The end of populism

Twenty proposals to defend liberal democracy

By Marcel H. Van Herpen

The end of populism


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Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-5413-2
  • Pages: 312
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £16.99
  • Published Date: March 2021
  • BIC Category: Politics, POLITICAL SCIENCE / History & Theory, Political science & theory, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Ideologies / Democracy, Society & social sciences / Political structures: democracy, Society & social sciences / Liberalism & centre democratic ideologies, Society & social sciences / Political science & theory, PHILOSOPHY / Political


The populist wave which has submerged Europe and the United States in recent years seems unstoppable. But is it? The end of populism offers answers and proposes concrete solutions to confront the rise of "illiberal democracy."

Drawing on extensive original sources, this book refutes the populist claim that democracy is a "demand side" phenomenon, and demonstrates that it is rather a "supply side" phenomenon. Marcel H. Van Herpen argues that one can have "too much democracy" and shows how methods of direct democracy, such as popular initiatives, referendums, and open primaries, which pretend "to give the power back to the people," have led to manipulation by populists and moneyed interests. Populist attacks on the judiciary, central banks, the media, and other independent agencies, instead of strengthening democracy, have rather undermined liberal democracy. The author formulates twenty original and bold proposals to bridge the gap between the people and the elites, fight corruption, improve political party funding, and initiate societal, educational, and macro-economic reforms to increase economic equality and alleviate the insecurity of the citizens.

Elegantly written and clearly argued, this is an essential book for understanding the populist phenomenon.


'A brilliant and incisive analysis of populism. It shows how populism is a product of democracy and not its opposite. This is an immensely readable and informative book on the world-wide surge of authoritarian populism. Van Herpen also offers well-reasoned proposals to combat the worst aspects of populism.'
Gerard Delanty, Professor of Sociology and Social and Political Thought, University of Sussex

'So much has been written about populism in recent years, you may think that there is nothing more worthwhile to be said. If so, this book shows the contrary. As well as bringing together much of the literature on support for populism, Van Herpen has interesting and important things to say on the vulgar style of populist politicians and their appeal to the emotion of disgust. Most notable, however, are the chapters offering proposals for defending democracy against populism. You may not agree with all these proposals (I don't) but they are clear and forceful, and should form the basis for future discussion.'
Albert Weale, Emeritus Professor of Political Theory and Public Policy at University College London, and author of The Will of the People: A Modern Myth



Part I The populist wave: Why did it happen?
1 What is populism? Constructing an ideal type
2 A portrait of the populist voter
3 Populism and the role of disgust
4 The populist program: What do populists want?
5 Populists in power

Part II Do we have too much or not enough democracy?
6 Is democracy a question of demand or supply?
7 Referendums and popular initiatives: Can one have too much democracy?
8 Open primaries: Did they "give the power back" to the people?
9 Reinforcing the independent agencies

Part III Twenty proposals to defend liberal democracy: Reforming politics and education
10 Not more, but less direct democracy is needed
11 Keep populist parties out of government: A plea for a "cordon sanitaire"
12 Fight corruption, restore trust, and change party financing
13 The Sisyphean task of moralizing public life
14 Avoid the creation of political castes
15 The need for democratic education

Part IV Twenty proposals to defend liberal democracy: Reforming society
16 Defend the truth in a 'post-truth' world
17 Fight economic inequality and introduce a Universal Basic Income
18 Enhance economic democracy
19 Toward a humane and sustainable immigration and refugee policy



Marcel H. Van Herpen is a political analyst and Director of the Cicero Foundation, a think tank based in Maastricht

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