Penal populism is a much discussed characteristic of punishment. Many commentators reflect upon penal populism in relation to localized events, presuming that they may be diagnosed, theorised and exorcised there.
In this article, John Pratt (Professor in Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington) and Michelle Miao (Assistant Professor of Law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong) demonstrate that penal populism has provided the base for a much more extensive populism through modern societies. Penal populism has provided a springboard for wider populist forces to flourish in mainstream society, so much so that, in the early 21st Century, populism has ‘burst out of the constraints of the penal zone and pervade[d] the whole social body’.
Pratt and Miao chart a shift from penal to political populism that has been precipitated by two interconnected factors: the impact of the 2008 global fiscal crisis and the mass movement of peoples across the globe.
Economic insecurity and uncertainty have combined with fears and suspicions of ‘others’ to produce demands for more punishments, surveillance and pre-emptive protections such as tighter border controls. This ‘precariousness’ has also ‘deepened the existing distrust of establishment elites and supra-national governmental organizations’. Having had enough of ‘experts’, Brexit and Trump voters have subsequently taken a punt on emotions over evidence.
We are seeing, they argue, the end of Reason.
This article will be published in Nova Criminis, a journal published by the Central University of Chile, in 2017.