The ambivalence of populism: threat and corrective for democracy

Rovira Kaltwasser, Cristobal (2012) The ambivalence of populism: threat and corrective for democracy. Democratization, 19 (2). pp. 1-25. ISSN 1351-0347

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Two images of populism are well-established: it is either labelled as a pathological political phenomenon, or it is regarded as the most authentic form of political representation. In this article I argue that it is more fruitful to categorize populism as an ambivalence that, depending on the case, may constitute a threat to or a corrective for democracy. Unfolding my argument, I offer a roadmap for the understanding of the diverse and usually conflicting approaches to studying the relation between populism and democracy. In particular, three main approaches are identified and discussed: the liberal, the radical and the minimal. I stress that the latter is the most promising of them for the study of the ambivalent relationship between populism and democracy. In fact, the minimal approach does not imply a specific concept of democracy, and facilitates the undertaking of cross-regional comparisons. This helps to recognize that populism interacts differently with the two dimensions of democracy that Robert Dahl distinguished: while populism might well represent a democratic corrective in terms of inclusiveness, it also might become a democratic threat concerning public contestation.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: populism, democracy, Latin America, Europe, cross-regional research
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Politics
Depositing User: Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 21:09
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2012 15:00
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