We have a piece in Foreign Policy on the relationship between multipolarity and populism.
he Serbian and Italian examples highlight an important but often overlooked relationship between the decline of U.S. hegemony and the rise of populism. Despite important regional, cultural, and political differences, many contemporary populists embrace multipolarity—an international system composed of multiple great powers rather than one or two superpowers. They do so as a rhetorical aspiration, a vision of a global order that privileges national sovereignty over liberal rights and values, and as a tool to increase their freedom of action by playing alternative suppliers of international club and private goods against one another. Indeed, this multipolar populism is fast becoming a core part of the contemporary populist playbook.
As the political philosopher Jan-Werner Müller argues, populists worldwide share a specific form of personalized identity politics—one that is rhetorically anti-elite and anti-pluralist in orientation and that emphasizes their own moral superiority while denying the basic legitimacy of their political opponents. Once in power, populists seek to erode the independence of political, legal, and economic institutions; they hijack the apparatus of the state in order to build patronage networks that secure the loyalty of clients. They pursue these efforts by, in part, scapegoating vulnerable populations and communities.
Populist rhetoric and policies thus constitute a rejection of important aspects of the post-Cold War liberal order, driven by a mix of ideological and instrumental concerns.