Populism and popular sovereignty
Paradoxes of democracy
in The roots of populism
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I begin the analysis of populism by outlining and defending a certain conception of democracy. This does not involve a typology of forms of democracy – direct as opposed to representative democracy, and so forth – but rather delineates what I consider the animating principle and, to some extent, paradox of democracy, namely popular sovereignty. Here the theory is largely drawn from two sources: on the one hand, from the democratic theory of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe and, on the other, from the political philosophy of Jacques Rancière. While there are important differences between these thinkers, the crucial commonality is an idea of democratic politics as based on radical dissent that constantly contests given political legitimacy. What Rancière, in particular, highlights, is the inherent tension within any democratic polity between the bureaucratic managers and the enfranchised electorate. The former project a ‘born to rule’ sense of entitled social and technocratically grounded political legitimacy, while the latter contest this privilege in the name of no qualification other than their being present within the political community. This latter claim on behalf of an ‘unqualified’ electorate lies at the heart of the intersection between constitutional democracy and populism. On this basis, it is argued that populism is an inalienable feature of democracy and not an extraneous element bent on its destruction. In other words, populism is construed as essential rather than alien to democracy.

The roots of populism

Neoliberalism and working-class lives

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