Pluralist Populism: How Populism and Liberal Democracy can Coexist

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Pluralist Populism: How Populism and Liberal Democracy can Coexist

Type: Master thesis
Title: Pluralist Populism: How Populism and Liberal Democracy can Coexist
Author: Marry, Brandon
Issue Date: 2019-01-31
Keywords: Populism
Abstract: I will argue in this thesis, that those within the field of democratic theory who dismiss populism as an inherent threat to liberal democracy do so based on a number of assumptions. The first of these assumptions concerns how populism should be defined, some within the literature treat it as an ideology in itself, defined by its distinctly illiberal aims. Others treat it as a style of doing politics, yet argue that by dividing society between ‘us’ and ‘them’, it violates liberal commitments to pluralism. The second assumption concerns the point of liberal democracy; theorists who dismiss populism as a threat to liberal democracy frequently do so based on their commitment to a particular normative theory of democracy, which is often not made explicit in their work. The third assumption is that there is no fundamental contradiction between the liberal and democratic dimensions of liberal democracy, but rather that the two presuppose each other. This thesis will aim to challenge these assumptions in turn, illuminating the normative commitments of those who claim populism is a threat. I will begin by arguing that, based on the definition provided by Mouffe and Laclau, populism should be conceived of in hegemonic terms. Using this understanding of populism, I will challenge the assumption that populism is incompatible with commitments to pluralism. I analyse populism through the lenses of social-choice theory, representative democracy and deliberative democracy, in order to demonstrate that this perceived incompatibility is largely dependent on the theorists’ commitment to these normative theories, rather than populism itself. Lastly, I will argue against the “co-originality” thesis in favour of a conception of liberal democracy in which both its constitutive elements are in contradiction, but, as has been argued by Mouffe, this contradiction may be productive. I conclude by arguing in favour of an agonistic conception of democracy, as a means by which competing hegemonic projects, such as populism, can inhabit the same political sphere, thereby demonstrating that populism and pluralism are not necessarily incompatible.
Supervisor: Fossen, Dr. T.
Faculty: Faculty of Humanities
Department: Philosophy (60 EC) (Master)
Specialisation: Philosophical Perspectives on Politics and the Economy
ECTS Credits: 20

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