CEP Publishes Paper on Urbinati Presentation Regarding Populism

April 23, 2022

Chilean think tank CEP  has published a paper based on a presentation by Nadia Urbinati, Columbia Professor of Political Theory.

Urbinati’s presentation was the first of the two-part “Challenges for Democracy” series hosted last year by the Santiago Center along with CEP and Columbia’s Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS). During that webinar, entitled “Populism as a New Form of Government,” Urbinati presented the findings of her book entitled “Me, the People. How Populism Transforms Democracy.” She argued that populism should be understood as a new form of government based on the direct relationship between the leader and those defined as the “good” or “right” people, which, in the long run, stretches democracy to its limits, thus opening the door for authoritarianism.

Until recently there was an assumption among political scientists that populism was a phenomenon exclusive to unstable democracies, and practically non-existent in western nations, currently forms of populism are developing in almost all democratic countries, she noted.

Points highlighted in the CEP paper include:

  • To understand populism, attention must be paid to the type of democracy against which it mobilizes and reacts, as well as the way in which it uses and transforms democratic institutions.
  • Populism is not so distinctive as an opposition movement, but that dynamic changes when populism gains power and becomes a form of government.
  • Populism tends not to have an autonomous life of its own.
  • Populism promotes three main redefinitions: 1. That of claiming to be the most representative part of the population; 2. The belief that elections are like a verdict that proves “the people” are right; 3. The direct relationship between the leader and the people, who must be in permanent communication since they cannot exist apart.
  • The system is predisposed to make legislation a punitive power against enemies who are considered as not belonging to “the people;” it also opens the door to corruption.

Use this link to download the CEP publication, in Spanish.