Democratic decline in the populist era

Lately, social scientists have shifted from the transitologist doxa that crystallised in the late XXth century, to admit that democracy was in danger. As a result, new categories have emerged, arguing that this political system had more and more often to be qualified with epithets. Hence the notion hybrid, illiberal, or majoritarian democracy. When the hybridation process has introduced a difference of nature, and not only of degree, scholars preferred formulas such as competitive authoritarianism or electoral authoritarianism.

Indeed, different trajectories of de-democratisation have taken shape over the last two decades. Democratic countries have seen their sovereignty so badly eroded that their citizens were not fully in charge of their destiny any more. Greece, which has had to vote seven times –including three referenda -, is a case in point. The role of money has sometimes become so prominent that democratic systems have assumed features of a ploutocracy. Elsewhere, a façade of democracy has remained, but the substanceof power has been retained by the military, like in Pakistan. Last but not least, the ethnic democracy model, that has been invented by Israel, has become pervasive in societies where the minorities have, de facto or de jure become second class citizens.

Most of these democratic declines have been fosteredby the rise of populists, who claim to represent the People against the establishment, and who, in the name of this legitimacy, disqualify institutions, including the judiciary, and repudiate pluralism. When populists target an“other” and articulate a form of “national populism”, they display obvious affinities with the nationalist right or even the extreme right. For, while populism can be rightwing or leftwing, national populism calls up a clearly identifiable ideological repertoire. In this case, the de-democratization process results from the rise of a majoritarian political culture condemning the “other” to a permanent minority status.