Neo-Populism: Applying Paul Taggart’s Heartland to the Italian Five Star Movement and League parties

In the early 2000s the British academic and expert in the field of populism, Paul Taggart, conceptualised the heartland – which he defined as ‘a version of the past that celebrates a hypothetical, uncomplicated and non-political territory of imagination.’ The idea is that populists envision this return to an almost utopic, laborious, morally pure, and culturally homogenous ‘place’ where professional political administration is not completely rejected but certainly kept at a minimum. Applying Taggart’s heartland to leaders and parties allows us to build on an efficient comprehension of specific uses of populist dialogue, as well as their general discursive styles and political narratives. Those who have capitalised on the current populist zeitgeist (a term Cas Mudde often uses), such as the American President Donald J. Trump, have mobilised masses by implicitly calling for a return to the heartland with slogans such as ‘Make America Great Again’. However, Trump is not the only politician who has discursively framed the concept of heartland in the twenty-first century. Interestingly, the heartland can also be applied to ‘right-wing’ national- populists and ‘left-wing’ techno-populists in Italy. The League, believes that with their involvement, their country can return to be a safer, more stable, hard-working, producerist society. Similarly, the Five Star Movement pressures the elites for a more virtuous, honest, and transparent way of doing politics through the digital web and direct democracy practices. Those values are the ones that shape their idea of heartland. This piece untangles the two distinct versions of heartland that exist within the forma mentis of the two Italian populist parties, compares them, and contrasts them in the hope of contributing to the already existing literature that has presented little evidence so far on how Taggart’s relevant concept can be identified in populist discourse, monologue, and ideology. Also, some advice is given on how to deal with the new populists worldwide in a way that involves dialogue that is both constructive and inclusive.

Amedeo Varriale

Amedeo Varriale is currently a third year (full-time) Ph.D. candidate and Research Assistant at the University of East London, UK.