The Populist Conception of Democracy Beyond Popular Sovereignty

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With populist parties making electoral progress across the European continent, the question of what their electoral success means for contemporary democratic systems has gained increasing significance. This article investigates how two populist radical right parties, the Austrian FPÖ and the Dutch PVV, conceptualise democracy, based on a wide range of party documents released over recent decades. It builds upon recent academic consensus that the relationship between populism and democracy is best understood from a ‘minimalist’ perspective, seeing populism not as antagonistic to democracy, but as an ideology that conceptualises democracy primarily in terms of popular sovereignty. The article adds to the existing literature by demonstrating that we can extend this understanding of the populist conception of democracy in three aspects: the populist emphasis on state neutrality; a two-fold notion of equality; and the extension of the political sphere in society. Based upon these three issues, the article concludes by exploring how the populist conception of democracy relates to the most dominant form of democracy practised nowadays, liberal democracy, and to what extent it reflects changes in our democratic political culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-437
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Contemporary European Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Democracy
  • Western Europe
  • Populism


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