The Populist Backlash Against Europe

The populist onslaught against the constitutional pillars of democracy has shown that the traditional “checks and balances” such as courts, independent electoral bodies, free media and civil and political rights might not be as powerful in defending democracy from backsliding towards autocracy as many legal scholars tend to believe. Two conclusions from this brief review of the literature emerge. One is that law has only a weak role in preventing a breakdown of constitutional democracy when democracy is not the only game in town and when democratic support for constitutional checks and balances is eroding. The second one shows that a constraining role of law differs in different stages of the rise of populism. During the early stage of the rise of authoritarian populism, constitutional design features serve as “speed bumps” to slow the deconsolidation of liberal democracy.