Huey Long and the Power of Populism

What we can learn from the successes and failures of “the Kingfish.”

“How many men ever went to a barbecue and would let one man take off the table what’s intended for nine-tenths of the people to eat?” roared Huey Long. “[H]ow are you going to feed the balance of the people?” The crowd was silent. The speech was given at the height of the Great Depression; many in the audience had experienced hunger and malnutrition. For them, the idea of dividing up too little food among too many mouths was painfully real.

Without waiting for a response, the senator from Louisiana answered his own question, swinging his arms and throwing his weight around with a fervor that was almost cartoonish. “The only way you will be able to feed the balance of the people is to make that man come back and bring back some of ‘at grub he ain’t got no bidness wit’.” The crowd burst into laughter as Long’s senatorial cadence descended into Louisiana backwater dialect.

America, Long explained, was the barbecue. God had set the table, but Rockefeller, Mellon, and the rest of the robber barons had carried off nine-tenths of the food, leaving the scraps for everyone else. It was about time, he said, to call them back to the table with their heaping plates and make them share it out. He concluded the speech with a promise that, under his program, “none shall be too big, none shall be too poor; none shall work too much, none shall be idle. No luxurious mansions empty, none walking the streets, none impoverished, none in pestilence, none in want.”

Long gave many versions of this speech over his life. This one, from 1935, was utterly characteristic of his politics: folksy metaphors, simple solutions, a focus on helping the poor, and a profound anger at the rich. For these reasons, we know him today as a “populist”: someone whose political style is, according to political scientist Cas Mudde in his seminal paper “The Popular Zeitgeist,” a “highly emotional and simplistic discourse that is directed at the ‘gut feelings’ of the people.” Like all populists, Long claimed to know “the heart of the People,” and promised to stick up for “the poor man,” or “the little man.” Like all populists, Long identified the enemies of “the People” as the elites: the rich and well-connected. And, like all populists, Long was willing to break rules and shatter norms to get his way.

This “populist” label puts Long in some very bad company. After all, the execrable President Trump is often justifiably described as a “populist.” There are some definite similarities. Trump claims to speak for the popular anger directed against cultural elites, while Long claimed to speak for popular anger directed against economic elites. Trump wants to Make America Great Again, while Long wanted to make Every Man a King. Both men relied on clownish antics to shock the establishment and amuse their base. And neither man had much respect for the concept of legality.

But there are important differences too. Trump’s populist appeals have racial animus at their center, while Huey’s did not. (We’ll get to Huey’s complex relationship with race later.) Trump’s populist rhetoric is a smoke screen designed to hide his policies’ upward redistribution of wealth, but Long was the exact opposite—relying on populist appeals, he was able to distribute wealth to his state’s neediest citizens, overcoming vicious opposition. His life and successes demonstrate that populism can serve as a powerful vehicle for accomplishing left-wing goals, though his failures demonstrate that populist appeals must be supplemented by other political strategies. Long accomplished too much to be ignored by historically minded leftists: his legacy must be reckoned with.

Huey Long single-handedly upended Louisiana’s status quo on the basis of one simple idea: poor people were being cheated by the rich. This was his idea at 16 years old, when he helped defeat a scheme to use local taxes to subsidize a private railroad corporation. This was his idea at 25, when he got elected to the Public Service Commission and immediately took on Standard Oil, calling its executives “criminals.” And this was his idea at 35 when he was elected Governor of Louisiana. This single, simple idea defined the seven years he controlled the state’s politics until his murder at the age of 42.

As unsophisticated as this idea was, Long wasn’t wrong. The Louisiana of his time was plagued by desperate poverty. Thousands suffered with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and no access to healthcare. Thousands more could not read or had no education past the fourth grade. What little income these people had was profoundly precarious, as it was often dependent on the next harvest, and there was no easily accessible scheme of crop insurance to protect small farmers from disaster. Many sank deeper and deeper into debt as harvests failed and rivers flooded.

The reason that poor Louisianans had almost no public services is that the state’s elite simply refused to provide them. The state’s political and economic landscape was, in rural areas, dominated by land-owning planters who, for over a century, had used judicious intermarriage to maintain control over the bulk of the state’s cotton and sugar production. These families deliberately tried to recreate an aristocratic, antebellum atmosphere, sporting frock coats, wide brimmed hats, and even ridiculous facial hair like their ancestors. Also, like their ancestors, they practiced brutal racial discrimination and ruthlessly exploited their tenant farmers of all races. This rural elite was known as the “Southern Bourbons,” after the opulent and decadent French aristocrats who were overthrown in the French Revolution.

The Southern Bourbons controlled rural politics through the local sheriff, a uniquely powerful figure. On paper, he was the chief law enforcement officer of a given parish. In practice, he was a great deal more. Accountable only to his voters, in an era without meaningful federal oversight of elections and with a force of armed deputies at his back, the sheriff had almost unlimited coercive power over his domain. He used this power to organize the local “courthouse ring”—a clique of lawyers, business owners, and elected officials who chose which candidates to run and reliably turned out votes. The tactics used by the rings were not limited to advertising and door-knocking, but included patronage, bribery, and violence: in one congressional race, anti-Long forces rode the streets carrying rifles to dissuade supporters of Long’s candidate.

In New Orleans, the largest city in the South, wealthy corporate interests ruled. The city was home to powerful financial institutions, utility monopolies, and shipping companies. Chief among the urban corporate interests was the Standard Oil Company of Louisiana, which was owned by the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, the largest fraction of John D. Rockefeller’s empire to survive the turn of the century’s trust-busting. In Long’s time it was the largest oil producer in the world, with enormous global resources at its disposal. It could afford to shell out over a quarter million dollars on a single vote from a single legislator, and used its power to avoid serious taxation or regulation.

These corporate interests controlled politics through the “Old Regulars,” New Orleans’ version of a Tammany Hall-style political machine. Many political machines of the era, despite all their corruption, were able to deliver to their poor constituents some material benefits; not so for the Old Regulars. It was one of the most business-friendly machines in the country, consistently ordering its representatives in the state capitol to vote against all regulation of manufacturing—including the abolition of child labor—and allowing utility monopolies to milk the city’s residents by charging them inflated prices. It maintained its control of the city’s politics through its police force, headed by such sinister figures as Guy “Machine Gun” Moloney—who, when he wasn’t rigging elections as New Orleans Chief of Police, worked as a mercenary in Central America.

By the time Long arrived on the scene, this union of landed aristocracy and urban capital had, unchallenged, kept the state’s population mired in poverty and ignorance for nearly 100 years. Long was determined to change all that.

Louisiana was ready for Long’s brand of populism. The people knew they were being cheated, but for decades there was no one with any political power who would speak for them. Sure, politicians on the campaign trail might make gestures at holding the powerful to account, but these promises evaporated once they took office. These politicians, even those who claimed to be on the side of the people, tended to treat the state’s elite as an interest group to be accommodated and negotiated with. Long was unique in that he had both the political skills to articulate a populist message and the courage to actually follow through: for him the rich were not stakeholders to be conciliated, but enemies to be defeated.

Long’s willingness to take on his “enemies” was central to his political appeal, and he knew it. T. Harry Williams, in Huey Long: A Biography, the definitive work on Long’s life, relates that Long carefully selected his political enemies for maximum drama and, on occasion, stage-managed events to ensure that all the characters played their proper roles. After he broke the power of the Old Regulars, he allowed their leader T. Semmes Walmsley to stay on as mayor of New Orleans. “You always leave a figurehead for your boys to fight against,” Long said. “If you don’t they start fighting against themselves. Walmsley is a perfect target for us to fight. He’s impotent and can’t do us any harm.”

This pugilistic style wasn’t limited to the campaign trail—it was how he governed, too. One of the first big fights of his governorship was his effort to lower utility prices in New Orleans. Past governors had promised to fix this problem but had wilted as soon as they ran into opposition from the Old Regulars. Long took a different approach. He summoned the utility monopoly executives to a meeting, where he told them to lower their prices or he would have the state take over their company and do it for them. “A deck has 52 cards,” he explained. “And in Baton Rouge I hold all 52 of them and can shuffle and deal as I please.” The executives caved.

Like many populists, Long ignored the traditional rules of civility and decorum in politics. For instance, in his battles with Walmsley, the leader of the Old Regulars, he almost never used Walmsey’s real name—inspired by his bald pate and long neck, he preferred to call him “Turkey Head.” He also ordered the American Progress, his own personal newspaper, to caricature Walmsley as a turkey buzzard. The name stuck.

Long’s antics were not all insulting. He knew when to be funny too. Whenever he arrived in New Orleans, he made sure that he was greeted by a jazz band, which he would then personally lead, parade-style, to his hotel. He was famous for giving press conferences while sitting up in bed, wearing brightly-colored silk pajamas. He even caused an international incident, by receiving the captain of a German warship that had docked in New Orleans the same way—in bed, wearing pajamas—and had to issue a rare apology to the German government.

In spite of these antics—or, more likely, because of them—Long was unbeatable politically. He went from electoral triumph to electoral triumph, from public service commissioner to governor to senator. His margin in the 1928 gubernatorial race was the largest ever in state history at the time, only to be bested by the margin of his handpicked successor four years later. He could also swing elections even when he wasn’t on the ballot: his recruitment, endorsement, and frenetic, non-stop campaigning on behalf of “Longite” candidates enabled him to pack the legislature and the judiciary with supporters of his populist program. This electoral success earned him political capital, which he spent wisely, if not exactly ethically. Once in control of Louisiana’s executive branch, he doled out patronage jobs to reward supporters and win over anyone who might be wavering. He made sure that all the heretofore “independent” elements of state government—the school board, the Highway Commission, the Board of Health—answered to him personally. Louisiana’s police force was even tasked with handing out Longite propaganda.

All in all, Long dominated state politics for a period of seven years. From 1928 to 1932 he ran Louisiana politics directly as governor. From 1932 to 1935, when he was in the U.S. senate, Long ran the state through his cat’s paw, governor O.K. Allen, who would literally vacate the governor’s office whenever Long was in Baton Rouge so he could resume his rightful place behind the executive desk.

During that time, Long acted with ferocious energy, enacting a program of astonishing breadth. To do this, he had to beat back an impeachment attempt, countless electoral challenges, and even a politically motivated IRS investigation ordered by FDR’s administration. But each of these attempts to contain Long failed, and, in the end, his program could only be stopped by an assassin’s bullet.

Long’s Louisiana program was simple and flowed directly from his populist principles: tax the wealthy, spend on the poor. In this, he was unbelievably successful. His popularity, the power that it earned him, and his ability to use that power shrewdly and ruthlessly won him a long list of accomplishments that would be impossible to comprehensively summarize here. (The Long Legacy Project has engaged in a more complete accounting at

Infrastructure was always the centerpiece of Long’s Louisiana program. When Long was first elected, Louisiana had just 300 miles of paved roads. The rest were a series of winding, dirt paths that flooded in the rainy season. Even worse for a state crisscrossed by waterways, Louisiana only had three modern bridges; for other water crossings, travelers were forced to rely on a patchwork of ferries, fords, and toll bridges. The reason Louisiana’s roads and bridges had been allowed to reach such a state of decay was that the state’s elites were simply not willing to pay the taxes necessary to extend a modern transportation system to the poor, rural parts of the state. In 1921, state elites had written into the Louisiana constitution that the state could not issue any bonds or go into any debt to pay for the construction of highways and bridges. This constitutional barrier—the strongest protection available under state law—meant that Long would need a two-thirds majority in the legislature to fulfill most of his campaign promises.

But Long wasn’t about to let the state constitution stand in his way. He simply got the votes to amend it. Thanks to his personal popularity, a number of legislators were already committed to his direction; the rest he won over with some combination of bribes, bluster, and bullying. The resulting program was truly massive, employing 10 percent of the entire nation’s road builders, and giving work to 22,200 men at the height of the Great Depression. Long more than doubled the size of the state’s highway system, creating 16,000 miles of new roads and 111 new bridges, not to mention all his other infrastructure projects. These public works employed thousands of people and shielded Louisiana from the worst of the Great Depression.

Education was the second most important plank in Long’s platform. When Long was elected governor, Louisiana was second to last in the nation in terms of literacy. 40 percent of its rural population had not completed the fourth grade. And what little education was offered was simply another chance for the wealthy to fleece the poor: state law required that parents purchase school books for their children, and the only supplier was F.F. Hansell Book Company, a privately-held but state-sanctioned monopoly that charged inflated prices.

Long’s main educational promise on the campaign trail was “free school books.” He fulfilled this promise early in his term, leveling a relatively small tax on oil extraction to pay for it. But Louisiana’s ruling class couldn’t let even this hugely popular and relatively cheap program pass without resistance. Because the program paid for free schoolbooks for children attending private schools, which many of Louisiana’s large Catholic population relied on, the state’s elite argued the program was unconstitutional. And of course, Louisiana’s bankers—out of concern for the constitution and the rule of law, naturally—could not extend the state any loans that would pay for an unconstitutional program.

Illustration by C.M. Duffy

The bankers confronted governor Long in a meeting in New Orleans. All the state’s major financial institutions were represented. Taking courage from one another, they drew a hard line: the program was illegal, the tax was illegal, and therefore the loans were illegal. They would not be extending the state the funds it needed to buy the schoolbooks. Long was unfazed. He paused in thought. Well, he eventually responded, if making any new loans to the state was unconstitutional, it stands to reason that paying back old loans would also be unconstitutional. The bankers might as well forget about getting back any of the over $1 million they had already lent Louisiana. With this, Long got up, left the meeting, went to a restaurant across the street, and ordered a sandwich.

As he was waiting, one of the bankers from the meeting sheepishly approached him. “Governor,” he said, “let’s stop all this talk where it is. We voted to make you the loan.” As he said this, the waiter brought over the sandwich. In an exultant mood, the governor sent it back. “Fry me a steak!” he commanded.

Free schoolbooks were the simplest and most politically winning aspect of Long’s education program, but he wasn’t content to stop there. He made common cause with T.H. Harris, the superintendent of public instruction, a sober, policy-minded education reformer who was initially wary of Long’s antics and big promises, but was soon won over by the governor’s obvious and apparently sincere interest in bringing education to the poorest parts of the state.

Together, they doubled state support for education, with the bulk of the new money going to an equalization fund that fed the coffers of schools in Louisiana’s poorest parishes. They raised teacher salaries, as well as educational requirements for teachers, and they lengthened the school year. Harris and Long also targeted adult education, setting up night schools for illiterate white and black adults, taught by white and black teachers, albeit in segregated classrooms. In a very short time the illiteracy rate fell significantly—from 10 percent to 7 percent for whites, and from 38 percent to 23 percent for African Americans. Now that regular folks could read, Long reasoned, “our plantation owners can’t figure the poor devils out of everything at the close of each year.” Plus, “[t]hey can find the name Huey P. Long on the ballot.”

Long was concerned with higher education as well. Ever since he was 21 years old, Long had been preoccupied with giving “poor boys and girls” a chance at obtaining a college degree, as evidenced by his youthful letters to the editors of various Louisiana newspapers. Years later, when he came into office, public higher education was still anemic: Louisiana State University was tiny, and considered “third rate” by the Association of State Universities. Long increased the school’s annual operating budget from $800,000 to $2.6 million, enabling student enrollment to increase to 6,000, and he engaged in a massive program of academic construction that was frankly over the top: the new music building probably did not need all 80 of the grand pianos that he insisted it contain.

LSU became “his” university, to a degree that was somewhat unusual for a politician. Governor Long took it upon himself to personally supervise the marching band’s practices, taking over the conductor role when he felt that the real conductor needed some pointers. (He also had a habit of telling the football coach which plays to use during games. But eventually he was convinced that if he wanted LSU to win, which he desperately did, he should confine his involvement to giving rousing locker room speeches.)

Long also founded a medical school at LSU, opening up a career in medicine to “any poor boy” by offering a medical degree at very low cost. This medical school was a perfect example of Long’s almost supernatural effectiveness as a politician: in late 1930, he got it into his head that there should be a public medical school in the state. In less than two hours he convinced the LSU board, and less than a year later, the school was open and teaching students. This type of speed from government is almost unheard of today, and is a testament to Long’s power, energy, and force of personality.

The creation of the medical school was just part of Long’s healthcare program. The centerpiece was Charity Hospital, an institution in New Orleans for indigent patients which was maintained by the state. While the hospital was created before Long became governor, Huey dramatically improved its services. He more than doubled the number of patients it could take, from 1,600 to 3,800. Additionally, he modernized its practices, reducing the death rate by 30 percent. In total, he tripled public funding for healthcare and increased the number of free clinics in rural areas by 200 percent. He also reformed the state’s mental health facilities, ending the practice of straitjacketing inmates, and providing dental care for the first time.

Long funded this new spending primarily by taxing the wealthy. The Long program included a bewildering new array of taxes: on tobacco, on malt, and on “carbon black,” a natural gas byproduct. But by and large, according to Williams, Long’s levies fell on “corporations or the well-to-do classes.” He also cut taxes on the poor. Before Long, the state’s main source of revenue had been a property tax that fell hardest on the already indebted poor, hitting their homes, livestock, and even their furniture. Long introduced the “homestead” exemption that eliminated taxes on every household’s first $2,000 of property. At the time, this meant that 80 percent of homeowners paid no property taxes at all.

Just as Long’s successes demonstrate what can be accomplished by embracing left-wing populism, his failures demonstrate where left-wing populism can go wrong, or where it must be supplemented by other strategies.

The most glaring of Long’s faults is on the issue of race. The best that can be said about Long and race is that he was not as racist as he could have been. The typical Southern demagogue of the post-Civil War era married populist economics and vicious white supremacy, but that was not Long’s style, a fact which the black press at the time made note of. Rather, he tended to downplay racial issues. Many of his programs which were aimed at helping poor whites also helped poor African Americans, and he was fine with that—he even bragged about it to the right audiences. But he never took any steps to improve the racial status quo: he remained a segregationist, he never tried to improve black access to the ballot box, and as a senator he opposed an anti-lynching law.

It is possible that, had he not been assassinated, his racial legacy might have been quite different. It seems as if, as governor, he made the calculation that addressing racial inequalities would lose him more votes than it would gain him. That calculation started to shift once he became a senator with his eye on the presidency. He made common cause with Northern black anti-poverty campaigners (some of whom testified to his apparent lack of personal bigotry) and he encouraged African Americans to organize politically as part of his federal program, the Share Our Wealth movement. Despite his relative timidity on the subject, even these small steps toward racial openness were enough to earn him the enmity of the Ku Klux Klan. At a “klonvocation,” the group formally denounced Long, and Hiram Evans, the Klan’s “Imperial Wizard,” promised to go to Louisiana to campaign against him. Senator Long gave the press a formal statement on the matter: “Quote me as saying that imperial bastard will never set foot in Louisiana [and if he does he will leave] with his toes turned up.” The “imperial bastard,” cowed by this apparent threat of violence from a sitting U.S. senator, never made it to Louisiana while Long was alive.

But at the end of the day, Long’s political style was not one that could tackle racial issues effectively. The key to Long’s success was honing in on a strongly-held but unexpressed sentiment: the poor are being cheated by the rich. Once he ignited this latent feeling, he established a powerful connection with the voters, and could use this power on their behalf. But on racial matters, concern for injustice just did not exist among Louisiana’s segregated white voting population.

Another flaw in Long’s political program was its lack of sophistication. While he was governor he was able to translate his simple philosophy directly into action, which masked this weakness somewhat—all he had to do was build and spend. There was nothing in Long’s plans as complicated as a social insurance scheme, land reform, or a social safety net, ideas that were starting to percolate in New Deal circles.

Once Long became a senator, the limitations of his political thought became even clearer. The program he advanced on the national stage, memorably called Share Our Wealth, mostly consisted of a vague and ever-shifting bundle of new taxes, the proceeds of which would be redistributed either by old age pensions, basic income payments, or even a barter system, depending on what Long felt like on the day he was describing it. Given the lack of detail or a coherent plan, it can hardly come as a surprise that Share Our Wealth fell apart after Long’s assassination. Long’s unsophisticated political instincts may have been sufficient guide for his term as governor, but they were inadequate to the task of laying the foundation for the social welfare state we have today.

The final problem with Long’s career is its very success: he obtained a titanic degree of personal power, so much that he was able to ignore the legal and constitutional devices designed to check executive authority. His sway in the legislature was such that he could defeat any impeachment attempt. His iron control over the state’s police and National Guard shielded him from law enforcement. There is no question that all this power went to his head and that he flirted with authoritarianism. It is likely, for instance, that he ordered state police to coerce into silence Sam Irby, his former associate and a potential whistleblower on corruption within the Long organization. As governor he also dominated the legislative process, roaming the aisles, shouting instructions to the elected representatives, and even assuming the role of de facto chairman of various legislative committees, all in violation of the state constitution.

All this power enabled him to tolerate a great deal of corruption. People around him used their power to steal from the state, and Long covered for them. In one instance, it came to Long’s attention that one of his lieutenants had pilfered so much from a state agency that the agency was going to be noticeably short of funds. Long made sure that his personal campaign funds were transferred to the agency to cover the shortfall and hide the malfeasance.
Surprisingly, it is less clear that Long was personally corrupt. Of course, he wasn’t above transactional politics—the only way he got the votes to abolish the poll tax was by promising to pardon a state senator’s brother, for example—but there has never been proof that Long used his power to put money in his own pocket illegally. FDR’s administration even ordered an IRS investigation into Long after his uncompromising left-wing stance as a senator had made him a political threat to the president’s re-election. 50 federal agents, working for months, were unable to build a case that Long ever used his power to feather his own nest.

Long’s failures offer lessons for those who would adopt populism to advance left-wing goals today. The first is that, as an inherently majoritarian rhetorical style, populism is ill-suited to combating prejudice. Populists divide society into two groups, “the people” and “the elites.” This does not leave a lot of room to talk about prejudice, which exists at all levels of society and cannot entirely be blamed on elites. What is more, the importance of the rhetorical conception of “the People” to populist discourse opens the door to an oppressive concept of who counts as part of “the People” and who doesn’t.

This failing must be corrected by would-be left-wing populists today. Addressing subjective and structural prejudice is a cornerstone goal of the left, one which absolutely cannot be sacrificed. Populism, therefore, must be supplemented with a prolonged and sustained effort to change popular attitudes and enact policies directed specifically at alleviating the social inequalities occasioned by prejudice.

The second lesson is that populism alone is insufficient. Long’s lengthy and consistent history of sticking up for the “little guy” suggest that his personal sympathies really were with Louisiana’s poor, and his idiosyncratic and scattershot measures aimed at bettering their lot, reflected that. But to be truly effective in a way that outlives any particular charismatic leader, populism must be married to some broader theory of politics and policy. Populist rhetorical appeals can build mass support for redistributive policies. But the content of those policies has to come from somewhere else, and has to be the product of deep and serious thought.

The third lesson is that checks on power exist for a reason. Constitutional checks on power are creatures of elite discourse, the province of lawyers and political philosophers. Populists who, like Long, claim a “commission from the People,” can therefore easily dismiss the norms and laws designed to constrain them as a nefarious conspiracy by the elites to frustrate the will of the majority. And sometimes they will be right—but not all the time. People with the best intentions can become corrupted by power, or lose perspective in their zeal. Left-wing populists must, despite the power they obtain, maintain proper respect for the constitutional mechanisms we rely on to prevent a slide into authoritarianism.

The final thing left-wing populists need to worry about is violent reaction. Louisiana’s ruling class, unable to beat Long at the ballot box, eventually had him killed. We will probably never know whether Carl Weiss, the man who actually pulled the trigger, acted alone or in conspiracy with others—there’s credible evidence both ways. But what is clear is that, towards the end of his life, a consensus had formed in elite circles that Long had to be murdered. Anti-Longite figures, drawing on the state’s tradition of extra-judicial lynching, were not shy about calling for Long’s death in public and on the record. They would speak darkly of “ancient methods.” Mayor “Turkey Head” Walmsley promised Long, “you shall pay the penalty as other carpetbaggers have done before you” (a reference to the Colfax Massacre, in which 150 black men were murdered by a self-styled white “militia”). A group of wealthy New Orleans gentlemen even started an armed group called the “Minute Men”, who planned to march on the capitol to assassinate Long. On September 8, 1935, as these murderous mutterings were reaching fever pitch, Long was ambushed and gunned down by Weiss in the hallway of Baton Rouge’s state capitol. (The capitol building where Long died was brand new, built on his own orders, and to this day remains the tallest and grandest capitol in the United States. Long is buried in the center of its elaborate public gardens, his grave marked by a statue that watches over the building, either protectively or menacingly, depending on your point of view.)

What can we learn from the case of Huey Long? He shows us that populism is an imperfect weapon. Those that would embrace it must be aware of its drawbacks, and work to contain them. But there are times that cry out for left-wing populism: times of yawning economic inequality enforced by an entrenched elite, unwilling to make even the slightest concessions. In these times, when more sedate forms of discourse have been choked off, left-wing populism can electrify the people, rally them against their enemies, and produce political change that borders on the miraculous.

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