the people’ below against ‘the corrupt’. I argue that elitist plebeianism contains a distinct vision of government as elected guardianship. Like populists, elitist plebeians advocate extending executive power. Yet they envisage this not as the realization of the people’s will, but as the projection of accountability downwards. To them, divisions of power are acceptable as divisions of guardian labour. Rival opinions are not illegitimate, just irrelevant, but opposition is intolerable. Therefore, studies of populist authoritarianism should be revisited. Elitist plebeian visions of state may have been misread as authoritarian populist ones. I examine President Magufuli (Tanzania) as an exemplar and identify other potential elitist plebeians worldwide.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages23
JournalPolitical Studies
Early online date22 Feb 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Thanks to the two anonymous reviewers and the editors of Political Studies for their engagement with and encouragement of the development of this article. Their insights helped me to improve it greatly. Thanks to Sammy Awami, Aikande Kwayu, Erick Mwakibete, Athuman Mtulya, Deogratias Munishi and many others for the insights which they offered in past conversations about the person and ideology of President John Pombe Magufuli. Thanks to Alastair Fraser, Portia Roelofs and Aikande Kwayu for their formative feedback on earlier iterations of my work on elitist plebeianism. Thanks to all of those in and from Tanzania that have enabled me to carry out my research. Thanks to Jason Koutoufaris-Malandrinos for his continued interest and advocacy of the concept of elitist plebeianism. Thanks, as ever, to my old doctoral supervisor Nic Cheeseman for his support and encouragement, for this project and at large. Any errors are my own.


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