Unbundling Populism


Populism is having its moment on our constitutional center stage, but the way we are treating this moment is adding to the risks that populism poses to our liberal democratic constitutional order. Populism has primarily been defined in our public discussions by the loudest self-identifying populists active in democratic politics at the moment. Populism has therefore often been treated as a bundled-together concept, merging not just antiestablishment sentiments, but also authoritarian and xenophobic ones as well. Populism is an eight-letter word that is then treated like a pejorative four-letter one. Populism, though, is a they, and not an it. The antiestablishment part of populism can be empirically and logically unbundled from its authoritarian and xenophobic dimensions. Defining populism by treating it as featuring authoritarian and racist elements delegitimizes antiestablishment populism by associating it with these abhorrent features, while at the same time legitimizing these abhorrent features by labeling them populist.

About the Author

Associate Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law

By uclalaw