I recently attended a conference comparing the effects of the financial crisis for populism in 12 European countries. One of many debates regarded the role of populism in a democracy – is it a threat to liberal democracy or a productive force? Populism wants the general will of the people to be turned into political decisions as directly as possible, and is thus hostile towards the checks and balances of liberal democracy and expertise in government. By this simplistic view of how decisions should be made, it offers the people inflated promises which might prove difficult to keep in the long run. On the other hand, however, it can increase citizens’ interest, understanding and influence in politics – a good thing, for most believers in democracy.
So populism has its up- and downsides. However, it seems that context matters tremendously for which of them end up weighing more. Populism affects the functioning of democracy very differently in different democracies. Continue reading Populism – Threat or opportunity?