The major difference between populism and progressivism is the disparity that exists in defining both terms accurately. Populism, according to academic scholars Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan McDonnell, is an ideology that pits the elites of society against homogenous, virtuous people (DeBlasio, Hibberd & Socrice, 2011). Populism arises as a result of the collective effort of the entire society to seek to protect their rights, identity, values and voice. The elites of society attempt to deprive the general population of these valuable aspects of life to maintain power and control mainly through a profit-oriented capitalist system. This definition has been distorted mainly by political ideals where right-wing parties have come to associate themselves with populist agendas.
Progressivism, however, has a straightforward definition that stresses on the need to advance technology, social organization, science and economic development to improve living standards (Nugent, 2010). Progressivism theories stress the fact that all human beings can live equally in the world simply because of continuous advancements. Life on earth has the propensity to be completely different if progressivism was the dominant school of thought. More people would focus on achieving progress in society by eliminating all negative aspects that hold back the creation of a near-perfect global community.
The focus of populist theories is on the people because the ideologies stress on the need for a unitary social structure. Populism, by definition of academic scholars, seeks to identify the hierarchical system that currently exists in society as the main source of the problems that exist. The fact that the elite concentrate wealth amongst themselves without trickling it down into society creates massive disparities that slowly disintegrate society. Populist theories, consequently, emerge primarily to safe-guard the interests of the majority who mainly constitute the lower echelons of societal hierarchy systems. Their interests are never fully represented or realized by the elite.
The focus of progressivism, however, is on the need for advancement. The theories surrounding progressivism highlight that human progress and development can only be achieved by advancing technology to its greatest levels. All problems in society can easily be eradicated by focusing on utilizing the existing natural resources to advance technology to its fullest. Knowledge is power, and progressivism highlights the need for constant change in ideologies and beliefs in place of facts and empirical evidence. The focus of progressivism is to achieve the greatest level of advancement while conserving the earth’s natural resources to improve the human condition.
Populist theories are widely applied in the political process in the twenty-first century. Initially congealed as a right-wing agenda, political parties from the center and the left have also adopted populist approaches of their own (DeBlasio, Hibberd & Socrice, 2011). The political process has become a center-stage in highlighting the application of populist theories as politicians seek to align themselves with the citizens. Populism is mainly construed as beneficial to the political process because its application is democratic and people-oriented. There have been arguments, however, that populist applications in the political process are an interruption and an unnecessary source of conflict.
The ideas of progressivism, however, have been applied to almost all facets of life (Schutz, 2010). The philosophy is founded on the Idea of Progress, and this means that its application has seen tremendous progress in different fields of knowledge. The discovery of various medicines and other biological factors in the Enlightenment Period is an excellent application of progressivism. The strengthening of empirical knowledge, particularly in the twenty-first century, is another excellent application of progressivism. Progress has been achieved in almost all aspects of society, and this philosophy differs sharply from populism that focuses most of its ideas on social construction alone.