Beyond Populism: Liberalist Projections and Quotidian Constitutions

Debates in constitutional theory have become increasingly preoccupied with populism. While most contemporary constitutionalists have a highly critical attitude toward populism—identifying it as the main cause of the ‘erosion’ of the rule of law or democratic ‘decay’—others are more sympathetic. Though highly contestable, both camps take the existence of populism for granted. This presentation proceeds from two assumptions that go against this unstated consensus: (1) Like all political concepts, populism has polemical implications; (2) Like all polemical concepts, populism is a concept that must be staged, in two senses. It hinges on a dramatized depiction of our overall sociopolitical situation. More importantly, populism is a concept that acts as a stage prop. Painted in dark colours, populism’s function is to make liberal democracies look better. Rather than an existential threat, populism is a rhetorical distraction from other, potentially more fruitful questions.