Populism as anti-paternalism

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Author: Daniel Smilov

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2019-3-15-26

Keywords: antipaternalism; constitutionalism; homo economicus; political parties; populism; social solidarity


In this paper the phenomenon of populism is explored from the angle of antipaternalism. It is claimed that political antipaternalism – the belief that the preferences of people should be turned into authoritative decisions without change or delay – explains well some of the basic features of contemporary populism. The paper explores the reasons for the rise of political antipaternalism and argues that it has become a convenient ideology for majorities in Western and Eastern European democracies, which have grown increasingly self-interested and egoistic (acting on the rational choice model of homo economicus). The paper discusses in some detail the transformations of contemporary political parties in their attempt to adapt to circumstances of low public trust and antipaternalistic attitudes. The populist party is the result of this adaptation. The paper argues that the cost of antipaternalism for political parties and politicians consists in the loss of their educational function, as well as the more general erosion of their authority. In return they gain the status of direct transmitters of the will of people. This development brings parties and politicians functionally very close to the media: as a result, there is an ever-growing number of cases, in which political players emerge on the basis of television programmes and shows. The mediatic character of politics is accompanied by another, more substantive development: anti-solidaristic types of politics become predominant both at the national and the supranational level. Because of this the antipaternalistic wave puts pressure on supra-national bodies such as the EU and the Council of Europe. Furthermore, the antisolidaristic turn explains the crisis of European social democracy at the national level as well. While many have argued that the rise of populism brings about problems for constitutionalism and democratic representation, the paper suggests that the rise of antipaternalism could undermine democracy in an even more fundamental way by turning it into a government which is not ruling in the interest of all.

About the author: Daniel Smilov – Doctor of Philosophy, SJD in Law, Associate Professor, Sofia University, Sofia, Bulgaria.

Citation: Smilov D. (2019) Populizm kak antipaternalizm [Populism as anti-paternalism]. Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol.28, no.3, pp.15–26. (In Russian).


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