Summary of Could populism actually be good for democracy?

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Winston Churchill famously pronounced that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” For political scientist James Miller, Churchill’s observation even holds true when democratic passions at times produce chaos, mob rule, and illiberal policies. In an era when an increasing number of people worldwide are questioning the benefits and merits of democratic systems, Miller’s essay antithetically champions keeping the democratic flame alive.   

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why populism can be good for the long-term democratic project and
  • How democratic thought has evolved since the collapse of Athenian democracy.
 

About the Author

James Miller is professor of liberal studies and politics at the New School in New York, and the author of Can Democracy Work?

 

Summary

Many observers of global politics are alarmed about the rise of illiberal democracies, in which democratically elected strongmen start infringing on individual freedoms and minority rights. These governments derive their legitimacy from the democratic ideal of popular sovereignty by claiming to execute the will of the people who have elected them. Yet they also confirm the worst fears of democracy skeptics: that unrestrained “mob rule” can lead to a tyranny of the majority, the violation of fundamental rights and freedoms, and rash, emotionally charged policy decisions that don’t serve citizens’ long-term interests. Such anxieties about democracy date back to Ancient Greece. Plato described Athenian democracy as chaotic and lamented the fact that public opinion, rather than knowledge and reason, informed policymaking.


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