Volume 42, Issue 1/2, Winter/Spring 2018
In Honor of Jürgen Habermas
Popular Sovereignty, Populism and Deliberative Democracy
This article investigates the relationship between popular sovereignty, populism, and deliberative democracy. My main thesis is that populisms resurrect the polemical dimension of popular sovereignty by turning “the people” against the “powerbloc” or the “elite”, and that it is crucial thatthis terrain not be ceded to authoritarian distortions of this basic contestatory grammar. Furthermore, I contend that populist forms of politics are compatible with a procedural and deliberative conception of democracy. Ifirst engage with the assumption that populism and a procedural model of democracy are incompatible, demonstrating that this assumption relies on a conservative bias which tiesthe exercising of communicative power to a “duty of civility” (Rawls). I then engage with radical-democratic reconstructions of the procedural notion of popular sovereignty which emphasize the unleashing and diversification of peoplehood in communication circuits and the mutual permeability of constitutional politics, parliamentary legislation, and the public sphere. Thirdly, I conclude that populisms are an essential part of communicative power in modern democracies and part of its dialectical structure.