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Twenty proposals to defend liberal democracy

The populist wave which has submerged Europe and the United States in recent years seems unstoppable. But is it? The End of Populism offers answers and proposes concrete solutions to confront the rise of “illiberal democracy.” Drawing on years of research, the author develops a complete new ideal type of populism, which enables him to identify the basic problems. Deploying a wealth of social science evidence, he refutes the populist claim that democracy is a “demand side” phenomenon, and demonstrates that it is rather a “supply side” phenomenon. He argues that one can have "too much democracy” and shows how methods of direct democracy, such as popular initiatives, referendums, and open primaries, which pretend “to give the power back to the people,” have led to manipulation by populists and moneyed interests. Populist attacks on the judiciary, central banks, the media, and other independent agencies, instead of strengthening democracy, have rather undermined liberal democracy. The author formulates twenty original and bold proposals to fight populism and defend liberal democracy. These proposals include ways to bridge the gap between the people and the elites, fight corruption, improve political party funding, and initiate societal, educational, and macro-economic reforms to increase economic equality and alleviate the insecurity of the citizens.

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Marcel H. Van Herpen

Here it is explained that populism is not new. The author analyzes the origins, methods, and results of two populist movements which emerged at the end of the nineteenth century as a reaction to a deepening economic crisis: the American “People’s Party” and the Boulangist movement in France.

in The end of populism
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Constructing an ideal type
Marcel H. Van Herpen

In this chapter the author explores “thin” and “thick” definitions of populism. He constructs an ideal type, along the lines of Max Weber, which gives more information on the phenomenon than a thin definition. This ideal type has three dimensions: 1. organizational (describing characteristics of the leaders and the voters); 2. ideological (what are their ideas?); and 3. institutional (how do they govern and what are their methods?). In this chapter the author explores the first, organizational, dimension. What are the characteristics of the populist leader (his or her charisma, authoritarianism, vulgarity)?

in The end of populism
Marcel H. Van Herpen

This chapter continues the exploration of the first, organizational, dimension of the ideal type; in this case the identity of the populist voter. He ir she is not necessarily poor, but rather someone who experiences economic and/or identity anxiety. The author analyzes also the reasons why the new rich support populist parties.

in The end of populism
Marcel H. Van Herpen

This chapter continues the exploration of the first dimension of the ideal type. It analyzes the role of three central emotions in the populist’s psychological profile: fear, hate, and disgust. The relationship of disgust to authoritarianism is explored, an attitude which plays a major role in populist politics.

in The end of populism
What do populists want?
Marcel H. Van Herpen

This chapter explores the second, ideological, dimension of the ideal type. It is argued that populists are ideologically flexible and, therefore, can adopt left-wing, as well as right-wing ideologies. However, these different ideologies express the same basic need: the voters’ need for protection (against the supposed or real competition of immigrants, against the effects of globalization, against a loss of purchasing power, etc.).

in The end of populism
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Marcel H. Van Herpen

This chapter explores the third, institutional, dimension of the ideal type: how do populist and illiberal governments govern and what are their methods? Here are discussed: their tendency to simplify complex problems; their tendency to change things by quick and simple measures; their attacks on the pillars of liberal democracy (the judiciary, the press, and independent agencies); and, finally, their predilection for methods of direct democracy, such as referendums, popular initiatives, and primaries.

in The end of populism
Marcel H. Van Herpen

This is a pivotal chapter, exploring the central question: is democracy a question of demand or supply? Populists opt for the first answer and pretend that politicians have only to execute the “people’s will.” The author argues that things are actually less simple and that democracy is rather a question of supply: politicians have an active role to play in the formulation of political goals. The author, therefore, supports Joseph Schumpeter’s argument that a “people’s will” as such does not exist and that one must rather speak of a “manufactured will.” Politicians play a leading role In this “manufacturing process.”

in The end of populism
Can one have too much democracy?
Marcel H. Van Herpen

The question in this chapter is: does direct democracy lead to better government? The author analyzes the impact of referendums and popular initiatives in Britain, The Netherlands, California, and Switzerland. In the Netherlands and Britain, referendums have been hijacked by populists, while in California the adoption in 1978 of Proposition 13 has led to a blocked political system. In Switzerland direct democracy has become an instrument in the hands of the extreme right Swiss People’s Party to promote its xenophobic policies.

in The end of populism
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Do they “give the power back” to the people?
Marcel H. Van Herpen

This chapter analyzes another tool of direct democracy: open primaries and their results in the US, the UK, and France. It is argued that this instrument, supposed “to give the power back to the people,” created rather new opportunities for rich private interest groups, leading to a loss of influence of political parties.

in The end of populism