MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Goodwyn, Lawrence, Democratic Promise, Oxford, 1976.
A path-breaking history of the origins of populism in the Farmers’ Alliance. Includes a serious discussion of the Populists’ monetary theories.
Clanton, Gene, Populism: 1890-1900, Twayne 1991.
Takes issue with Goodwyn on many points, but also sympathetic to Populists; Western emphasis.
Postel, Charles, The Populist Vision, Oxford, 2007.
Emphasizes the forward looking, scientific farming, adult education aspect of Populism. The populists were not anti-intellectual.
Michael Pierce, Striking with the Ballot, Northern Illinois, 2010.
In Ohio Populists were primarily urban union members and coal miners, and in 1895 the Populist John McBride defeated Samuel Gompers to become head of the AFL. After 1896 the Populist Party dwindled and Gompers regained power, but the former Populists remained active under other auspices and in 1912 contributed to the rewriting of the Ohio State Constitution on progressive principles. This gives the lie to the idea that the Populist Party was purely agrarian.
Hild, Matthew, Greenbackers, Knights of Labor, and Populists, Georgia, 2007.
The relationships between Southern Populism, the Knights of Labor, and earlier third parties such as the Greenbackers, the Union Labor Party, etc. Another book calling into question the idea that Populism had no appeal to labor. It also can serve as a reminder that when white supremacy and the Democratic Party became dominant by force around 1900, segregation was not the only bad outcome; labor also suffered.
Kazin, Michael, The Populist Persuasion, Basic Books, 1995.
From Bryan to the present. A generally sympathetic view. Bryan brought the common man’s interests, as opposed to the interests of the wealthy, into American politics for the first time.
Lasch, Christopher, The True and Only Heaven, Norton, 1991.
Like Goodwyn, Lasch believes that the Populists proposed an alternative both to capitalism and communism. An extraordinary book.
Rogin, The Intellectuals and McCarthy, MIT, 1967.
The best dissection and refutation of pluralist liberal anti-populism. Rogin attacks the pluralist liberal claim (best stated by Hofstadter) that Populism was proto-fascist and that the demagogue Joe McCarthy was a populist. This claim (relayed in Gellner’s anthology) is the source of the negative evaluation of populism now held by most social scientists, most Democratic Party pros, most educated liberals, and a substantial proportion of Democratic Party rank and file.
Youngdale, James, Populism: A Psychohistorical Perspective, Kennikat, 1975.
An eccentric book. His division of Populists into Tory Populists (right wing), Socialist Populists (left wing), and Progressive Mercantilists is interesting.
McMath, Robert, Populism: A Social History, Hill & Wang, 1992.
Johnson, Robert, The Peace Progressives and American Foreign Relations, Harvard, 1995.
Johnston, Robert, The Radical Middle Class, Princeton, 2003.
A local study of Portland Oregon during a later era showing that populist and progressive movements were in fact middle class, but not reactionary or conservative. This is a “warts and all” picture; these populists / progressives have an unappealing side.
McKenna, George, American Populism, Putnam, 1974.
Morlan, Robert, Political Prairie Fire, Minnesota, 1955.
Destler, Chester M., American Radicalism 1865-1901, Quadrangle 1946.
Gellner, Ernest, ed., Populism, Weidenfeld and Nixon, 1969.
Berlin, Isaiah, et. al., “To Define Populism”, Government and Opposition, vol. 3, #2, April 1968, pp. 137-180. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1477-7053.1968.tb01332.x/pdf (Report from the London School of Economics conference, May 19-21, 1967, from which the Gellner articles were taken).
An international approach; includes a chapter by Hofstadter. “Everyone is talking about populism, but no one can define it.” I suspect that the almost-universally negative European scholarly attitude toward populism traces to this book, which may be the first serious treatment of populism as a generic phenomenon, not tied specifically to the American People’s Party. I think that the approach here led to serious misunderstandings.
Laclau, Ernesto, On Populist Reason, 2005, Verso.
Sympathetic– a degree of populism is an essential aspect of democracy. International, not strong on American Populism. 38 years after Gellner, populism is still undefined.
Youngdale, James, Third Party Footprints, Ross & Haines, 1966.
First-person testimony from Minnesota’s Farmer Labor Party.
Pollack, Norman. The Populist Mind, Bobbs-Merrill. 1967.
A lot of documentation of what the Populists really thought. Great source.
Abrams, Richard, The Issues of the Populist and Progressive Eras, 1892-1912, South Carolina, 1969.
Hofstadter, Richard, The Progressive Movement 1900 to 1915, Touchstone, 1963.
Two casebooks for college courses. Basic documents.
Kazin, Michael, A Godly Hero, Knopf, 2006. (Bryan).
Ridge, Martin, Ignatius Donnelly, Chicago, 1962.
Larson, Bruce, Lindbergh of Minnesota, Harcourt Brace, 1973. (Charles Lindbergh Sr., the Congressman father of the aviator.)
Destler, Chester M., Henry Demarest Lloyd and the Empire of Reform, Pennsylvania, 1963.
Woodward, C. Vann, Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel, Oxford, 1938.
Adams, Pauline and Thornton, Emma, A Populist Assault, Bowling Green, 1982. (Sarah Vandevoort Emery.)
The Populists have a reputation as funny-money cranks, but the greenbackers among them were ahead of their time in advocating a “fiat currency” and a state bank, and their complaints about deliberate deflation and other practices intended to impoverish farmers (“sound currency”, the gold standard, and various monopolies) were valid.
Goodwyn above discusses currency questions in some detail.
Greider, William, Secrets of the Temple, Simon and Schuster, 1987.
Sympathetic. The place to begin.
Nugent, Walter, Money and American Society, 1865-1880, Free Press, 1968.
A detailed history of the pre-populist era. The much maligned Greenbackers come out looking prophetic, and the “sound currency” goldbugs look like fetishists – to me, at least, though not necessarily to the author.
Friedman, Milton, A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, Princeton, 1963.
His discussion of Populist monetary theory in Ch. 3 is non-committal, neither condemning them as cranks nor giving them credit for being early monetarists.
Mihm, Stephen, A Nation of Counterfeiters, Harvard, 2007.
Ritter, Gretchen, Goldbugs and Greenbacks, Cambridge, 1997.
The currency question in the context of the various anti-monopoly movements, including Populism, which she treats as offering a viable alternative to monopoly capitalism, one whose defeat was not inevitable. Good on that topic, but Ritter exaggerates the differences between the Knights of Labor and the AFL on the union side, and the Populists on the political side. The Populist Frank McBride’s AFL presidency isn’t even mentioned, and Eugene Debs’ association with the Populists is denied. She also doesn’t seem to notice that the unions, the Southern Populists, and the Southern Republicans did not play on a level playing field but were crushed by violence, election fraud, and judicial persecution.
NORTH CAROLINA POPULISM / POPULISM AND RACE
In 1896 the North Carolina Populists supported the Democrat William Jennings Bryan, but in state and local races they were in coalition with the Republicans. This coalition (which already controlled both Senate seats) swept the state, winning the governorship and 8 of 9 Congressional seats (one of which was held by the Republican George Henry White, the last black U. S. Congressmen for several decades.)
But within four years both the national Populist Party and the southern Republican Party had been destroyed, and the vast majority of Southern blacks had been disenfranchised. In North Carolina this happened by violence, pure and simple. A well-organized armed insurrection overthrew the elected Republican government of Wilmington, North Carolina’s largest city, and much of the black population fled, including the majority of Wilmington’s until-then-thriving black middle class. (One of the leaders of this insurrection was Pitchfork Ben Tillman of South Carolina, a murderous white-supremacist Democrat who had co-opted some Populist themes. Tillman is sometimes used as an example of what Populists really are like). Similar methods helped the Democrats win the 1898 elections, and North Carolina became part of the segregated solid Democratic South. The national Republican Party did not respond to the lawless destruction of their North Carolina branch or to the destruction of Republican Party elsewhere in the South. My guess is that this is because the destruction of the Populist Party came along with the destruction of the Republican Party in the South, a tradeoff which the Republicans found to be well worth it.
Populists did not directly oppose white supremacy, but by their existence they weakened it, and they knew that: they put their money where their mouth wasn’t. Democrats routinely accuse the Populists of racism, but between 1865 and 1948 or later (all through the New Deal) the Democratic Party was the main support for American racism.
Edmonds, Helen, The Negro and Fusion Politics in North Carolina 1894-1901, North Carolina, 1951.
Sherman, Richard, The Republican Party and Black America, Virginia, 1973.
Anderson, Eric, Race and Politics in North Carolina 1872-1901, LSU, 1981.
Prather, H. Leon, We Have Taken A City, Associated UniversityPresses, 1984.
Cecelski and Tyson, eds., Democracy Betrayed, North Carolina, 1998.
Justesen, Benjamin, George Henry White, LSU, 2001.
THE FIFTIES CONTROVERSIES
Hicks’ book treats the Populists as precursors of the new deal. Hofstader was the revisionist, and is primarily responsible for the low opinion most educated people today have of Populism. Schlesinger’s book (not about Populism per se) is a tendentious companion-piece and precursor of Hofstadter, and Ferkis’s piece is a remarkably venomous polemic. Bell’s book is an anthology identifying McCarthyism etc. with populism. Woodward, Pollack, and Nugent defend the Populists; Rogin argues that McCarthy was not a populist. Lasch, a student of Hofstadter, writes about the history of American politics from a point of view sympathetic to populism.
Ferkis, Victor, “Populist Influences on American Fascism”, Western Political Quarterly, vol. 10, pp. 350-373, 1957.
Hicks, John, The Populist Revolt, Nebraska, 1962 (originally published 1931).
Hofstadter, Richard, The Age of Reform, Vintage, 1955.
Hofstadter, Richard, Anti-intellectualism in American Life, Vintage, 1966.
Hofstadter, Richard, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Knopf, 1965.
Shils, Edward, Torment of Secrecy, Free Press, 1956 (pp. 48, 98-104).
The book is not about populism at all, but his thumbnail sketches of populism, seemingly based on no actual facts (there’s no documentation at all in this book) , vividly express the standard average Cold War liberal’s attitude toward any trace of populism. He fudges a little, but the two main populists in Shils’ world seem to have been Joe McCarthy and Adolph Hitler. Despite the mediocrity of his scholarship, Shils was very influential during his lifetime. Rather surprisingly when you consider his commitment to technocratic administration, Shils’ only credential was a B.A. in French literature. Apparently his WWII O.S.S. service was accepted in lieu of a PhD.
Schlesinger, Arthur, The Vital Center, Transaction, 1997 (originally 1948).
David Brown, Richard Hofstadter, Chicago, 2006.
Baker, Susan Stout, Radical Beginnings, Greenwood, 1985. (The early, radical Hofstadter).
Bell, Daniel, ed., The Radical Right, Transaction, 2002.
Woodward, C. Vann, Thinking Back, LSU, 1986.
— The Burden of Southern History, LSU, 1960.
Pollack, Norman, The Populist Response to Industrial America, Harvard, 1962.
Nugent, The Tolerant Populists, Chicago, 1963.
Lasch, Christopher, The New Radicalism in America, Vintage, 1965.
Lasch, Christopher, The Agony of the American Left, Vintage, 1966.
After about 1970, building on Hofstadter and the Gellner collection, “populism” started to be used as a technical term in political science. The doubts about the usefulness of this term expressed by several authors in the Gellner book were never resolved, and in my opinion they never will be. The main groups described as populist are the Russian Narodniks; the American Populist Party; Peron, Vargas, Cardenas, Nasser, and other third world nationalists; and the relatively recent “New Populists” in Europe. None of these four groups have a lot in common with the others. The word “populist”, nonetheless, is frequently stretched to cover anyone who resembles any of the four in any way, and anyone who ever uses populist rhetoric. Ultimately, any ill-bred, anti-intellectual, racist, anti-establishment demagogue will be called a populist.
As the argument developed, however, at least a few scholars went from treating populism as a pathology of politics (or as merely a category of rhetoric, or as a defective form of ideology) to accepting it as an essential aspect of democratic politics. This resolves one of my doubts about the term — its condescending or pejorative connotation — but does not resolve my skepticism about whether an umbrella term as broad as “populism” helps anyone understand much of anything. According to the consensus definition, almost everyone involved in Democratic politics is a populist except for establishmentarian supporters of the status quo, elitist authoritarians, and any others who explicitly declare themselves to be anti-populists.
Canovan, M., Populism, Junction, 1981.
Canovan, M, “’People’, Politicians, and Populism”, Government and Opposition, Vol. 19 #3, July 1984, pp. 312-327. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1477-7053.1984.tb01048.x/full
Canovan, Margaret, The People, Polity, 2005.
Deiwiks, Christa, Populism, Living Reviews in Democracy, June, 2009. http://democracy.livingreviews.org/index.php/lrd/article/view/lrd-2009-3/11
Mény, Yves, and Surel, Yves (eds.), Democracy and the Populist Challenge, Palgrave, 2002.
Mouffe, Chantal, “The ‘End of Politics” and the Challenge of Right-Wing Populism”, in Panizza (below), pp. 50-71. Laclau without the crap.
Mudde, Cas, “The Populist Zeitgeist”, Government and Opposition, vol. 39 #4, August 2004, pp. 542-563. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1477-7053.2004.00135.x/full
Panizza, Francisco, Populism and the Mirror of Democracy, Verso,2005.
Includes several chapters relatively friendly to populism.
Taggart, Paul, Populism, Open University Press, 2000.
Telos, ed. Paul Piccone, Special Issue on Populism, I, #103, Spring, 1995; Special Issue on Populism II, #104, Summer, 1995.
Piccone is a leftist, but most of the authors are from the Mises Institute or from conservative groups with Southern sympathies. Mostly friendly to populism, but tends to accept the continental definition of populism, which keys on European “new populism”. Rather disappointing, all in all.
Žižek, Slavoj, “Against the Populist Temptation”, http://www.lacan.com/zizpopulism.htm