Jan-Werner Müller:
We the People – On Populism and Democracy

IWM Lectures in Human Sciences 2013

Lecture I: What is Populism?

“Populism” has become one of the most wide-spread terms of political analysis, especially in Europe.  At the same time, historians, political theorists, and social scientists deeply disagree about the meaning of the concept, with some claiming that there is no such a thing at all, and some dismissing the label “populism” as an attempt to silence all criticisms of really existing liberal democracies.  The first lecture sketches a theory what populism is, as well as an account of how and why populist movements rise and fall.

Lecture II: Intrusions of the People – Ideals of Popular Sovereignty in History


This lecture  examines how Europeans in particular have imagined people-making: what constitutes a people, how a people can act in history, and what it takes to preserve regimes that claim to instantiate popular rule.  A long story of how continental Europeans became disenchanted with ideals of popular sovereignty will emerge – a development which in many ways has left Europe’s democracies more vulnerable to populist attacks.  This story is also  explicitly tied to the European Union.


Lecture III: Real Problems – and How to Respond to Them

Populism is not just some form of political pathology. It also points at real problems, both in how democracy is justified as an ideal and in how actually existing democracies conduct themselves. For instance: what legitimately constitutes the boundaries of the “people”? The last lecture tries to make some headway in addressing these problems. The series as a whole finishes with some thoughts on how best to respond to populists politically, culturally, and, sometimes, legally, and also asks whether it is possible to distinguish populists on the one hand from demagogues and democratic activists on the other.


Jan Werner MüllerJan-Werner Mueller is Professor of Politics at Princeton University, where he is the Founding Director of the Project in the History of Political Thought. From 1996 until 2003 he was a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford; from 2003 until 2005 he was a Fellow at the European Studies Centre, St. Antony’s College. Mueller is also co-founder of the European College of Liberal Arts (ECLA), Berlin, for which he served as founding research director. His recent publications include Wo Europa endet: Ungarn, Brüssel und das Schicksal der liberalen Demokratie (2013) and Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth-Century Europe (2011).


IWM Lectures in Human Sciences 

The IWM launched this series of  public lectures in 2000 on the occasion of the 100th birthday of Hans  Georg Gadamer, supporter of the Institute  since its inception. Selected lectures have been published in English (Harvard University Press, Cambridge), German (Passagen Verlag, Wien; Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin) and Polish (Kurhaus Publishers, Warsaw) (see Publications).

Weekly Focus IV:

Related Posts: