March 9 – March 11, 2018

Understanding Populism

Washington, DC
Application Deadline
Applications Now Closed
Apply Now
One of our Weekend Seminars. Hertog will provide lodging, travel, and meals.

The conservative movement is divided over the question of Donald Trump. At issue is the philosophy of nation-state populism that drove his insurgent campaign and led to his presidency. This philosophy, which differs in emphasis and approach from that of other post-Cold War presidents, is both enduring and undefined. Reaching as far back as Andrew Jackson, and carrying through, in different ways, Ronald Reagan, Ross Perot, Patrick Buchanan, and Sarah Palin, the nation-state populist tradition diverges from conservatism on trade, immigration, entitlements, and infrastructure, and from liberalism on sovereignty, nationalism, identity politics, and political correctness.

In this weekend seminar, students will explore the phenomenon of populism, its causes, and its potential consequences for American politics. It will be led by Matthew Continetti, an astute observer of American politics and editor-in-chief of The Washington Free Beacon.

Time and Location
The weekend seminar will take place in Washington, DC. It is a full-time commitment for Friday–Sunday, with required sessions in the morning, afternoon, and some evenings.





  1. Francis Fukuyama, “Populism: A Three-Part Essay,” The American Interest, November/December 2017
  2. Walter Russell Mead, “The Jacksonian Tradition,” The National Interest, Winter 1995

Discussion Questions:

  1. Compare Fukuyama and Mead’s essays: What is populism? What is its key characteristics? From what does it arise?
  2. What is the relationship of populism to nationalism?
  3. Is it important to distinguish between left- and right-wing populism?
  4. Is American populism distinctive from populism abroad (Latin America, Europe)?
  5. Is populism best understood as a threat or corrective to democracy?

Yuval Levin 

Yuval Levin is Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and EPPC’s Hertog Fellow, and is the editor of National Affairs magazine.

He is a contributing editor of National Review and The Weekly Standard, a senior editor of EPPC’s journal The New Atlantis and, most recently, author of The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism. He is a recipient of a 2013 Bradley Prize for intellectual achievement.

Before joining EPPC, Mr. Levin served on the White House domestic policy staff under President George W. Bush. He has also been Executive Director of the President’s Council on Bioethics and a congressional staffer. He holds a B.A. from American University and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.


  1. Pat Buchanan, Presidential Campaign Announcement, March 20, 1995
  2. Sarah Palin, Republican National Convention Speech, September 3, 2008
  3. Donald Trump, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2017
  4. Donald Trump, Remarks to the People of Poland, July 6, 2017
  5. George W. Bush, Remarks at “The Spirit of Liberty: At Home, In The World” Conference, October 19, 2017
  6. George Nash, “Populism, I: American Conservatism and the Problem of Populism,” The New Criterion, September 2016
  7. Christopher Caldwell, “What’s the Deal with Trump?”, The Weekly Standard, September 7, 2015

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does populism express itself on the right? Compare the speeches of Buchanan, Palin, and Trump. What similarities and differences do you see in their rhetoric?
  2. Looking at the George W. Bush speech, where does the “populist” wing diverge from the “establishment wing” of the Republican Party?
  3. Does populism reflect a development of, or a departure from, the conservative tradition in America? What argument does Nash make? Caldwell?

Christopher Caldwell

Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard. He is the author of Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West.



  1. Bernie Sanders, Presidential Campaign Announcement, May 26, 2015
  2. Bernie Sanders, A Future to Believe In Rally in Eugene, Oregon, April 28, 2016
  3. Barack Obama, U.S. Air Force Academy Commencement Address, June 2016
  4. Margaret Talbot, “The Populist Prophet,” The New Yorker, October 12, 2015
  5. Matt Stoller, “How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul,” The Atlantic, October 24, 2016

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does populism express itself on the left? Compare Sanders’ speech to those of Buchanan, Palin, and Trump. What similarities and differences do you find?
  2. Looking at the Obama speech, where does the “populist wing” diverge from the “establishment wing” of the Democratic Party?
  3. Does populism reflect a development of, or a departure from, modern liberalism? What argument does Talbot make? Stoller?

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