You hear of populist leaders all over the world. Some work for the common good. Some work for private agendas. How can they all be populists?

According to Luke Bretherton’s, book Christ and the Common Life: Political Theology and the Case for Democracy, there are good and bad forms of populism. He uses two terms: democratic populist and the antipolitical populist.

The democratic populist works for the common good while the antipolitical populist rules by his own authority. The antipolitical populist throws out checks and balances in the government and pursues private self-interests.

There are common traits for the antipolitical and democratic form of populism. They both:

• Emphasize the need for leadership
• Simplify issues
• Push for direct forms of rule
• Glorify the wisdom of ordinary people
• Distrust party politics, elites and bureaucracy
• Use symbols to develop a sense of unity
• Build dissent through the battle of ordinary people versus elites.

The similarities stop there. Here are critical differences between a democratic populist and an antipolitical populist.

The democratic populist:

• Serves the common good and continues to build the common good, not close it down.
• Invests in long-term organization and education
• Develops a broad base of local leaders rather than short-term loyalty to the single leader.
• Frames proposals as moral imperatives but at the same time looks on compromise as a value to keep.
• Builds on unity of all people rather than demonizes people on the other side.

The democratic populist develops the common life as opposed to interests of the one or the few. Antipolitical populism is not democratic and can quickly degenerate into a form of authoritarianism.