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Populism and Democracy: Between the Myths and Epics in Latin America

Participation
Institutions
VIRTUAL020
Aline Burni
German Development Institute
Régis Dandoy
Université Libre de Bruxelles

Wednesday 15:00 - 18:30 (19/05/2021)

Thursday 15:00 - 18:30 (20/05/2021)

Monday 15:00 - 18:30 (24/05/2021)

Friday 15:00 - 18:30 (21/05/2021)

Wednesday 15:00 - 18:30 (26/05/2021)

Thursday 15:00 - 18:30 (27/05/2021)

Friday 15:00 - 18:30 (28/05/2021)


Abstract

The vast literature on populism is proof of its importance, even if scholars have failed to agree on a definition (Ionerscu & Gellner, 1969; Larraín, 2018; Mudde & Rovira Kaltawasser, 2019; de la Torre, 2000, 2017). Populism has recently been at the center of political and academic debates due to the rise of populists in Europe and Latin America. As for the latter, there is no doubt it has been used as a prism to examine different populist governments in the globe. Hence, the epistemological construction of populism is largely due to Latin American experiences, especially from the 20th century (Larraín, 2018). The democratic history of Latin America is complex, marked by moments of (non-populist) authoritarianism and return to democracy in the 1980s. One could think of democracies that were not fully consolidated or unfinished (Ramos Jiménez, 2008), but no longer incipient, which again interact with new waves of populism in the 21st century. The debate connecting democracy and populism is not exhausted. At its center, there is the question on whether and how each phenomenon creates opportunities and challenges for political participation and inclusion. Theorists dealing with democracy and populism have versions at both ends. On the one hand, there is the idea that populism is the shadow of democracy, or postulates an intrinsic danger for it (Rosanvallon, 2007; de la Torre, 2013). On the other hand, it is the conception of populism as the mirror of democracy (Laclau, 2005; Panizza, 2009, Mouffe, 2018). Democracy is understood as a unique system that determines the relationship between rulers and ruled (Schmitter & Lynn, 1991). Debates around democracy integrate its deviations to forms of authoritarianism (Dahl, 1977), and thus relating with populism. Some scholars argue that populism is a corrective mechanism to democracy and both are not necessarily incompatible (Laclau & Mouffe, 1987; Laclau, 2005; Mouffe, 2018). Mudde & Kaltwasser (2013, 2019) or Wolkenstein, (2016) assume that populism is compatible with democracy and also raises questions about the problems that lie in the implementation of democracy. It can be seen as a threat or as a corrective force. Hence, populism per se is neither good nor bad for the democratic system. A key factor that continuously sparks the debate is the fact that populist leaders tend to emerge in democracies. Representative democracy seems to work as a channel for the populist discourse that constructs the people and the elites as antagonistic groups (De la Torre, 2013, Urbinati, 2019). While in some definitions of populism the figure of the personalistic leader is prominent (Weyland, 2001), for others this is not a defining feature (Mudde, 2004). However, this can be a point worth of discussion in the case of Latin America, where presidential regimes are predominant, parties are less institutionalized than in other consolidated democracies, and individual leaders play a central role in politics. Does populism assume particular characteristics in the Latin American context? To which extent are these features conditioned by institutional traits found in the regimes and political-history of the region?

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