A timely and incisive assessment of what the success of populism means for democracy.
Populist movements have recently appeared in nearly every democracy around the world. Yet our grasp of this disruptive political phenomenon remains woefully inadequate. Politicians of all stripes appeal to the interests of the people, and every opposition party campaigns against the current establishment. What, then, distinguishes populism from run-of-the-mill democratic politics? And why should we be concerned by its rise?
In Me the People, Nadia Urbinati argues that populism should be regarded as a new form of representative government, one based on a direct relationship between the leader and those the leader defines as the “good” or “right” people. Populist leaders claim to speak to and for the people without the need for intermediaries—in particular, political parties and independent media—whom they blame for betraying the interests of the ordinary many. Urbinati shows that, while populist governments remain importantly distinct from dictatorial or fascist regimes, their dependence on the will of the leader, along with their willingness to exclude the interests of those deemed outside the bounds of the “good” or “right” people, stretches constitutional democracy to its limits and opens a pathway to authoritarianism.
Weaving together theoretical analysis, the history of political thought, and current affairs, Me the People presents an original and illuminating account of populism and its relation to democracy.
Me the People arguably ranks as the best available analysis of populism in any language. Nadia Urbinati persuasively interprets populism as an autoimmune disease of democracy; as a new form of disfigured representative government gripped by leaders who pose as the embodiment of a ‘true’ people—enthusiastic but loyal subjects who have little or no taste for free media, independent courts, and other ‘intermediary’ power-restraining institutions. Urbinati’s message is timely and disturbing.
The study of populism has become all too fashionable, but this volume stands out for its great originality. Unlike so many scholars jumping on the populism bandwagon, Nadia Urbinati has a well-developed theory of democracy, which she deftly deploys to pinpoint the dangers of populism. She also draws on her profound knowledge in the history of political thought to advance her arguments.
With her erudition and clear-eyed assessment of the decline of parties and partisanship, Nadia Urbinati delivers a bold theory of how populist democracy works today. As populism goes from political movement to holding power, the familiar elements—the leader who embodies the people, the hostility to pluralism, the repudiation of mediating institutions—come together in a new and unaccountable form of governing. Me the People prepares us for the challenge.
In an increasingly crowded field, Nadia Urbinati develops a novel and sophisticated theory of the phenomenology of populism. She engages with the populist critique of what went wrong with democracy and shows how populist solutions, instead of leading to radical democracy, will lead to its disfigurement.
Urbinati has produced an exceptional scholarly work on a highly relevant socio-political phenomenon. Her line of argument is necessarily complex and deep. Her research is outstandingly extensive.
Urbinati’s book is the grand historical-theoretical narrative not only of populism but of democracy and democratic theory more broadly…Her account provides an overview of democratic formations and their different conceptualizations over time, with populism being one among them…Accepting a main position of hers that populism is an expression of legitimate complaints and demands for change within representative democracy, one only wishes that the people making these demands were more savory and less corrupt than they are.
With considerable debate around the concept of populism, and its intersections with democracy and authoritarianism, this book provides an important contribution to advance understanding of how populism is transforming contemporary democracies.
- 272 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.