Populism and democracy: The challenge for deliberative democracy

Assaf Sharon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Theorists of democracy have long grappled with the question of how to uphold the promise of popular government while restraining populist excesses. The deliberative conception of democracy proposes to do so by subjecting power to collective decision making through procedures of free and equal public deliberation. Critics of this idea often target its realizability. Though valid in theory, they claim, deliberative democracy is hopelessly utopian. The paper argues that, given a proper understanding of the deliberative approach and its underlying ideal of collective self-government, this line of criticism is not very potent. However, another line of criticism, less pronounced in the contemporary debate, is more effective, questioning the very cogency of public discussion, even by a competent public, as a means of collective self-government. Open public discussion is prone to various forms of manipulation and deception, which subvert rather than facilitate self-government. Deliberative democracy's egalitarianism and populism therefore run counter to its deliberative aspiration, which underpins its ideal of democratic legitimacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-376
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Philosophy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2019


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