Populism and Democracy

Tetiana Drozdova


Present-day global political landscape is imbued with populism, a weighty evidence of which is the presence of the “term” populism in public debate, which is aggravated by its semantic and ideological ambiguity, since, embracing a wide range of phenomena and movements, populism has become a kind of umbrella under which all or almost all forms of political discourse can be placed. The debate about populism proves its amalgamous nature and the discrepancies in its evaluation, which take place not only in the media-political, but also in the scientific context. In addition to attempts to conceptualize populism, or at least to reveal its essential features with which the political and politological community would agree, this dissonance generates another desire, namely: to find out what the unbelievable surge of populism in the world is all about and whether it points to the normal development of a society of democracies or to the fact that society is not alright, and the political class must respond accordingly.

Approaches to the understanding of populism (E. Laclau, P.-A. Tagieff, M. Kenovan, C. Mudde, P. Rosanvallon, I. Surel and I. Meni, etc.) classify it differently (as a general rule, as normal politics, a subtle ideology, political style, deviation of democracy), but on the basis of the main features of populism, the consent, in spite of the announced polyphony, is possible. Populism is characterized by a simplified understanding of society, the unity of which is based on its identity, the opposition of a dirty corrupt elite to a pure and healthy united people, a subject of common will, a claim to a monopoly of possession of the truth about this will.

Of particular interest is the relation between populism and democracy, the study of which usually takes place within the classical debate about the development of democracy in modern societies, where the excessive attention to the democratic procedure is accompanied by an ever-increasing holding the population off the actual participation in making political decisions, which is, according to researchers, the cause of the emergence and success of populist political forces, that is, populism is the answer to the crisis of representative democracy. The unpopular thesis presented in this research consists in a certain shift of emphasis, namely: if populism is a pathology, then democracy itself (in the broad sense of the word, as the setting and the way of considering the development of society) is pathological in its essence, and that populism is nothing else as its epiphenomenon, which needs democracy for its existence, embodies its imperatives, but in no way can be influenced, distorted or perfected. Two attributive characteristics of democracy (the idea of freedom and the idea of equality) generate populism, and the fundamental impossibility of democracy (as an ideal form) ensures its success. Therefore, along with the emergence of democratic thinking there is necessarily a populist thinking, and the multitude of forms of embodiment of a democratic setting prompts proteism of populism.


populism; democracy; people; elite; demagogy; simplification; uncertainty


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