2016 established the ascendancy of Populist parties. The UK Brexit vote was soon followed by the election of former property magnate Donald Trump to the US Presidency. In the years since, this political trend has become an even more powerful force. Especially in European democracies. Newer parties are being elected on anti-establishment platforms that threaten the post-war liberal consensus. Whether right-wing or ultra-leftist, populist parties are now setting the political agenda across the continent . What does this mean for Europe's democracies, economies and political landscapes?
Populism is disastrous for politicsShow moreShow less
Populism is poison to Europe's political, economic and social wellbeing.
Populism rejects any consideration for protecting minority rights. Its belief that nothing ought to constrain the "will of the people" therefore poses dangers to the survival of European liberal democracy.
Of the many challenges facing liberal democracy, none is more threatening than the internal threat of populism. Brexit, the U.S. 2016 election, the Five Star Movement in Italy, and the far-right Alternative for Germany all present populist challenges to the traditional liberal democratic order. As society wrestles with questions of equality and inclusiveness, the question of populism and liberal democracy has gathered a renewed sense of importance.
Populism is at odds with liberal democracy because it shatters the tacit agreement between elected representatives and the people that they will govern with the interests of the people at heart. Liberal democracy appears as a form of government under which the interests of citizens are represented by a body of elected officials who govern according to a set of constitutional laws. Certain rights and freedoms are granted to individuals and defended by the rule of law.
On the other hand, populism is not merely a collective feeling of frustration and discontent with conditions in a society. As we see it today, it is a form of majority rule that is skeptical about constitutionalism, inclusive citizenship, and it rejects pluralism. This is fundamentally against the essence of liberal democracy.
The economic component of the division between populism and liberal democracy also increases the tension between the two. Those in more democratic, wealthier nations tend to have a stronger commitment to representative democracy. Swings to populism have often emerged when economic conditions are unstable. Liberalism also tends to focus on individual identity and is inherently anti-tribal. Populism favors subordination into a larger group community and is tribal. As a government or a society becomes more populist, its notions of liberal democracy begin to disappear.
If democracy is, at its core, about representing a multiplicity of views - the rise of Populism proves that it is working.