According to news agency ANSA, Pope Francis said Tuesday “it is important that young people should know how populism is born. I think of Hitler last century, who had promised the development of Germany. That we know how populism starts: by sowing hate. You can’t live sowing hate.”
This doubles down on what Pope Francis said in 2017 in the German newspaper Die Zeit: “Populism is evil and ends badly, as the past century shows.”
Those who are following along may scratch their head at this. Many understand Pope Francis to be populist himself.
In an interview with the Spanish left-leaning newspaper El País, the pope described Latin American populism as healthy because it made “the people . . . the protagonists.”
He clearly thinks that some populism is acceptable as he warms to the South American populists Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.
Pope Francis actually even called for a Christian populism in Sicily just before he condemned the political ideology weeks later: “This is the only possible populism: listening to your people, the only Christian populism: listening to and serving the people, without shouting, accusing, or stirring up contentions.”
To clear things up, populism means simply support for the concerns of ordinary people. That in and of itself doesn’t seem problematic. But the last century has seen the concerns of the ordinary people wielded to concentrate power in the state. This is as true in South America as it was in Nazi Germany and the results are no better—at least for the people, just ask the ordinary Venezuelans.
We do not buy the false difference between left and right populism or indeed left and right socialism. Both forms of populism are suspect and can lead to socialism, which is distasteful in both flavors. Pope Francis is right to condemn populism. We just hope he would be consistent.