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date: 30 November 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The idea of “the people” motivates populist politics, but scholars are often skeptical that it can justify the populists’ claims. Who then are “the people” that both populists and democrats invoke? This chapter describes the logical paradoxes that arise when defining a democratic people and a long-standing debate on the nature and function of the demos in a democracy. These show that scholars’ definitions and judgments of populism depend on whether they conceive of the people as a historical fact (as populists do) or as a hypothetical ideal for guiding legislation (the liberals’ view). The chapter proposes instead an account of the democratic “people as process.” This account explains why populists betray the democratic ideals they claim to endorse.

Keywords: populism, the people, boundary problem, democratic theory, people as process, democracy, demos, democratic paradox, popular sovereignty

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