Democracy and Populism: the (Black) Mirror of Society

The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.
― Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator


Why democracy should listen to populism

Governing well is possible —in fact, it is necessary— and not despite populism, but thanks to it. How? The first step consists in clearing the table from a classic misunderstanding: populism is not the opposite of democracy. That would be authoritarianism, or dictatorship, or fascism. Populism can actually be very helpful: it measures how much democracy is under pressure and offers a potential relief valve. When we witness Donald Trump, Recep Erdoğan, Jair Bolsonaro, or Rodrigo Duterte tearing apart democratic principles we are not observing the effects of populism, but the effects of authoritarianism on its way to become fascism.

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AUR – The Golden Dawn of Romania?

Magdalena Ulceluse discusses a new far right, nationalist and populist force within Romanian politics: AUR, Alliance for the Unity of Romanians. How did AUR become the fourth party with over 9% of the vote share? And why this came, at least in the rest of Europe, as an unexpected surprise? Their use of social media, their offline presence, and controversial style attracted many young people, especially under 30, from poor and religious regions. AUR combines conservative and religious values with anti-establishment, populist discourses, and is exploiting grievances linked to the lockdowns imposed because of the pandemic to gather attention and attract voters.

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Interview #42 — From authoritarian regimes to democracies, and back?

Using the pandemic to introduce authoritarian measures, Poland and Hungary are drifting away from liberal democratic principles. In this interview with Anna Grzymala-Busse we link the current state of affairs to the communist legacies present in the two countries.

What happens to authoritarian parties once the country starts a process of democratization? And what consequences does this have on the newly formed democratic system and on party competition?

After the democratic transition, populist actors can succeed by exploiting the weakness of mainstream parties as well as their lack of accountability and responsiveness to the voters. As a result, populists can weaken the formal institutions of democracy, going after the courts, the media, and undermine democratic values, dividing society between loyal supporters and traitorous opponents.

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Interview #39 — Democracy, Constitutions, and Populism

In this interview, Nadia Urbinati reflects on the democratic boundaries set by different types of constitutions, the evolution of Hungary from a populist democracy into an autocracy, the future of democracy in a post-pandemic scenario, the parallels and differences between this crisis and the last one. Moreover, we discuss how certain social aspects, such as education, health and climate change, should be addressed going beyond short-term, national interests. This could be the end for populism, but only if non-populist actors will manage to take advantage of the situation and restore the public sector.

How do populists undermine democracy, and in particular the separation powers, to establish an autocracy? A populist constitution, Urbinati claims, is a majority that constitutionalize itself, because the majority bends the constitution to justify an existing power instead of limiting any existing one. Democracy is now under a tremendous stress, and here we try to understand how populists actors can try to take advantage of the situation and to what extent different types of constitutions can prevent democratic erosion.  The words of Nadia Urbinati help us to understand the present and, crucially, to imagine our future.

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