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Are populism and democracy incompatible?

Pipiou, George (2019) Are populism and democracy incompatible? LSE Undergraduate Political Review (15 Mar 2019). Blog Entry.

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The one-line argument employed to discredit populism is a reiteration of the mantra that ‘populism is incompatible with democracy’. In this article I aim to prove that this is actually far from the truth. A simple etymological decomposition of the word democracy into its two Greek components dêmos and kratía sheds light on this. For the ancient Greeks, the demos was nothing more than the ‘mob’ — the mass of ordinary people living in the city-state — and the reins of power in a democracy were essentially held by those people. This conception of Athenian democracy was vastly disparate from the Western, liberal version of this system of government. An exclusivist political system in nature, it restricted the exercise of power to the sub-strata of Athenian society considered ‘fit’ to rule: adult males who had paid their due towards the city-state. This political project excluded the vast majority of the population: women, children, slaves, and foreign residents of Athens (Cartledge, 2011). Yet, even this unjust — by modern standards — political project was considered too inclusive by important contemporary figures such as Thucydides and the often-cited philosophical duo of Plato and Aristotle. A tyranny of the poor by the rich and the unfitness of common people in deciding correct policies were a few of the accusations. It is self-evident how the modern conception of democracy – built on principles of equality, representation and social inclusivity – is antithetical to the original democratic project.

Item Type: Online resource (Blog Entry)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2019 The Author
Divisions: LSE
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory
Date Deposited: 14 Oct 2019 09:15
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2021 23:24

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