It is often said that populism is both a threat and a corrective for democracy. But what is it that might have to be “corrected’? Often the answer is a crude sociological claim about “the left-behinds” or “somewheres,” or, for that matter, about the failures of “liberal elites” (who are regularly accused of being too friendly towards refugees). This lecture suggests that we should focus less on persons and more on institutions – especially the intermediary powers which have been deemed crucial for the proper functioning of representative democracy ever since the nineteenth century: political parties and free media. Both are in crisis; the lecture suggests concrete ways to address this crisis.
Jan-Werner Mueller is Roger Williams Straus Professor of Social Sciences at Princeton University; currently he is also a senior fellow at the Berlin Excellence Cluster “Contestations of the Liberal Script.