Populism and democracy: a reassessment

Arthur Borriello, Jean Yves Pranchère, Pierre Étienne Vandamme

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Populism comes in so many forms, both historically and in its contemporary manifestations, that we cannot assess its relationship with democratic institutions as if it were homogeneous. In this article, we reconnect with the history of the first movements that have called themselves populists and draw on an understanding of populism as an egalitarian impulse against oligarchic tendencies, centred on anti-elitism and the defense of a democratic common sense. This genetic approach goes against the dominant definitions which tend to overstretch its range of application while assuming a form of anti-pluralism as part of its common features. Then, we draw attention to the diversity of conceptions of democracy within populist thought and practices and show that the types of democratic institutions favoured by populist movements, and their attitudes towards intermediary bodies, are highly contextual. Finally, we argue that populism’s inherent ambiguities shed some doubt on its capacity to respond to the current challenges faced by representative institutions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalContemporary Politics
Publication statusPublished - 29 Dec 2023


  • anti-pluralism
  • democracy
  • oligarchy
  • participation
  • Populism
  • representation


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