Responding to the rise of extremist populism

Benjamin A. Schupmann in the Oxford University Press Blog:

9780198791614The rise of extremist populism in recent years places liberal democracy, not to mention committed liberal democrats, in an awkward position. There has been an alarming rise in public support for such extremist movements, even in established liberal democratic states. In states such as Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and Venezuela, democratically elected governments are enacting illiberal and anti-democratic political goals and values into law and in some cases directly into their constitutions. Once in power, these movements have sought – among other things – to concentrate political power in the executive branch, subordinate the judiciary and the civil service to the executive, intimidate and disempower domestic opposition, undermine press freedoms, infringe on minority rights, limit freedoms of expression and assembly, control universities, and finally stoke xenophobic, anti-pluralist, anti-Semitic, and racist sentiments.

Victor Orban, Hungary’s Prime Minister, has characterized this development as “illiberal democracy.” Defenders of liberal democracy and theorists of populism, in turn, have responded by condemning this turn as simply undemocratic. The abuse of democratically obtained powers to dismantle liberal and democratic commitments is democratic suicide.

A sort of paradox sits at the heart of democratic suicide, however. If a majority or supermajority legallyseeks to enact laws that undermine liberal constitutionalism and democracy, is it best characterized as undemocratic? What constitutional measures can be taken to prevent democratic suicide from happening, if any?

It is widely believed in the West today that democracy is the ultimate basis of political authority. If true, liberal democrats have little recourse when a majority or super majority of the people legally amend liberal and democratic values out of the constitution – except to hope that voters will come around by the next election.

More here.