“Populism” Is Not Helpful

Populism has taken the academic world by storm. Leaders are routinely called populist; populism is called one of the biggest problems of our time. In this paper, I argue that the idea of populism is not helpful in diagnosing what is going wrong with constitutional democracy around the world for three reasons: 1) “populism” covers such a huge range of ideological commitments that it is not a coherent concept unless artificially stipulated; 2) voters who vote for “populist” leaders cannot be presupposed to intend everything that that leader then does — so “populist” leaders often do not have “populist” followers; 3) “populism” draws both popular and academic attention away from construction deconstruction (the elimination of checks on executive power and the hollowing out of rights), and so generates treatment of symptoms rather diagnoses of the underlying disease. I conclude that “populism” is not helpful.