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.